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A.I.: Artificial Intelligence Review

By Joe Lozito

Hack to the Future


It's odd to see the nearly infallible Steven Spielberg so visibly unsure of himself. But his new film "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence" feels as though it were made by a man riding the edge between breaking new ground and falling back on his instincts. This may be due to the fact that "A.I." was the pet project of the late director Stanley Kubrick. Mr. Spielberg undertook the project as a joint venture with Mr. Kubrick before his death. Mr. Spielberg may have felt some obligation to carry on his colleague's work despite being uncomfortable in Mr. Kubrick's darker more cynical milieu.

"A.I." is "Pinocchio" with circuitry, the time-honored science fiction story of a robot yearning to be human. In the case of "A.I." the robot is fashioned as a young boy. The story has three distinct parts: the boy's assimilation into his new family, his quest to be made a "real boy" and his final deliverance (for lack of a better word).

The futuristic environments in the film honestly have the feeling of a Stanley Kubrick idea filtered through a Steven Spielberg lens. The suburban family home is sterile, with rounded corners and odd cartoon murals, like something out of Mr. Kubrick's "2001". But the camera is constantly in motion as if Mr. Spielberg wants to add action to the proceedings rather than allowing the audience to dwell there. The seedy sex capital "Rouge City" (which Mr. Kubrick apparently wanted to be architected with phallic buildings) instead feels like a neon nightmare only slight steps away from modern day Las Vegas, rather than the Korova Milkbar of Mr. Kubrick's 1971 "A Clockwork Orange". And of course, John Williams' music swells at all the right moments, in stark contrast to the monotone piano-pounding of Mr. Kubrick's last film "Eyes Wide Shut". And, unfortunately, the tacked on epilogue to the film is the worst kind of Spielbergian schmaltz.

At least one person comes out shining from this film though: Haley Joel Osment. The 13 year old wunderkind from "The Sixth Sense" proves he is no one-trick pony (after the sappy "Pay it Forward") by giving a performance that does nothing short of carry Mr. Spielberg's 2 ½ hour opus. Mr. Osmet's pure, ordinary face conveys a range of robotic nuances with the emotive subtly of a seasoned actor four times his age. It is his performance that gives "A.I." its heart and its grounding.

There are certainly moments of wonder in the film. The images of New York, half-submerged in the Atlantic, and the corresponding underwater footage, are breathtaking. But in essence it feels as though Mr. Spielberg pulled back on us. Unaccustomed to playing in a dark Kubrickian vision of the future, he softens it up, not trusting his ample filmmaking skills or the audience's intelligence to follow him into a world that might be frightening and frighteningly real.

What did you think?

Movie title A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
Release year 2001
MPAA Rating PG-13
Our rating
Summary Steven Spielberg takes Stanley Kurbrick's story of a robotic Pinocchio lost in a dark future and lightens it up with a bit too much schmaltz, but Haley Joel Osment's extraordinary performance carries the film.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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