Lucius Shepard on A.I. & Spielberg

Walter Kittel

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I happened to read the film column of the latest issue of F&SF ( Fantasy and Science Fiction ) by Lucius Shepard ( IMHO, simply one of the best authors around these days. ) yesterday evening. Wanted to share it with those of you on the forum, but stumbled across this article whilst searching for the F&SF article which happens to be a similar treatise on the subject of Spielberg and A.I.
While it might be easy to dismiss this article as an ill-tempered rant it does make an interesting read. Particularly the section dealing with Hollywood remakes. ( If you are big fan of Mr. Spielberg, you might want to skip this article. Then again, maybe not. )
Without further ado...
http://www.electricstory.com/reviews/ai2.asp
- Walter.
 

Peter Apruzzese

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It appears he didn't see the same version of "A.I." that I did as his description of the plot has errors while his take on the ending is ludicrous. It's just another uninformed, poorly-conceived review. Thanks for the link! I've never heard of him - who is he?
[Edited last by Peter Apruzzese on November 06, 2001 at 01:08 PM]
 

Walter Kittel

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He happens to be one of the best SF authors around, his bibliography includes...
http://www.sfsite.com/isfdb-bin/exac...Lucius_Shepard
I didn't really expect many folks to agree with him and I enjoyed A.I. much more than Mr. Shepard; nevertheless I do feel that he makes some interesting points ( albeit in a caustic fashion. )
- Walter.
 

Jason Seaver

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He's been doing the Film column in F&SF for a while now, and I've yet to see him like a movie. This one, in particular, reads like he was more interested in writing a Lucius Shepard rant than anything about A.I. Nearly incoherent.
I don't know about him being one of "the best"... Admittedly, the only thing of his I've read was "Vermillion", a title in DC's ill-fated Helix SF comics line, but it had the same snotty feel.
Killer line-up in the rest of the issue, though - Walter Mosley, Thomas Disch, and Robert Scheckley. I'm more of an "Analog" man myself, but this one was worth picking up despite the screaming in the center.
[Edited last by Jason Seaver on November 06, 2001 at 01:21 PM]
 

Chuck Mayer

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Not a magazine I would pick up, but I read his review with interest. He seems to typify the educated critic who cannot understand why no one has the same taste as he, so assumes the masses are morons, and he is the lone, enlightened being weighed down by our failures. And he doesn't even have the ability to be funny, like the other nasty critics. A pretentious ass...as if popular culture doesn't have enough of those!
Take care,
Chuck
 

Richard Kim

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From the article:
David learns that the information he gained from Dr. Know was planted by his creator, Professor Hobby, in order to lure him back (why they didn’t simply retrieve him themselves is not quite clear).
It's been awhile since I saw A.I. but I believe Prof. Hobby tells David that he was being tested, to see if his unique programming (what he would do for the love of another human being) was sucessful.
 

MickeS

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Richard, that is correct, it was a test. It is spelled out in the movie.
Also, the beings at the end of AI were mechas, not aliens like he says, and that makes a big difference. But I don't think he cares anyway.
I didn't think this piece was well-written at all, just meandering, hateful ramblings. Pointless and dull.
/Mike
[Edited last by MickeS on November 06, 2001 at 01:38 PM]
 

Rich Malloy

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quote: But in his wisdom, our boy Steve has tacked on a thirty-four-minute-long ending involving the freezing-over of the entire planet in 2000 years, the extinction of humanity, a visitation of saintly elongated aliens who love love love our music and our art (Sheesh!)...[/quote]
This proves two things:
(1) "tacked on ending" - He writes that Steve "tacked on" the ending, suggesting that this ending was an addition to the Kubrick script. Since his major trope is that "Speilberg destroyed Kubrick's vision", this is not surprising... but that doesn't mean he's not simply and demonstrably wrong. Indeed, he shouldn't have presumed so much, for it only reveals his ignorance of the history of the script.
(2) "saintly elongated aliens" - I won't trouble the intelligent people on this thread by taking the time to set him straight on this point, but how can any of you take seriously someone who so fundamentally misreads this film?
And it's not simply that he "doesn't share our taste" in the film. He doesn't even understand the film. I presume, as he wrote that article on July 11, that someone has since taken him aside and explained the ending to him (and perhaps even explained that the ending which he so completely miscomprehends is nearly identical - except in the tiniest details - to the ending Kubrick envisioned for the film). If not, I'd be glad to set him straight if anyone would like to invite him to this discussion.
[EDIT: We've got an archived thread on 2001 so that we don't have to explain the obvious, over and over. Maybe we need a similar thread for A.I. on behalf of all the uncomprehending Lucius Shepards of the world?]
[Edited last by Al Brown on November 06, 2001 at 01:54 PM]
 

