A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Studio: Paramount/DreamWorks Studios
US Rating: Rated PG-13 – For Some Sexual Content and Violent Images
Film Length: 145 Mins
Video: 1080P High Definition 16X9 - 1.85:1
Audio: English 6.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, DVD version includes English 5.1 Surround with English,
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, and Spanish
Release Date: April 6, 2011
Review Date: April 5, 2011
“Those were the years when the icecaps melted due to the greenhouse gases and the oceans had risen and drowned so many cities along all the shorelines of the world. Amsterdam, Venice, New York forever lost. Millions of people were displaced. Climate became chaotic. Hundreds of millions of people starved in poorer countries. Elsewhere a high degree of prosperity survived when most governments in the developed world introduced legal sanctions to license pregnancies. Which was why robots, who were never hungry and did not consume resources beyond those of their first manufacture were so essential an economic link in the chain mail society.”
Steven Spielberg’s A.I. is a masterpiece; a work riddled with dents, dings, and unusual warping, but a masterpiece nonetheless. A passion project of legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, A.I.’s journey to the cinematic realm started in the 1970’s. It began with Super-Toys Last All Summer Long, a short story by Brian Aldiss, a story with which Kubrick was quite taken, and took a long road to realization. Kubrick engaged the services of Aldiss to craft into a screenplay, but Aldiss was fired over creative differences. Kubrick, perhaps in recognition of the stories innate human vulnerability and sweeter emotional underpinning, sought Steven Spielberg to helm, but Spielberg was reticent. Ultimately, Kubrick’s death in 1999 would prove the impetus for Spielberg to assume duties as both director and screenwriter – his first solo credit in this category since Close Encounters of the Third Kind– working from a 90 page treatment by Ian Watson crafted under the eye of Kubrick.
Kubrick had long felt the story of A.I. was more to the skills and inclination of Spielberg. What results in this 2001 film is a distinctly Spielberg film with echoes of Kubrick’s influence. And it is grand.
The Film: 4.5 out of 5
It is the near future and climate change has caused the oceans to rise and the landscape of human habitation to migrate inland under new restrictions on having children. Technological advancements have given rise to many wonders, including the sprinting evolution of robotics in response to the limits to the number of children that parents can have.
Monica and Henry have a son. He is kept in medical stasis, abating the disease that would take his life if it were allowed to advance. They have ‘lost’ their son but are unable to mourn him because he is still alive. Henry works for Cybertronics, a leading robotics firm whose advances in the field have brought the company to the precipice of a creation so profound, matters of its moral implications are significant. Henry and his wife are identified as being in a unique position to pilot this latest iteration of the robot technology. Robots, called mecha’s, are artificial constructs that look exactly like humans. Fundamentally however, these creations are beholden to algorithms and pre-preprogramming – and though our natural tendency to anthropomorphize leads people to believe they are ‘real’, they are not. Cybertronics believes it has advanced the field to take that final leap; to provide a robot ‘child’ with the ability to ‘love’ – to be imprinted upon by its parents and create a connection that is, at its core, love.
Monica is at first aghast at what her husband is suggesting; bringing a ‘child’ back into their home, one that will never age, misbehave, get sick or die. Her revulsion at the notion that she would be replacing her sick son soon cedes to the want – the need – to have a child in their lives. They make the decision to imprint the child (named David); a decision which is irreversible as once the child is imprinted, the connection cannot be undone or substituted.
When Henry and Monica’s son is able to return home, David is quickly marginalized. Mocked and abused by his ‘brother’, the love from his mother wanes, and David realizes that it is because he is not real. And he wishes so much to be real. Monica drives David into the woods where he is abandoned. He journeys to discover how to become a ‘real’ boy so that his mother will love him (a notion he learned from her reading Pinocchio to him). He is accompanied by a robotic teddy bear, and will discover the perils of his origins and the lack of humanity in the ‘people’ he meets.
Steven Spielberg’s skill behind the camera on this science-fiction spectacle is considerable. The future is at once spectacularly rendered – as in Rouge City – and modestly imagined, as in the home of Henry and Monica - and at each turn, the filmmaker’s craft is on display. The story of David and his journey to become real is never eagerly pursued with dressings of action and visual effects. It is tenderly entered into through the very human experience of loss and love. Spielberg captures the wonder of David – played with genuine restrain and skill by Haley Joel Osment, and explores the tragic turn of innocent playful discovery to the unnerving obliviousness of David to his ‘mother’ expertly. It is vital to how we perceive David and his quest later on and Osments performance is remarkable.
