The late Stanley Kubrick had a vision. The great Steven Spielberg had a dream. However, they don’t quite come together on the first and last collaboration of these two visionary filmmakers.
A.I. stands for “artificial intelligence,” and Spielberg unfortunately borrows the meaning behind the title for the theme of his film aimed to please robots, not humans.
For a filmmaker who has brought a touching humanity to the Holocaust in Schindler’s List as well as the horrors of war in Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg fails with his latest revelation. Just as the human characters don’t care about robots in the film, the audience feels the same way when A.I. finally ends.
In other words, the film doesn’t work. For all its splendor with lighting, sets, Oscar-friendly cast and sleek visuals, A.I. not only fails to live up to its hype, it fails to entertain its audience throughout as well.
A.I. is a futuristic telling of Pinocchio, complete with the Blue Fairy character that is supposed to grant the main child’s wish to become a real boy. But what starts out as a fascinating concept turns into a seemingly never-ending journey, packed with questions about what life and love means along the way.
Created as the first “mecha” (that’s what they called the robots; humans – “orga”) programmed to experience the feeling of love, David (Haley Joel Osment) becomes the adopted child of Henry and Monica Swinton. The Swintons are still mourning over their first son, who is currently frozen in a cryogenic lab after an unexplained accident. And get this: Henry buys David for Monica as a present to keep her company. How sweet.
But because Monica (Frances O’Connor) isn’t yet over the loss of her son, she doesn’t warm up to David and feels uncomfortable having a robotic child, who is always nice, doesn’t need to eat or sleep and hangs around the house all of the time. But she reads him bedtime stories, such as Pinocchio, anyway to try and make the new toy work.
Osment is downright scary as a robot boy who tries desperately to please his new parents. If anyone complained about the young actor’s stiffness in Pay It Forward, Osment used it to his advantage this time around to confirm that Spielberg made the right casting decision for him to play David.
However, once David, the perfect son, wiggles his way into Monica’s heart, a miracle occurs and the Swinton’s first son wakes up just in time to compete with David for Monica’s affections. Henry (Sam Robards) just looks at David as a toy anyway and only loves his real son.
Once Henry and Monica decide that David isn’t going to work out in the family, she leaves him on the side of the road with little explanation as to why and how his abandonment came to pass.
It’s at this point in the film when you ask yourself: “If he is so intelligent – even if artificially – why couldn’t Monica explain that they love their real son more?” But Monica’s decision comes because she looks at David like a real child, and can’t bear to see him cry.
After he is left outside a robot-part dumping ground, David encounters other mecha exiled from society just like him. Among the collection of refugees that have fallen apart and are in need of new parts such as eyeballs and robotic arms, David meets Joe, an eccentric gigolo-robot played brilliantly by Jude Law. (It’s almost a shame the movie wasn’t about him.)
Once the mecha are spotted, they are captured and brought to the Flesh Fair, a voyeuristic circus where mecha are mutilated for humans’ sick enjoyment purposes. Because they have no feelings, the mecha accept this as their fate to weed the useless and decrepit robots out of society before they outnumber humans.
This plays sort of like a purging of the unwanted, but don’t worry, it’s not considered a form of mass genocide. After all, they were created to serve humans anyway, right?
But when David pleads for his life, the once-angry mob turns against the ringmaster in support of the seemingly real boy. Catch the theme yet?
Now, you see Gigolo Joe was created, of course, to please women (hence the name). So after they escape from the Flesh Fair unharmed, David tells him he is trying to make his mother happy by becoming a real boy. Joe tells David he will help, after all – he knows women. And off they are to Rouge City, a futuristic version of Las Vegas, to find Blue Fairy, because David thinks if she helped Pinocchio, she can help him too.
In Rouge City, Joe leads David to Dr. Know, an animated puppet (voiced by Robin Williams) who tells David how to find Blue Fairy.And that’s the first half of the film.
What happens then is where the journey turns from amusingly enough entertainment into what has to be the longest finale in film history disguised as some deeper meaning into life and love for all creations.
So to make a long story short: David meets his creator, Dr. Hobby (William Hurt), and finds out he is the first of a mass-produced boy-toy created to give happiness to families who can’t have little Davids of their own. The film ends with David still searching for his mommy staring into the Atlantic Ocean perched on the ledge of a half-submerged New York City building.
No, that would be too simple. It actually ends in the bottom of the ocean with David sitting in the cockpit of a helicopter that goes underwater, staring at an amusement park’s statue of a blue fairy, repeating his wish to become a real boy.
No, again – that would leave it making some kind of sense. Instead, it finally ends 2000 years later with David now frozen in the helicopter still wishing to see his mommy again.
It appears Kubrick and Spielberg must believe that no matter how much time goes by, robots will keep the same hopes and dreams alive because they have no real perception of reality. Which explains why David thinks he can still see Monica again even though she has been dead for 2000 years.
So these holographic, formless alien-looking creatures find David and look to him for a history of what the planet used to be like. It appears that these alien creatures represent modern-day humans and our desire to look at prehistoric beings to search for a history of what our planet used to be like. It’s as if Spielberg is telling us we are part of this evolution theory that will turn us into aliens 2000 years from now.
The film finally ends (seriously, this time) with the aliens helping David share a memory with Monica, and therefore perpetuating the search for the meaning of love.
And that is the core of this film. A boy designed to love his parents unconditionally even if his parents don’t have to love him back. It’s frightening to think if Kubrick was attracted to this idea because of his relationship with his own kids.
A.I. is not a horrible film – it just doesn’t work at what it’s designed to do. It has a provocative concept but the execution leaves the audience asking too many questions, with the prevailing one being, “Why do I care?”
While at least A.I. succeeds in not being yet another futuristic sci-fi film that has flying cars, it fails to entertain its audience with its views on artificial love and prejudice.