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Lucius Shepard on A.I. & Spielberg (1 Viewer)

Rich Malloy

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I've engaged you so directly on this, Rain, only because I've always thought you and I shared so much in common when it comes to film, art, literature, music - aesthetics generally. I care more about what you think of the film than I do what Lucius Shepard thinks. And I apologize if I've twisted your words unfairly.
I've also thought about why I'm so compelled to defend this film or that film. Last year it was Dancer in the Dark; this year it appears to be A.I. - am I drawn to defend a film that splits audiences down the middle because of the film, itself, or simply because the audience is so split? I wondered that regarding Dancer as I was defending it most vociferously right after its debut. But, since then, I've watched that film on more often than any other (with the exceptions of Vertigo and Andrei Rublev, both of which, to be fair, had head starts). As for Dancer, I love it, I love it, I love it, and I'll probably love it again this weekend.
Believe me, I know not all of you share my admiration for A.I. (or Dancer) - perhaps not even very many of you - but I hope you give it another chance, approaching it as though you were a tabula rasa, or at least unaffected by your preconceptions of Kubrick or Spielberg, and attempt to see the film for what it is. And I hope I've done the same. Only time will tell.
 

Rich Malloy

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Rereading that last post, I think it sounds too much like the final note, resolved on the tonic. A veritable thread-killer. I wish I hadn't done that, because I'd prefer to continue engaging with this film and your criticisms of it. I promise, we haven't even begun to scratch the surface.
 

Rain

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I've engaged you so directly on this, Rain, only because I've always thought you and I shared so much in common when it comes to film, art, literature, music - aesthetics generally. I care more about what you think of the film than I do what Lucius Shepard thinks. And I apologize if I've twisted your words unfairly.
Al, as you are clearly a very intellegent fellow, I take that as a great compliment. Thank you. And apology accepted.
By the way, I have also spent much time and energy defending Dancer in the Dark.
Tell you what...when A.I. comes out on DVD, I'll take a fresh look at it, since you seem so passionate about it. I'm renting, though.
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Bill McA

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Far from being too dark, I find the film maudlin, dripping with sticky sentiment that only Speilberg can deliver. Speilberg cannot resist eventually reuniting David with "mommy," rather than allowing him to face the fact that "mommy" is gone and exploring David's emotions in dealing with that fact.
Ironic, as the "sticky sentiment" ending that "Spielberg cannot resist" was in fact written by Stanley Kubrick himself!!!
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Rain

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Ironic, as the "sticky sentiment" ending that "Spielberg cannot resist" was in fact written by Stanley Kubrick himself!!!
The ending in particular seems very un-Kubrick to me. Kubrick's films do not generally ramble on for 30 minutes trying desperately to wrap everything into a neat little package...
Your source for that assertion?
:)
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Andy_S

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I thought the same thing about the ending. I was sure that it wasn't a Kubrick ending until I came across a web site that discussed A.I. and it talked about how Kubrick really wanted this ending even though someone (I forgot who, but I think it was a screen writer that was brought in to clean up the script.) totally disagreed with the ending. It was a great site and I can't seem to find it right now. I'll post as soon as I find it.
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Bill Catherall

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Well, I've only seen A.I. once and it was during its opening week. So it isn't all that fresh in my mind. But back when it was fresh I gathered the following opinions on it:
The theme to me was about love between the creator and the created. Does a creator create so that it can be loved? Can we love our creations? Those questions were asked at the very beginning. The bulk of the movie set out to answer those questions. If the last 30 minutes were not part of the film then there would be no conclusion to those questions. Particularly the part about us loving our creations. The reuniting of David and Monica was about David finding that love he set out to find. It answered the question. At least that's the conclusions I came up with at the time. I'm sure my opinions will change upon further viewings of the DVD. But whatever conclusions I come up with in the future, the ending was vital to the telling of the story. The entire point of the movie would have been null without it.
While my knowledge of Stanley Kubrick is very limited, and my exposure to many of his films minimal, I felt that the ending was very "Kubrickesk." When David was waking up in his "home," the first thing that popped into my mind was "2001." That's when it also hit me that the main characters of both movies were named David. I'm sure there are some overlapping themes between the two movies, but again, my memory of A.I. is dim and I need to explore it further.
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Andy_S