Monica is portrayed by Frances O’Connor. We understand her trepidation even though we may not understand her decision to abandon David in the woods. O’Connor is excellent at emoting the difficulty of her world without her son – and becoming accustomed to the new boy in her home. Similarly, Sam Robards as Henry is very good portraying the father and husband trying to make order of their sad, near-childless life.
Jude Law has an interesting turn as a Gigolo Mecha (a sex mecha) name Joe. He perfectly captured the programmed charm and suave but with the slight melancholy of his lot in life just beneath the surface. Jack Angle gives voice to Teddy, an oddly wise toy who’s day has apparently come and gone. The character of Teddy is a symbol of David for Teddy, once a Super Toy, is now old and outdated, and as a result, relegated to the discard pile. Angel imbues Teddy with a genuine richness of character.
Spielberg’s screenplay is natural and careful, but does not shy from trying to dig into the intriguing philosophical ideas. The opening scene (following the narrated prologue delivered by Ben Kingsley), with William Hurt delivering a lecture on the wonder of robotic technology and the promise of what the advancement – the boy who can love – will give to the world, is a brilliant display of storytelling and postulating. The following exchange in essence sums up the question underlying David’s entire journey:
Female Colleague: If a robot could genuinely love a person, what responsibility does that person hold toward that mecha in return? It's a moral question, isn't it?
Professor Hobby: The oldest one of all. But in the beginning, didn't God create Adam to love him?
Another exchange in the film provides the core of the emotional quintessence of the picture.
David: Mommy? Will you die?
Monica: Well, one day, David, yes, I will.
David: I'll be alone.
Monica: Don't worry yourself so.
David: How long will you live?
Monica: For ages. For 50 years.
David: I love you, Mommy. I hope you never die. Never
Listen during this moment to how John Williams scores the exchange. It is rendered with the sweetness of strings and the melancholy of piano. William’s Academy Award nominated score is among his finest works. He simultaneously captures the fairy-tale wonder and dystopian tragedy of A.I. – the folly of the human condition and the sole light of humanity (though not messianic) in the David character. The tumbling, chaos-ridden piano that strikes when David is abandoned in the woods is a piece that caps tension of strings, and is brilliantly produced. It is a score of voluminous substance, innocence, emotion, and the crashing styles of human drama and constructs both dissonant and discordant. William’s employs female operatic soprano Barbara Bonney several times throughout the score providing a wordless accompaniment to piano, cello, violin and light harp; her vocalizations are often subtle, evocative of the mother’s love David so desperately seeks. Throughout the CD release, in Monica’s theme, the gorgeous track, The Search for the Blue Fairy, and the heartbreaking Where Dreams are Born, William’s thematic harmony parallels Bonney’s lovely voice, creating a weeping, sweet, and emotionally powerful musical mixture. It is pure majesty.
There are conflicting styles beyond the obvious and surface differences of Kubrick’s storytelling inclinations and those of Steven Spielberg in A.I.. The confluence of sweet, tender, and childlike innocence (not dissimilar to that in abundance in Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra Terrestrial), and the jarring, dark, and bleakness of the human condition favored by Kubrick can be awkward at times, but A.I. is not a film that desires to be easily categorized. It is not a children’s fantasy, or an adult science-fiction adventure, nor social commentary allegory (like the superb Children of Men); it is, rather, a wholly unique entry into cinema. The storytelling construct is more noir than classic storytelling format. Consider the prologue of philosophy, the longer than typical set up with David becoming a part of the family (and then tossed away when he was both too real and not real enough). The second act moves with considerable swiftness, and the final act – slows down to an almost dreamlike state where it remains amidst an emotionally dramatic and deeply human paradigm.
As the final shot pulls back from David, the film’s central figure, and away from the intimacy with which we as viewers have witnessed his journey, we leave the micro and reenter the macro view of humanity that began our visit to this story. For all the philosophical pondering and marvels of human ingenuity, engineering, and technological prowess, we are left with what becomes the final keeper of all our wit, wonder, wisdom, and willful neglect and narcissism; a mechanical construct disregarded through time as it only sought to become human (to be accepted and loved). And David’s journey to become human was not merely to be amidst the churn of human foibles; or to run, laugh, live and love in the larger societal acceptance. No, far more uniquely and narrowly concentrated is the yearning to be loved by one person and one person alone among the billions that existed in concentrated cities inland from the submerged coasts.