Edwin Pereyra

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One wonders how even cheerleader-type review services such as Sixty Second Previews could lap up this puddle of Technicolor barf and spit forth a nugget of praise. One has to wonder even more what could possibly have induced relatively credible critics in national publications to lavish praise upon it. Perhaps the studio arranged for happy dust to be slipped into their popcorn.
In addition to misunderstanding the film, he belittles every other person that doesn't share in his thoughts about A.I.. I had to stop reading the article after his condescending remarks. It appears that Lucius Shepard does not respect anyone else's opinion but himself.
Moving on...
~Edwin
 

DaveF

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I agree with everyone about the writer's misunderstanding of A.I. (And, unlike him, I didn't take the ending to be happy nor sappy. It was melancholy, if anything.
But what about this?

Over the next months we will have two further offerings from Le Gran Steve to consider, two more tasteless pasteurizations of the human experience. Steve’s take on Harry Potter will be out before Christmas
According to IMDb (http://us.imdb.com/Details?0241527), Spielberg has nothing to with Harry Potter. What the heck is this guy talking about?
I skimmed the the second half, and didn't know what he was getting at -- did it connect to the A.I. screed?
 

Adam_S

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People who hate film shouldn't be reviewing film.
And it's rather obvious that he hates film, he absolutely has no respect for any movie made after jaws or star wars. I know this becasue star wars and jaws created the current blockbuster mold the studios currently follow. This guy protests that end to end action films, with little plot, redeeming characters, or themes such as Mummy Returns and Planet of the Apes (2001) should not be made and anyone who could possibly enjoy or tolerate them is an idiot. I for one understand what happened to create our current system, and I consider it a phase, the movie industry swings on a pendulam like any other sytem, it just goes at its own speed. So I can tolerate that Planet of the Apes was made, and because I'm not obsessing over how the horrible bigbrother/stupidity inducing/dumbdowned/testosterone/violencesexviolencesex attitude of the current system I'm free to enjoy movies that have something more to say, films that tell us something in a new way (and maybe something new) about the human condition, films that "catch a breath, a beat, a lifting of the heart," the films that inspire others to create great films, and layered films that can be dissected and enjoyed on many levels. I can enjoy all those types of films because I'm not blinded by his plank (this guy wants to remove our splinter, ha!). And I can enjoy the rare film that is all of the above, a film like A.I.
one thing that gets me, he complains that spielberg will look back and happily see his 'defecations' (putting words in his mouth) of saccharine sweet pink goodness... I guess this guy has never seen, Jaws, CE3K, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Empire of the Sun, Schindler's List, Jurassic Park, or Saving Private Ryan.
I'm sure if the tides were reversed and 2001 were to replace AI (just for theoretical purposes we won't worry about years and technology differences, just theoretical) and Spielberg had delivered exactly, shot for shot, the same film this guy would rip it for having cutsy unnecessary apes at the beginning while spielber tries to wow us with a big black rock that does something he never explains. And disjointed sappy converstaions between a father and daughter, forgettable flat characters, a computer that went wild, when everyone knows computers can't do that, and a sappy/happy ending with some old guy luckily getting reincarnated by the same stupid black rock.
sorry for the rant but people that hate all film with a passion simply get my blood boiling. I love (almost) all film with a passion, and this undeserving herd movement/follower hatred practiced by this intelligentsia of critics is mindnumbingly stupid in my opinion. When people have stopped enjoying film, they should stop watching film.
[Edited last by Adam_S on November 06, 2001 at 07:46 PM]
 

Ben Motley

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Okay, now that I've read it...
It seems Shepard is more concerned with the plight of the Hollywood film here, and is trashing A.I. more to illustrate what is wrong with the industry than to personally attack any single filmmaker or single movie. He's simply using Spielberg and A.I., which I'm sure he does genuinely despise, as an example of a greater evil. Out of the rant, comes the crux of his sentiment...
"I have long resisted the temptation to hop on board the bandwagon of those who seek to impose restraints on Hollywood, because I believe that the things targeted by these folks—excessive violence and too-explicit sex—are minor symptoms of the real disease. The corporate recognition that packaging is everything, that the multi-billion-eyed beast of the consumer will buy anything if they are told to do so with sufficient persuasiveness and repetitiveness . . . this recognition and its manifestation in every form of entertainment has come to hang cloudlike over the culture and threatens never to leave, but to grow denser, darker, until it succeeds in bringing about an intellectual nuclear winter. There seems to be no contrary force that will dispel it short of an extinction event."
His treatment for Chinatown 2001 directly after this passage is classic. I hope some of you read far enough to get to it.