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Found it! It's a huge FAQ that can be found here: http://www.visual-memory.co.uk/faq/index2.html
But I'll just quote the relevant part:
"Kubrick's final collaborator on the 'A.I' script was English novelist Sara Maitland whom he felt was necessary in shaping the story into a cohesive whole. "By the time I came to the project it had become enormous, unwieldy and unfocused," said Ms. Maitland. Upon perusing the piles of unfinished scripts, she concluded that the story needed to make emotional sense as a myth or fairy tale does, and believes that Kubrick realized this. In fact Kubrick also was adamant that the story should work in terms of myth. "He never referred to the film as 'A.I.'; he always called it 'Pinocchio.' "
"He decided to make this film because he wanted people to shift to a more positive view of A.I., he was quite open to me about that. Kubrick was fascinated by artificial intelligence and fond of robots, which he regarded as a more environmentally adaptable form of human being. He said, 'I think of them as I'd like to think of my great-grandchildren.' And he's very fond of his grandchildren."
It was the relationship between David and his mother that most occupied Kubrick and Sara Maitland. An alcoholic whose 'Bloody Mary' cocktails David would mix for her in a vain attempt to win her affection. The mother was the to be emotional center of the film that would eventually come full-circle.
At the story's conclusion, the robots that have inherited the Earth use David's memories to reconstruct, in virtual form, the apartment where he had lived with his parents. Because his memories are subjective, the mother is much more vividly realized than the father, and his stepsister's room is not there at all; it is just a hole in the wall.
For Ms. Maitland, the film would end with David preparing a Bloody Mary for his mother, the juice a brighter red than in real life: "He hears her voice, and that's it. We don't see him turn to see her." Kubrick, however, wanted a coda in which the new race of robots, because of a technological limitation, cannot keep the mother alive after reviving her. The movie would end with David in his mother's bedroom, watching her slowly disappear.
Ms. Maitland was displeased this scenario, and was furious with Kubrick for insisting on it. "It must have been a very strong visual thing for him," she says, "because he wasn't usually stupid about story. He hired me because I knew about fairy stories, but would not listen when I told him, 'You can have a failed quest, but you can't have an achieved quest and no reward.'"
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Adam Lenhardt

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The ending in particular seems very un-Kubrick to me. Kubrick's films do not generally ramble on for 30 minutes trying desperately to wrap everything into a neat little package...
A neat package? Hardly. A mere two millenia from now our entire species has been wiped out... relics like King Tut or the Pyramids of Giza. The world has been covered in a frozen hell. What spirred this change is unknown (It might have been described as an Ice Age... I can't remember). Regardless, chances are good that humanity spurred such a drastic climatic change. Neither are the character's tales wrapped up in a neat package... Teddy, the faithful servent from point one and the only one to show undemanding kindness really, is left alone with himself as our main character shows the selfish traits of it's creators. If there will be a lasting legacy for A.I. it will be that we must take responsibility with what we create, especially if we give our creations brains. Some day, our species will be no more and our creations will be all that remains to represent who we were. Even David whose sole purpose was to of all things love it's master is flawed by the lack of human foresight. He is driven by the flawed human emotion of love without the redeeming qualities of loyalty, selflessness, and responsibility to counter it.
The most obvious comparisons would be to 2001, as it follows that movie in setup and design. But the more acurate comparison would be with a Clockwork Orange. That film is Kubrick's exploration of Violence. This is Kubrick (and Spielberg)'s exploration of Love. Alex is this horrible person, yet by the end of the film, Kubrick has drawn our sympathies. David is created to be this wonderful, tender person, yet we are isolated and cold by the end of the film. The fact that we are repulsed that he gets his wish says volumes... We know how shallow the fufillment is, and we know how selfish David has been on his quest for love.
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Max Leung

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I've read Shepard's Life During Wartime. While beautifully written, I found the story rather weak (at least, that was my impression...I read it when I was still in high school). I felt it belonged more in the fantasy genre than in the SF genre, as many scenes in the book had a more surreal and fantastical quality to them. His short fiction is/was decent, but I found his work to be more self-indulgent than I liked...you know the type...I consider him the William Shatner of SF/fantasy authors. Unfortunately, his article confirms that. Straw man attacks and derogatory statements don't do anybody good.
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Anyhow, for the record, everybody knows that the greatest living author is Iain Banks! :) Man, that guy can write...his work is not widely available in the U.S. though...a pity. His SF is hugely entertaining, and his regular fiction just incredible. Look him up on Amazon.com folks! Incredibly original stuff, written with a keen eye on human nature.
Back to AI:
After watching AI, I asked myself, "If a couple has a child that they know can never reach it's full potential, that is, a child that will never grow up to have children of its own, would they treat the child in the same way that David's family treated David?"
Let's suppose that the purpose of love for ones offspring is to ensure the survival of the child, as the child when it grows up will then pass on the parents' genes on to the next generation. How will the knowledge that your child can never reproduce affect the parents' behavior (consciously or not)? David could never grow up. He does not carry his parents' genes (although, ironically, he does have his mothers hair...hmmm....). His parents would never have grandchildren from him. Ultimately, his parents discarded him, as, in a selfish-gene sense, he is worthless to them and not worth devoted resources too.
Analogy: unwed mothers who give birth and later kill or abandon the baby as a response to an environment they perceive (sometimes unconsciously) hostile to raising a child. In other words, the effort and resources necessary to raise the child would likely cause the death of both of them. Think of the fairy tales and biblical writings inspired by this aspect of human nature.
In AI's case, the sibling rivalry is perceived as dangerous by the parents. Gee, good thing one of the kids is a robot...you can get rid of him with no consequences at all! Very convenient. Ironic that much worse occurs between real siblings...I don't see parents killing off their kids in that event. :)
 

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