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A.I. (2001) **** movie review by COOP

Posted on May 14th, 2008
Posted on May 14th, 2008

Very rarely does a movie come along that invokes such a strong reaction in viewers. Good or bad, it’s very hard to ignore a film that even its detractors can’t stop talking about, even days after seeing it. “A.I.” is certainly one of these films. Director Steven Spielberg resurrects the late Stanley Kubrick’s long-awaited project about a robot boy searching for his place in the world. Does it work? Let’s just say it’s not perfect, but after seeing it, you’ll have a lot to talk about.

Inspired by the wonderful short story, “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” by Brain Aldiss (go to www.wired.com/wired/archives/5.01/ffsupertoys.html to read it), Stanley Kubrick developed the “A.I.” story, yet decided not to move forward on the project. Some say he was waiting for the special effects technology to catch up with his vision, but whatever the case, Kubrick passed away and willed the project down to his friend, Steven Spielberg. Spielberg had his own vision of what he thought “A.I.” should be; however, a trained eye can clearly see Kubrick’s influences and Spielberg’s homage to his style over the course of this film.

“A.I.” starts out as a fairly simple, futuristic story about a couple who receive the unique chance of testing out the first child robot ever built, named David (Haley Joel Osment). The husband (Sam Robards) hopes this “mecha” will lessen the grief of his wife (Frances O’Connor) over their real son who lies in a frozen chamber until his disease can be cured. At first, David frightens the couple with his odd and sometimes menacing behavior. After an intense chain of events, the father deems David as dangerous and arranges to have him scrapped since David’s programmed love is irreversible. The mother, in a fit of guilt and grief, turns David loose in the forest, telling him to run for his life. Inspired by the story of “Pinocchio”, David sets out into the world to find the mythical “Blue Fairy”. His goal… To become a real boy, then his mother might love him like a real son.

Magnificent performances all around by every aspect of the cast. Osment (from “The Sixth Sense”) may get another shot at an Oscar this year for his highly advanced performance as David. Jude Law thoroughly impresses at the energetic, prostitute robot “Gigolo Joe” who eventually forms a unique, big brother-like relationship to the orphaned childbot. While most of the great cast seemed terribly absent for most of the film, they hit their marks when needed. Additionally, look for surprise voiceover performances from actors such as Ben Kingsley, Robin Williams and Chris Rock.

Many might argue that the director took Kubrick’s dark fairytale/futuristic-version-of-Pinocchio and Spielbergized it for his own ego. I agree and take Spielberg to task for cutting some corners and trying to manipulate the audience to tears at every possible moment, but to his credit, he did end up making a highly unpredictable film that does Kubrick’s vision some justice. For a movie that could’ve easily become a kid’s film like “E.T.”, he didn’t pull any punches, turning this into a very dark drama.

Now for the big question… Did I like this movie? At first I wasn’t sure and had to think about it for awhile. I came out of the theater feeling frustrated, melancholy and distracted. At first I thought this meant that I didn’t like it, then I finally realized that this was how you were supposed to feel after this movie. There were many questions, no easy answers. So many storylines and philosophies in the film were brought up and never fully explored, and it was all intentional. This is not a story about adventure and love, but rather a shadowy tale of morality and ethics. Yes, I did like it. Was it perfect? Far from it, but I suspect it will come to be known as one of Spielberg’s most unsung masterpieces. A true sci-fi classic in the vein of “Blade Runner”. You may love it, you may hate it, but one thing is certain, it will haunt you and provoke some serious thought about the direction our technology is heading.

This movie is not… I repeat, NOT for children! Although it’s PG-13 rating allows parents to bring in even the youngest kid, I highly recommend not bringing any children under the age of 10 at least. The subject matter and many of the scenes are simply too disturbing and sometimes outright frightening. Case and point: A scene in which David must escape a “Flesh Fair”. This is an arena-type exhibition in which damaged (but very lifelike) robots are tortured, dismembered and destroyed in front of hundreds of bloodthirsty spectators. The anguish of David being abandoned in the forest is alone enough to give your little ones an anxiety complex. For heaven’s sake, don’t let the misleading marketing fool you. This is not “Toy Story”! Leave the kids at home.

Scale of 1-5: 4

Most refreshing aspect of the movie:

David’s companion “Teddy”, a very clever and tear-provoking, robot Teddy-bear. He steals almost every scene and easily becomes the most interesting character in the movie. Although not as smart or advanced as the other robots, he proved to be wise, loyal and very protective of his master. In one scene, David tries to mimic his family by eating spinach that would clog up his gears. Teddy instinctively grabs David’s arm and says, “No, David… You’ll break.” There is something reassuring about his presence in the film. Fans who found him as captivating as I did will be excited to learn that Tiger Toys, the creators of “Furby”, plan to release a full-sized, interactive toy version of Teddy later this month. I expect it to be the must-have toy for Christmas 2001.

Biggest gripe:

At some point near the end of the second act, the film spirals into complete madness. Everyone will be scratching their heads, asking what the heck is going on during the last 20 minutes of the movie. The plot twists come so far out of left field that it will leave many people dizzy, confused and ultimately unsatisfied. Most will wonder, “What in the world were those ‘things’ in the ending?” Once you see the movie, you’ll know what “things” I’m referring to. There will be some debate about it, but most people probably won’t care much for the ambiguous ending. I think that it could be the symptom of a bigger problem in that the tone of the story was never consistent. It goes from melodrama, to comedy, to sci-fi, to horror and back again so many times that I felt the film never fully developed, resulting in its imperfection.

Biggest surprise:

The revolutionary “A.I.” website game that frenzied a large group of dedicated websurfers into solving the mystery of “Who killed Evan Chan?”. It all started when someone noticed a hidden code revealing the name of a man named “Evan Chan” at the end of the first “A.I.” trailer/preview. After a quick search for the name on the “Google” search engine, a massive and intricate trail of sites soon revealed itself. What resulted was an ingenious game, set in the same world as “A.I.” (although it doesn’t intersect with the movie) in which players must surf the web to find clues about the death of renowned scientist, Evan Chan. Was he killed by the anti-robot militia? Or pro-robot terrorists? Or a rogue droid? Play and find out. The mystery starts at www.familychan.org… or you can cheat and learn the whole story by going to www.cloudmakers.org. Good luck.

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