“AI: Artificial Intelligence”

Eric Renderking Fisk | June 18th, 2003Bookmark and Share

Where Dreams are Born

Simply put, perhaps AI might be too much movie for a lot of people. I don’t mean to sound like an elitist snob (those who know me know that I don’t have an elitist bone in my body- I’ll drink cognac right out of the bottle and do an air cello while jamming to my favorite rock-and-roll cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, anytime) but this movie may be too good for a viewing public that would put a movie like “Tomb Raider” over the top at the box office for the 2 or 3 weeks during A.I’s initial release. A.I. has something called a plot, and a lot of it. But to the defense of the common man, maybe Mr. Kubrick and Mr. Spielberg tried to do too much in 2-plus hours...

A.I. is a modern take on the Pinocchio fable, about as dark and as mature (maybe ADULT would be a better word) as you would expect from a movie that was developed by Stanley Kubrick for 12 years and based on the Brian Aldiss short story Supertoys Last All Summer Long, then finally directed by Steven Spielberg after Mr. Kubrick’s death. A.I. was a movie shrouded by mystery and suspense while it was being developed and the mystery was well guarded right up to a week or so before it was released. When it was finally reviewed it was either loved or hated and there wasn’t room for any middle ground. Many folks accused Spielberg of “tagging on” the ending, but it was the concept of the ending that inspired Mr. Kubrick to do the motion picture in the first place. In the end, according to Mr. Spielberg during the interviews on the second disk of the DVD, this is as close to the original vision Mr. Kubrick had from the very beginning.

For Always

Dr. Allen Hobby, the preeminent robotic scientist [William Hurt] informs the top brass of his company, “Cybertronics” that he wants to create the perfect robot, (known as Mecha’s) that does more then just simulate people’s actions and emotions… he wants to create a mecha that actually loves. At first he seems to be a legitimate scientist who wants to fill a “great human need for childless couples yearning in vane for a license to have children of their own,” but soon we learn his true motives, not quite as altruistic yet understandable. William Hurt portrays Dr. Hobby as a melancholy genius looking to fill the void in his heart left behind by someone close to him, with the implications far reaching beyond his immediate future.

Two years later, we see a pair of grieving parents who are mourning the loss of their son. Their son is not dead, but close enough. Martin Swinton [Jake Thomas] is in cold storage due to what we are lead to believe is a disease or infection with no hope of ever recovering. To help his wife grieve, Henry Swinton [Sam Robards] takes part in a pilot program with one of the prototype Mecha boys, “David” [Haley Joel “I see dead people” Osment] from the Cybertronics company Dad works in… like taking the boy home like a new car off the lot, test drive it and kick the tires a couple of times.

Predictably in any Spielberg movie,  the robot boy arrives and steals the heart of the grieving mother... Monica winton [Frances O'Connor] in a few heartwarming scenes of them growing together. She goes through the process of saying  “seven code words” to imprint herself on the Mecha-boy… and then the robot goes from being an overly friendly house-guest to a clingy son yearning to be truly loved by another being who he regards as his mother. She goes from being Monica to Mommy in the blink of an eye.

Henry, the one who pushed to have the robot boy in the house in the first place, never really bonds with David, as the novelty wears off like any new toy.

FFor David, Monica brings a toy out of storage that belonged to her organic son before the coma. That toy becomes one of the central characters of the story. Teddy is a ‘smart’ toy, also gifted with artificial intelligence. Teddy is a stuffed bear that walks and talks and reasons. A word of warning:  Teddy is often more interesting then a lot of the human beings on screen. He’s like a gruff Obi-Wan Kenobi or a Sallah in the form of a childhood friend to David. Teddy is a scene stealer.

Again, just like in any other Spielberg movie, the worst possible thing you could imagine happens. Even worse, what may be regarded as a miracle becomes a curse. Monica and Henry’s Martin -the “birth child” - awakes from his coma which is great news for the kid… bad news for the replacement.

Then the movie really takes off when the organic boy comes home… and mayhem ensues. Organic boy is jealous of Mecha Boy… and does what ever he can to make David misbehave. I felt no sympathy for the organic brother, although I don’t know how I would have felt if my mother had replaced me with a machine. Martin's cruelty is the cause of David’s quest.

