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Movie Reviews

A.I.  

Brian Aldiss: Writer
Stanley Kubrick,
Screenplay1: Ian Watson
Screenplay 2 + Director: Steven Spielberg

 A.I.: Artificial Intelligence: The Soundtrack [DVD-Audio](2001) DVD

What would happen, one might wonder, if you crossed Stanley Kubrick with Steven Spielberg? Well, until now, it's not a thought that would flare across the synapses of even the drunkenest Film Student at a What If? Debating convention in Hell.

It's a film that Brian Aldiss, the writer, is happy with, as is Kubrick's widow, Christiane. It's certainly a much greater final testament to Kubrick's greatness than 'Eyes Wide Shut'.

However, it has Spielberg's sloppy sticky fingerprints all over, replete with cloying, over-sentimental ending. I don't have any implicit hatred of Spielberg's work, but the last 20 or so minutes of his saccharine slush could easily arouse a powerful dislike. Plus I kept getting flashes of the equally Diabetes-inducing Disney's 'Pinocchio' throughout.

It starts off well enough. Haley Joel Osment is a fitting choice for the role of soulless automaton David, providing you can get over thinking he's about to whisper "I see dead people" every five minutes. Jude Law turned in a delightfully over-chipper sex-machine Gigolo Joe, a guaranteed draw for the ladies. Robin Williams, however, could have been done without as Dr. Know, a deeply annoying fact-finding machine with a cheesy Germanic accent…

Many other reviewers have split this movie into three sections, which is an easy jump off point for this one. The first third is flawlessly Kubrick-esque. It has quiet, static interiors by Ikea. Soft but stark lighting. And the robots have more life than the living. It starts with a voice-over, telling us that the Ice Caps have melted, flooding most of the World's cities, decimating mankind. The Western nations introduce strict quotas on childbirth, to save on the remaining natural resources. And so we are introduced to the core of the story.

Can the scientists create a robot child that will love unconditionally, and engender love in return? Will love create the (il)logical leap that will allow a degree of humanity in an artificial intelligence? So Dr, Hobby creates David.

They entrust him to a couple whose child has succumbed to a mysterious virus and is cryogenically frozen, and David's bizarre rapid learning curve at first scares the mother (Frances O'Connor). She realizes that David will love her no matter what, just like a real child. Especially given the condition that should she imprint her love on him and she changes her mind later, he will be destroyed.

Then, the son returns, hooked up to machines, and with a child's simplicity, realizes that David is just a Super Toy, a disposable "mecha" that is to be used and thrown away. This is made clear when the boy's previous Super Toy, a semi-sentient teddy bear is given to David.

A series of childish misadventures, and David has to go. In a fit of genius parenting, instead of returning David for dismantling, she decides, fairy-story like, to dump him in a forest. With the gruff teddy bear. Thankfully, although it will be David's constant companion throughout to the bitter end, this is no Ewok, or Jar Jar Binks… finally someone has created a trusty companion for a child who doesn't deserve stoning on the streets. Ironically, it's Steven Spielberg of all directors who gives Aldiss' grumpy, cautionary version of Jiminy Cricket life.

And so we enter the second third, whereupon we meet Gigolo Joe, the Flesh Fairs (with Ministry fittingly as the house-band from Hades) and head to Rouge City. Its here we start to see Spielberg's heavy handedness creep in. He pays light homage to Kubrick, with neon milk bars, buildings shaped like naked women. Flashes of reflections mirror the scenes in '2001' where the astronaut David entering the Monolith.

And its at this point you see that Spielberg is no longer paying homage to Kubrick, but is displaying in a fit of pique, his wish to have made '2001' and even 'Blade Runner', but is saddled with 'E.T.' and 'Close Encounters'. The dark shadows of Rouge City aren't the nasty little corners of 'Clockwork Orange' but are the broad sweeps and polishes of Hollywood veneer.

Kubrick wanted to overlay Aldiss' "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long" (and its sequels) with "Pinocchio", something Spielberg stuck to like glue. So we have Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket, the Carnival, and even a Blue Fairy. Unfortunately, Spielberg has overlaid "Super Toys" with Walt Disney's version of 'Pinocchio'.

So we enter the final third. I'll keep from giving away any surprises, but if you want to keep from disappointment, leave 20 minutes or so from the end. Kubrick would have kept a grimmer ending, with David trapped in ice, gazing upon his Coney Island Blue Fairy forever. It would have been an ending that would mirror '2001' perfectly. '2001' ended with David living out his entire life in a single eternity, childhood simultaneous with old age. 'A.I.' would have ended with trapped, eternal childhood and unyielding desire.

On many other levels, '2001' is an ideal film to use to dissect 'A.I.'. Funnily enough, both star a character called David, and revolve around betrayal, man by machine, machine by man. '2001's main star was HAL, the computer forced to kill by its own programmed, neurotic conflicting instructions, and 'A.I's star is a computer fleeing from man's neuroses and fears. These are themes that control-freak Stanley Kubrick explored in most of his films, the loss of mankind's inner control to fears and emotions.

However Spielberg decides to flash 'A.I.' forward 2000 years and ruins all and any mystique and decides instead to resolve the Oedipal complex of David's hard-wired, programmed unconditional love for his "mother". With aliens. Tall, thin willowy aliens. You know, like what was in 'Close Encounters'. And I think that says it all.

Kubrick made possibly the single greatest sci-fi movie of all time with '2001' and with Spielberg's handling of 'A.I.'; clearly Spielberg thinks his own 'Close Encounters' was better. Unfortunately, 'Close Encounters' is good, its okay, but it's in no way '2001'. Spielberg should have surrendered his style to the greater filmmaker just a little more and striven to make the greatest film he could have, not deliberately trashing it in order to make his own films look good in comparison.

What do you get when you cross Spielberg with Kubrick with Brian Aldiss? You get a grim re-telling of Disney's 'Pinocchio.' Like with Disney, you get everything you expect. Excellent acting, shed-loads of perfect special effects, a superb score from John Williams - who keeps away from stirring strings and his usual bombast. Everything you expected. But fortunately, like with David, there's just a little bit more.

Way better than 'Eyes Wide Shut', not as good as '2001' or 'Clockwork Orange'.

Tim Twelves

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