By Alan Scherstuhl
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Carolina Del Busto
By Amy Nicholson
By Simon Abrams
By Kevin Dilmore
By New Times
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The results, then, are just as you would expect: A.I. Artificial Intelligence is Kubrick as interpreted by Spielberg, which means it's by turns poignant and cold, twisted and sweet, dreamy and drab, effortless and overwrought. In short, the movie is a stunning, ambitious mess that leaves you wondering how much better it might have been without Kubrick's specter peering over Spielberg's heavy shoulders. But what else could it have been? Theirs is hardly a perfect marriage: Kubrick's movies are chilly and distant, existential tone poems made by a control freak who loved movies but not necessarily the people who paid to watch them. Spielberg, especially the young man who made Close Encounters and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, revels in innocence and awe. Spielberg, the eternal optimist, presents life as one big happy ending: We're going to be rescued, whether by aliens or Roy Scheider or Tom Hanks.
A.I. attempts to reconcile those disparate worldviews. The movie wants to overwhelm you with sadness and despair, but it's too frosty and manipulative to elicit a single tear. Spielberg is credited with A.I.'s screenplay -- it's the first time he's written and directed since Close Encounters -- but the film is faithful to both Aldiss' story and Ian Watson's original screenplay, commissioned by Kubrick. Watching it, you can't help but feel that the director wanted to become Kubrick, which means this is the first Spielberg movie that seems to have one hand on your chest, keeping you at bay.
A.I. fleshes out, for lack of a better phrase, Aldiss' simple, heartbreaking short story into a grand-scale fairy tale -- Pinocchio as re-imagined by the visual-effects team at Industrial Light & Magic. We learn at the film's onset that the ice caps have melted and drowned earth's biggest cities, and in a distant, overpopulated future in which childbirth is regulated by the proper authorities, humanoid robots have taken over our most menial chores; they serve us, even pleasure us, until they're discarded for better models. Professor Hobby (William Hurt), A.I.'s Geppetto, proposes to a group of fellow robotic designers that they create a "robot who can love," and the result is little David (Haley Joel Osment), who is made of synthetic flesh and computer circuitry. Hobby is unprepared to answer the inevitable Big Question: Can you get a human to love the robot back?
The response is found in the home of Monica and Henry Swinton (Frances O'Connor and Sam Robards), whose flesh-and-blood son Martin (Jake Thomas) suffers an illness that requires that he be suspended in cryogenic deep-freeze. Henry, who works for Professor Hobby, envisions David as Martin's replacement, but Monica refuses to look at his unblinking, expressionless face -- a machine bereft of true emotion but prone to disturbing outbursts of laughter. Monica finally warms to the cold little boy, but the catch is that David can love only her, and if Monica ever decides she no longer wants David, he will have to be destroyed.
But Monica and Henry will never love David as they do Martin, who one day comes home from the hospital and begins treating his "brother" as if he's nothing more than the latest and greatest super-toy. Martin taunts David, constantly reminding him of his artificiality; he's a "mecha" (a machine) in a world of "orgas" (organics). Martin gets Monica to read to them from Pinocchio: "David's going to love it," Martin says with a cruel smirk. But the story gives David hope: If he can find the Blue Fairy, he, like the puppet in the book, can become a real boy.
The first third of A.I. feels so much like Kubrick it's as though the film had been directed by a ghost. Up to this point, the movie plays like small-scale domestic drama. But all that gives way when Monica takes David out in the forest to dump him, lest the rejected boy end up destroyed.
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