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Please sign this Hammer Films petition, thanks!
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Rich Malloy

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Violence and sex have always been the subject of art, and even of good movies. Polanksi’s Chinatown, for instance. If this film were remade today, Chinatown 2001 would feature a detective who, unlike Jack Nicholson’s character Jake Gittes, would not be in any way ambivalent about his career or his goals and instead of using his wits would be busting down walls and breaking bones and engaging in car chases with Schwarzeneggerian abandon in his pursuit of a villain who would sit like the head of Spectre behind a wall of pony-tailed assassins armed with Uzis, and project a far-less-menacing figure than did John Huston’s perverted old man...
There's more, but it doesn't get any better. I've read funnier riffs dashed off on a whim in this forum.
I'll take the word of those of you who proclaim Lucius to be the Proust, Joyce and Nabokov of the modern sci-fi novel, but there's not a single line worth quoting for its literary value - much less its critical value - in that entire sophomoric screed.
I'll stick with Dick and Heinlein.
 

Rich Malloy

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Well, c'mon man - gimme a reason!

I mean, if I'd given you an essay that ripped-a on a film, but which revealed the author to be rather embarrassingly clueless about the most basic and fundamental plot points of that film, and which then rambled into an extraordinarily lame attempt at parody - and then said, "oh but rest assured he's the greatest living sci-fi author, blah blah blah," surely you'd question my recommendation.
Are you saying that I should not I take this essay to be generally representative of the level of his work, his insight and literary skill?
 

Walter Kittel

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Hey Al, I was waiting for a reply.

That is correct. I wouldn't consider this essay to be representative of his skills as a fiction author. I mostly posted the link because I considered it a semi-amusing rant with some valid points ( in the latter part of the text ) regarding Hollywood's reliance on formula. Admittedly, the thread subject was a bit off focus. FWIW, he obviously misread the ending of the film and the signifigance of the narrator to the tale.
Seriously, give Shepard's short fiction a try. Some of his best early work involves near future warfare in Central America ( high tech warfare juxtaposed against magic realism that works as a variant of William Gibson's cyperpunk novels ) Stories such as Salvador, Fire Zone Emerald to name but two. For me, his strength as an author is in descriptive prose, and how he is able to shape a tone and mood in a relatively short passage of text.
Next time you are in a book store, give one of his shorter works a browse.
- Walter.
 

Rain

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While I think the Speilberg-bashing in that article is a bit over the top (Mr. Speilberg, faults aside, has made some great films), I completely agree with him about A.I.
In fact, Mr. Shepard does not even come close to touching upon all of the film's faults.
I'm somewhat surprised at the amount of praise this film has received, particularly around here. To each their own, I suppose.
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"Imagine all the people, living life in peace..." - Imagine by John Lennon
[Edited last by Rain on November 07, 2001 at 12:21 PM]
 

Rich Malloy

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I find A.I. so fascinating, affecting, and provocative that I don't much care whether it's a masterpiece or not -- a verdict that won't be determined for months or years anyway and that would be useful right now mainly to exhibitors and DreamWorks executives. The example of both filmmakers' previous works and their often hysterical receptions should have taught us the folly of hasty evaluations. How many people are still calling 2001 "stupid" and "a celebration of cop-out," as Pauline Kael did, or Saving Private Ryan the film "to end all wars," as the New Yorker trumpeted on a cover wraparound? Calling a movie a masterpiece is in some cases little more than an impatient desire to close off discussion of its ambiguities and uncertainties, to deny that it's a living, and therefore evolving, work of art. A.I., which often resembles two slightly distorting mirrors facing each other, is likely to unsettle and confound us for some time to come -- and that's entirely to its credit.
A.I. is, unavoidably, something of a shotgun marriage, though that's what allows it to defamiliarize Kubrick and Spielberg -- and the usual meaning of four stars. A.I. is one of the most poetic and haunting allegories about the cinema that I can think of, and whoever made it possible deserves to be roundly applauded. It's also the most philosophical film in Kubrick's canon, the most intelligent in Spielberg's, and quite possibly the film with the most contemporary relevance that either one has made since Kubrick released Dr. Strangelove in 1964.
In terms of plot, Spielberg has made the final sequence of A.I. somewhat incoherent so that he can articulate his oedipal idyll as cleanly as possible. It's similar in some ways to the terrain explored in Solaris -- an inquiry into what it means to be human and what it means to die -- without the spiritual side of Andrei Tarkovsky's Christian mysticism. And most of what gets repressed at some point in the film is articulated in another, so that the movie constantly swings between dizzying uncertainties and grim -- or is it exalted? -- finalities. It's part of this movie's richness that few of its contradictory ideas and emotions cancel one another out. Instead they congeal into a kind of poetry -- a term I wouldn't ordinarily use to describe either director's work -- whose melancholy, forlorn pungency is paralleled in the Yeats lines quoted at the penultimate stage of David's odyssey:
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping
than you can understand.
 

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