Spielberg. Osment. Two excellent reasons to sit in a movie theatre. Spielberg is a master storyteller, with an eye for detail, whimsy, heart, and action. Osment is a prodigy, a sensitive, intelligent, expressive child, who can take a virtually unperformable role (Exhibit A: The Sixth Sense) and make it real. Together, they can create so much more than a typed script page would hope to achieve. High praise indeed, right? How many movies have had the adult naif, a blank slate, wandering throughout the frame with the wonder only seen in an infant’s eyes? Starman, Fifth Element, more. Osment is “born” at age 9 or whatever he is supposed to be, and he is a sponge for experience and existence. From Osment’s character knowing too much with Shyamalan, he now knows literally nothing, yet is infinitely trusting, loving, curious, and, later, wise. It’s another unperformable role that he made his own.
A.I. is a Pinocchio story of sorts, buoyed by the biotech genetic programming concern, but (as my companion brilliantly summarized) it’s more like a mix between The Wizard of Oz and Blade Runner. (He also said Dark City but I think only one scene really qualifies it for that – and there is a brief Clockwork Orangey sequence as well – apropos since the original idea was for Stanley Kubrick to direct.) Big shoes to fill, two serious classics. Am I implying that A.I. will be a classic, like its siblings Always and E.T.? Only time can tell. This film is not for the cynical, but I think anyone who has been jaded too many times in the search for love (acceptance and caring, not just romantic/sexual) will not be able to handle Osment’s sincerity. Frances O’Connor, as his “mother,” is almost embarrassingly true.
Osment is a robot, a very realistic man-made human, a “mecha,” and the first of his kind designed to be a child, designed to love. A.I. carries a whiff of that moral question posed more blatantly in the Jurassic Park movies – Discover if you CAN, and then figure out HOW then DO- but also, just because we can do this, should we? What of the responsibilities of the mortal target of an inorganic’s love? Interesting questions, with some dark answers. Did not God create without any second guessing His responsibility? It’s darker than E.T., certainly, and luckily it’s not overly weighed down with philosophical concerns. It is also funny, very exciting, and visually wowza. Spielberg standard cinematographer Janusz Kaminski paints a beautiful portrait of this boy and his world. Spielberg standard composer John Williams writes a totally atypical, creepy, weird, but effective score. Stan Winston – well, let’s just say that Teddy bear is totally utterly real.
Plopped in the middle is an unsettling sequence when The Bad Guys come, and it’s quite a throwback to the early ’80’s in some ways, but also a vivid portrait (and, frankly, a reasonable prediction) of what backlash there might be against such realistic mechanical persons roaming the streets. Jude Law (already typecast as a perfect-by-design fellow in Gattaca) is another mecha who meets David (Osment) on his Pinocchio quest and they balance each other beautifully. Law is a sexbot, basically, so he can produce the affect, the appearance of love, while David hopes to finally please the recipient of his love. The relationship is very interesting and complex, considering their perspectives, and I would love to read the source tale, Brian Aldiss’ “Super Toys Last All Summer Long.”
Pithy phrases of praise I have stored up unfortunately reveal too much plot, so I am forced to silence them. But so many moments in David’s quest are like so many classic, emotionally impactful moments in other great tales, just trust that you will never lose interest. It’s a fairy tale, not even a modern one – it’s a classic set in a distant future. Skimming through questions about the nature of the soul or consciousness, it’s a fable with real beauty and magic to it, the kind of magic I think no other creative team could have mustered successfully. Oh yeah and none of the mechas ever blink. Cool.
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/29/01
Time in minutes 144
Director Steven Spielberg
Studio Dreamworks & Warner Bros