Review: 'A.I.' intelligent, but artificial
By Paul Clinton
(CNN) -- Fans of Steven Spielberg will be sorely disappointed if they're expecting "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" to be another warm and gooey "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982). Stanley Kubrick devotees will likewise be disappointed if they're looking for the cool and calculating isolation of "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968). The only truly satisfied customers may be fans of Haley Joel Osment: this remarkable 13-year-old is absolutely amazing as David, a robot, or mecha, that has been programmed to love humans.
"A.I." is based on a short story called "Super-Toys Last All Summer" by science fiction author Brian Aldiss. The intriguing tale is about a robotic boy who tries to connect emotionally with his human mother. Kubrick purchased the rights 20 years ago, and consulted with his friend and fellow cinematic genius Spielberg about the project for years. After Kubrick's death in 1999 -- and following the legendary director's wishes -- Spielberg decided to write and direct the film himself.
The film is set in the distant future. Global warming has caused Earth's ice caps to melt and much of the planet is under water, including New York City (making "A.I." a political statement as well as a movie). Society is technologically eons ahead of our present abilities, and robots of all kinds now do much of the manual and routine labor.
However, humans are forced to limit the number of children they have due to the world's limited resources. When the son of Monica and Henry Swinton (Frances O'Connor and Sam Robards) becomes terminally ill, they have him cryogenically frozen while waiting for a cure. Childless and grieving, they're perfect candidates for a new project being developed by Henry's company, Cybertronics.
William Hurt plays Professor Hobby, who creates David, a robot -- or a mecha, as they're called -- unlike any other made in this robot-infested world of the future. David has been programmed to love, and be loved in return by humans. These new robots can be the children that many humans could never have in this brave new world.
When situations occur which make keeping David impossible, the Swintons are forced to return him to Cybertronics to be destroyed. But at the last minute, Monica weakens and releases the boy into the woods -- with only his robotic teddy bear for company -- leaving instructions for him to stay away from humans and only seek out his own kind.
Dropping the temperature
That's part one of this movie -- which can easily be divided into three distinct sections -- and Spielberg's dynamics and aesthetics shine through over all the obvious (and icy) Kubrickian touches. Then we move into the second phase and the emotional temperature drops.
Kubrick is front and center in a part of the story that's a weird combination of "Pinnochio" and "The Wizard Of Oz," as David meets his "Scarecrow" and "Lion" in the form of a robot named Gigolo Joe, played to odd perfection by Jude Law. Together they go in search of the Blue Fairy, the "Pinocchio" character familiar to David from having the classic story read to him by Monica.
In the storybook, the fairy can transform the wooden puppet into a real boy. David dreams that if the fairy can turn him into a real person, his human family would welcome him back. The place they're heading for is called Rouge (think Emerald) City -- eventually revealed to be a wildly carnal city on the site of Philadelphia.
Now things get truly futuristic, and the jeopardy is increased when Joe and David are captured and taken to a Flesh Fair. This violent event, which would fit perfectly in a Kubrick film, is where old robots are melted down in front of cheering crowds of crazed humans who resent the mechas' intrusion into their lives. Then, in a scene right out of "Indiana Jones," they're saved at the final moment from this terrible fate and continue on their odyssey.
The best -- and worst -- traits of the directors
The third, and final, section is too long, emotionally remote to the extreme, but a cinematic marvel. In short, Spielberg's channeling of Kubrick is at its height as the film finally begins to wind down, not that it was ever -- even for a second -- wound up.
"A.I." includes the best of both Spielberg and Kubrick. It also embraces their worst traits as well. The sensibilities of these two filmmaking icons are night and day, black and white. Spielberg wants to reinforce our belief systems, tell us truths we already know. Kubrick wants to disturb us, and show us things we don't want to face.
The result is an "A.I." that is neither fish nor fowl, hot or cold. At best it's brilliant, but lukewarm -- lacking Spielberg's emotional heat and Kubrick's icy intellect.
Cautionary note: Don't let Spielberg's involvement fool you. This film is not for young kids; pay attention to the rating.
"A.I. Artificial Intelligence" opens nationwide on Friday and is rated PG-13.
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