A.I. is perhaps one of the most misunderstood of Spielberg’s films. Critics frequently charged this film with succumbing to what was called Spielberg’s proclivity for sentimentality, believing perhaps that the darker tones of the future portrayed are the sole purview of Kubrick. A.I. is a clearly an updated riff on the Pinocchio story; the longing of a boy facsimile to become a boy. The carved wooden Pinocchio substituted here for the complex and real-looking robotic construct of David and the emotional impact of his journey, but, setting aside influences, the horrid and the hopeful tones in this film are Spielberg’s, and the unusual close of the film is exceptional fantasy. It is warming to the soul and there could have been no other ending suitable for the journey we witnessed.
Quite frankly, accusations of the film descending into unnecessary sentimentality appear to come from those that have missed the point of the film. Though not for designed for children, A.I. as an updated version of Pinocchio was always a fairytale and should be viewed differently than sci-fi fare like E.T., or Spielberg action adventure sci-fi fare like War of the Worlds. With fair warnings of humanity’s tendency to mess up its own humanity – and a mild excoriation of mankind failing the world we live in – it is a bold and bleak tale rich with tenderness and powerful emotional resonance. It is wholly unique.
The Video: 4.5 out of 5
Paramount Pictures is doing everything right. Having released Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, Saving Private Ryan, and Minority Report in high definition in terrific blu-rays, Paramount has continued that pursuit of excellence with A.I. I was always disappointed with the DVD release of this film. This digitally remastered high definition release, presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, is just what I was hoping for. The film grain texture is intact, the level of detail wonderful, colors are beautifully balanced, with deep blacks perfectly produced flesh-tones, a complete absence of crushing, aliasing, and no unhealthy evidence of digital scrubbing. This is how this film should look on blu-ray. The neon colors pop off the screen.
By design, and through the eye of cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, shadows and light reflected or strewn through transparent and semi-opaque objects is frequent. Any softness noticeable comes from the original artistic intent.
The image quality is outstanding!
The Sound: 4.5 out of 5
With an English 6.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1), A.I. has never sounded better at home.
The sounds of Rouge City spread around the surround, the grotesque treatment of Mechas captured for destruction rumble and crash in the deep end of the spectrum, and the subwoofer will rattle. Dialogue is perfectly clean and clear in the center channel, and John William’s score fills the audio with his incredible score. Another brilliant audio.
The Extras: 4 out of 5
All the special features have been ported over from the previously released DVD version. The two theatrical trailers are the only extra features presented in HD.
Creating A.I.: A quick look into the creation of the film – the story’s origin – and the masters of film who bounced the project back and forth between them. .
Acting A.I.: The two principle stars discuss their craft.
Designing A.I.: A great look at visual elements of the film created not in visual effects but physically. The costume choices were very subtle and the sets, depending on the sequence in the film, addled between bold and subtle. .
Lighting A.I.: The gifted cinematographer Janusz Kaminski discusses the process of lighting (and how that becomes a character itself).
A.I./FX: As I mentioned in my review, the visual effects are splendid and this extra takes a deeper look at several of those sequences.
The Robots of A.I.: The array of Mecha’s throughout A.I. is varied and impressive. This special feature traces their creation from ideation to creation.
Special Visual Effects and Animation: ILM: This look at the robots, miniatures, and computer generated effects – the hybrid of physical and CGI rendered effects work, is a fascinating reveal of how these two disciplines can merge to provide visual splendor that has texture and realism.
The Sound and Music of A.I.: As Williams’ score is so dear to me, this is one of my favorite special features. The man is a genius and it is apparent that his affinity for this project and his long-time collaborator Steven Spielberg runs deep.
Closing: Steven Spielberg: Our Responsibility to Artificial Intelligence: An interesting perspective from the director.
A.I. Archives: Storyboards and concept art which includes:
Chris Baker’s Portfolio
Production Design Portfolio
ILM Concept Art
Portrait Gallery – by David James
Steven Spielberg – Behind the scenes photos by David James
The visual effects created by the masterful talents of Industrial Light & Magic are stunning at times. The striking visuals of Rouge City, the half-destroyed Mechas, and the submerged metropolis are of incredible quality. But it is the story of what it means to be, and to be human, and to love and be loved that give A.I. its true marvel.
I have been in awe of A.I. since it was released in theaters in 2001. It is an oft unusual hybridization of Kubrick’s dystopian view of humanity (its fallacies and fundamentally and inherently flawed appetite), and Spielberg’s hopeful and deeply human sensibilities. And yet it works. It is sentimental, it is bleak, and it is preoccupied with hope even while it trudges through the muck of human failings. It is a masterpiece and over the ten years since it was released has only grown in relevance and status as a gifted film. Kubrick would have been proud.
This favorite of mine comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Overall 4.5 out of 5