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Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: A.I. Artificial Intelligence - Highly Recommended (1 Viewer)

Neil Middlemiss

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A.I. Artificial Intelligence

 

Studio: Paramount/DreamWorks Studios
Year: 2001
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.”

 

Introduction

 

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

 

Theatrical Trailers

 

 

Final Thoughts

 

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 

 

Neil Middlemiss

Kernersville, NC

 

 

benbess

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Great review. And I totally agree--it's one of the great sci fi films in cinema history.
 

Jason_V

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Thanks a bunch, Neil. This is making it very hard for me not to go blow some money this afternoon.


I've always felt AI was much, much better than most people gave it credit for (outside of the ending). Much more socially relevant than 99% of other movies...and it looked gorgeous in the theater.
 

DaveF

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Thanks for the review. This was a favorite of mine a decade ago. :)


I think I read the ending a bit different from many others: I've always found a terror in the ending, a bleak statement on what would happen were the pure love of a child bestowed god-like powers to create that which he loved.
 

Brian Borst

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I've owned the Warner Bros. release of this, and I wholeheartedly agree with the review. I never understood why this movie was so loathed, or misunderstood. Claiming the ending was tacked on by Spielberg is just wrong, since Kubrick's hands are all over it.

If I do have to name a bad thing about the movie, then it would be the narration. Like many, many other examples, it's simply superfluous in the entire movie, and nearly destroys the ending for me. Kubrick always wanted to show, instead of tell people what they were seeing, and unfortunately Spielberg didn't follow that instinct.
 

Jason_V

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Originally Posted by Brian Borst

I've owned the Warner Bros. release of this, and I wholeheartedly agree with the review. I never understood why this movie was so loathed, or misunderstood. Claiming the ending was tacked on by Spielberg is just wrong, since Kubrick's hands are all over it.

Wasn't the original DVD (2 disc) from Universal since they had a partnership with DreamWorks? Doesn't much matter, obviously, one way or the other.
 

Bryan Tuck

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Thanks for the review, Neil. I've always loved this movie, too. Good to hear it's been presented well on Blu-ray.
 

Radioman970

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Originally Posted by Brian Borst

I've owned the Warner Bros. release of this, and I wholeheartedly agree with the review. I never understood why this movie was so loathed, or misunderstood. Claiming the ending was tacked on by Spielberg is just wrong, since Kubrick's hands are all over it.

If I do have to name a bad thing about the movie, then it would be the narration. Like many, many other examples, it's simply superfluous in the entire movie, and nearly destroys the ending for me. Kubrick always wanted to show, instead of tell people what they were seeing, and unfortunately Spielberg didn't follow that instinct.

Yep, as great as SS is he sure has to explain everything out. His segment of the Twilight Zone movie is a good example. It's fun to watch but the mystery of the original TV version is lost when he hired look-a-like kids. In the TV version I was always left wondering if they really became young.... Kick the Can original was an amazing achievement and the movie version is a fun watch thanks to Scatman, but different reason why it's fun. No mystery.
 

PatW

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Thankyou Neil for that beautiful review. I'll be picking this up tomorrow.
 

Paul_Warren

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Blind buy for me loved the story/acting/atmosphere & some of those ILM visual FX shots are still to be bettered but no sign of it here in the UK so unsure if I should import or hold on to see if it gets announced soon......
 

Henry Gale

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http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110707/REVIEWS08/110709988
 

SD_Brian

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I was (pleasantly) surprised to see Ebert add this to his Great Movies section. I expected Minority Report (which he named best movie of 2002) would be added long before A.I., which didn't even make the top 10 of its release year. As for why people seemed to loathe this movie so much, I think part of it can be blamed on the marketing, which tried to sell A.I. as the second coming of E.T.. Re-watching it on Blu, I'd forgotten just how grim a lot of A.I. is. Had I seen A.I. expecting to see E.T., I would have hated it too. Fortunately, I was in the right frame of mind so I've always liked it. I'd say it's the best movie Spielberg has made in this century.
 

Hal F

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Can't say I care for this one very much. Seems more like an anti-Pinocchio story to me. Or perhaps an anti-fairy tale. Pinocchio did become a real boy and that is why it is such a beloved fairy tale. My other beef with this film is its philosophical pretensions. As much as I love movies, I don't find them to be well suited for dealing with deep philosophical issues. For example, I find it rather limited to view the essential nature of humanity as 'being accepted and loved.' One would be better off turning to some of the great modern and not-so-modern philosophers like Kant or Wittgenstein. Not trying to rain on anyone's parade here. Just pointing out that there are valid reasons for not liking this film.
 

Simon Massey

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Love this film and would add that without the narration you would lose the idea that this is a story/fairy tale written by mecha in the future. Who the narrator is is just as important as what he is saying
 

SD_Brian

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Neil Middlemiss said:
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.
She abandons him in the woods because she knows from the instructions included with David that, if she returns him to the factory, he'll be destroyed. And, doggonnit, she loves the little scamp!
 

Neil Middlemiss

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SD_Brian said:
She abandons him in the woods because she knows from the instructions included with David that, if she returns him to the factory, he'll be destroyed. And, doggonnit, she loves the little scamp!
Yes, I think you are probably right - I understand it, I just don't "understand" it :)
 

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