starring: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law & William Hurt
Some films are plainly the work of their director. Others look to be the work of a committee of directors, producers, writers, actors, and studio bosses. In both cases, good films can result and bad films can result. In my movie-viewing experience, however, "committee"-made movies tend to be--well, if not bad, at least inconsistent. I think this is what I would have to say about A.I., the latest release from Steven Spielberg and Dreamworks SKG.
The history, according to the record, is that this was a Stanley Kubrick project. It was to be his next film. Of course, he died shortly after completing Eyes Wide Shut, so Steven Spielberg decided to take over and make the film as a tribute to his late friend. Even if I hadn't known this going into the theater yesterday, it was evident that the film changes direction at a certain point and becomes a much different animal that it started out to be. So while it's probably not fair to say that A.I. was made by "committee," it has been developed by 2 creative teams with very different approaches to story-telling. More on this in a moment.
If you haven't heard about A.I., yet, it's the futuristic story of David, a robot boy and sci-fi Pinocchio (an allusion that is a central element to the movie's plot), who is the latest creation of a scientist (William Hurt) and his company that specializes in the creation of "mecha" or mechanical people. These robot creations are put to all kinds of uses, we learn, especially as illicit sex partners, but we also learn that humankind has an innate mistrust and dislike for robots. Haley Joel Osment (Sixth Sense) plays the prototype David, who is given to a family whose "orga" (organic) son is cryogenically frozen while sciences develops a way to cure him (of what illness, they don't say).
David goes from robot boy to loving son when mommy Monica (Frances O'Conner) "imprints" her maternal relationship into David's programming. We are warned that once this occurs, David will love Monica unconditionally and eternally. Fortuately, all goes well--that is, until the cryogenically frozen "real" son is cured and returned home.
I don't want to say too much more about the plot, but soon David is forced into the real world, where a lot of hostility exists against robots. David's raison d'etre becomes finding the blue fairy of the Pinocchio story so that he can become a real boy. In his pursuit he hooks up with Joe, played by Jude Law, who wonderfully portrays a robotic giggilo whose prime directive is sexually satisfying women.
All sorts of terrifying and mystifying things happen to David in his search. This is the best part of the film, in my opinion, and the part that seems closest to a Kubrick movie--at least, a Spielberg-made Kubrick movie. We are confronted with heavy philosophical issues, like what makes us human and what constitutes life and being.
But in the last 30 minutes or so of the film things became confusing and, in my view at least, disappointing. Think 2001: A Space Odyssey meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind and you'll have some idea of what you're in store for at the end of the film. It seems that Spielberg was so desperate for a happy ending that he was willing to do just about anything. What he did was to incorporate a deus ex machina the likes of which you wouldn't normally expect in a film from such a seasoned creator (Spielberg also wrote the screenplay).
In the end I recommend the film because I think most of it is spectacular to look at, plus Haley Joel Osment and Jude Law are great actors who give captivating performances. The film will also likely spark some interesting philosophical and moral wrangling, which will become even more relevant as technology advances. As for the ending, some people may like it (I, for one, don't always mind deus ex machina devices, like at the end of Abyss, for example), but for me the last half hour whittled away most of what would have been a very dramatic finale. See for yourself.
(Editor's note: Very nearly everyone I know who's seen this movie feels this exact same way about it. I don't think I've ever seen such a concensus of opinion about a movie among my friends, ever. Almost everyone agrees this is a very good movie that might have been great if the last 20-30 minutes were either chopped off entirely or modified heavily. Only I, however, have had the balls to insist Kubrick and Spielberg ripped-off D.A.R.Y.L. We remember, you thieving bastards! We remember!)