The Search for the Blue Fairy

For the time and effort it took for this movie to be made, Steven Spielberg could have made two sequels to Raiders of the Lost Ark and had enough time and money to do something else. This movie dared to do the impossible. It’s a quest movie much in the same guise as the other three (and we hope four shortly) Indiana Jones movies, but it’s a quest for something the audience knows doesn’t exist. It’s captivating watching how the journey evolves and where it takes David. The audience is drawn into the search knowing the destination doesn’t exist. Knowing Mr. Spielberg, he always has a “wow” finish, but even with his reputation we’re still on unsteady ground.

Again, many people are going to say, “Well, isn’t this movie just an updated version of ‘Pinocchio’?” The answer is an obvious ‘yes’ with some big differences. This is indeed David’s search to become a real boy. In fact, A.I. plays off both the character of David being inspired by the Pinocchio fairy tale AND being an updated version of the story very well (too complicated to describe with out ruining any more of the motion picture which does a perfect job meshing the two concepts). David’s quest to become a real boy parallels Pinocchio’s travels in many ways, such as many of the characters. Teddy is obviously Jiminy Cricket, William Hurt is Gepetto… and the Blue Fairy?  Who or what is the Blue Fairy? The Blue Fairy in A.I. is what separates itself from the original story about the mannequin’s transformation written by Italian author Carlo Collodi (Carlo Lorenzini).

Metaphorically speaking, the Blue Fairy of A.I. is the search for the metaphysical. It is the search for the one thing we all search for and rarely find.  The Blue Fairy is the key to unconditional love from the one person we want and need it from the most. No greater curse is to be shunned by the one we love the most and everyone searches for the “Blue Fairy” to change the way things are to the way to the way we wish they could be. The “Blue Fairy” in other people’s lives could be the impossible wish to take back something that was said or done to break our love’s heart or could be a wish to make us seem more attractive. The search for the “Blue Fairy” is as much a search for God, looking for something you can’t give or do for yourself while not being able to accept yourself for who you are as He made you.

Stored Memories

This is John Williams’s greatest score in a long time. It is both haunting and magical. Not a single theme in this movie reminded me of any other work he has done. When I heard the soundtrack for Phantom Menace, there were moments when I kept thinking; “This sounds so much like ‘Seven years in Naboo’… ahem… I mean Tibet.”.

The Mecha World

I don’t know how Spielberg did it, but he has captured the look and feel of Kubrick! If ol’ Uncle Stan filmed E.T. The Extraterrestrial… it would be this film. In fact, if I had to sum up this movie, it would be “E.T. meets 2001” And, it seems both odd and justification that this movie was released the same year as “2001: A Space Odyssey” takes place.

This Motion Picture should make other directors wish that they could take their film stock to the Blue Fairy and ask; “Please make this into a real movie! Please, make this into a real movie!”


Don’t bother comparing this to any other film. This really isn’t like anything you’ve seen before. Granted there will be people who will say this is a lot like “Bicentenial Man meets Blade Runner.” Much of the same territory covered in those two movies is revisited here briefly. Then there is a point in the movie where it leaves those other two movies behind and becomes something else. Maybe I gave too much away when I wrote earlier that A.I. might be ‘E.T. meets 2001.” But I guarantee the last 45 minutes alone was worth the price of admission!

Much of the reason why I’m suggesting this film to Raiders fans is because of the special effects, a preview of things to come. Many of the techniques used and recycled in making this motion picture will be used in the next chapter of the Indiana Jones saga. With the ease of creating fantastic futuristic environments there is no doubt Spielberg and Lucas will be using this same technology to recreate contemporary cities of the 1940’s and 1950’s while being able to utilize that still exist today. The best thing CGI offers is being able to either integrate miniatures or settings created entirely by digital means into frames with live action that was shot with actors earlier.o:p>

AI serves as a preview of what Lucas, Spielberg and ILM will offer in the next and sadly the last motion picture of the Indiana Jones saga.

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