February 22, 2020
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Artificial Intelligence

A spotty and slightly self-indulgent tribute with some stunning moments.

Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence
Starring: Haley Joel Osment, Sam Robards, Frances O
Director: Steven Spielberg
Rating: **

Is this a game? That's a question David, a robotic boy programmed to love in a Cold New World sometime in the future, keeps asking his adoptive mother Monica during much of Artificial Intelligence, Steven Spielberg's tribute to Stanley Kubrick. It's a poser that imbues the film. AI's Cold New World is full of new Great Games: poor nations have perished, rich ones live under totalitarian governments that regulate starting families, humans produce robots to perform everything, including paid-sex by programmed gigolos, information is mayhem, electric sports have replaced blood sports, and humankind's use-and-throw culture has peaked chillingly—ageing robots are junked. Humans resist robots' gradual assimilation into humanity too. So when Robots Like Us like David start getting too real and close to the skin, People Like Them just dump them in the junkyards or forests.

It's easy to see now why Kubrick bought rights to this late-sixties Brian Aldis story about a robot child trying to make a connection with his human mother. He finally told Spielberg to consider directing it because the movie "is closer to your sensibility than mine." It's also easy to see why the auteur might have balked at walking straightaway into the project: working on a child actor under strict big-studio time limitations, for one. So Spielberg, marshalling big studio resources that only he can command, wrote out the screenplay—his first since 1977's Close Encounters of the First Kind—in two months and completed the film in 68 days flat.

The result is certainly not the mother of all tributes, but to Spielberg's credit he brings a chilly bleakness eerily reminiscent of the auteur's 2001: A Space Odyssey. The 'mecha' (AI's world, by the way, is populated by 'mechas' or mechanicals and 'orgas' or organisms) gigolo's character, brilliantly essayed by the hugely talented Jude Law, has shades of the kinetic and endearingly venal Alex of A Clockwork Orange. When David walks into a cavernous futuristic lab full of robotic clones ready for the supermarkets, it reminds you of the frosty and silent magic of those memorable 2001 sequences. But this is finally a Spielberg film where endings must be happy, so after some harrowing adventures David bonds with his mother for a day, gets real and silently passes into the night. But even in its predictably sunny denouement, AI has its moments: an amazing performance by the then 12-year-old Haley Joel Osment (remember him in Manoj Night Shyamalan's spooky Sixth Sense?); and the dazzling FX that contributes to the post-modernistic hue of glitzy decadent cities, rowdy gladiatorial dome contests complete with a pulsating gothic rock muzak and futuristic Hell's Angels. Then there is the superlative camerawork of Janusz Kaminski, who has given Spielberg's work an entirely new, even mature, look that sometimes even makes the ridiculous look sublime. In the end, AI is a spotty and slightly self-indulgent tribute with some stunning moments.

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