If this is the future, I don’t want anything to do with it.
In the near, not-too-distant future, global warming has caused massive flooding and heavily reduced the human population. Also during this time, a scientist by the name of Professor Allen Hobby (William Hurt) has started creating robots known as Mecha who walk, talk, and feel just as humans do. One robot in particular is David (Haley Joel Osment) ends up getting adopted by Henry (Sam Robards) and Monica Swinton (Frances O’Connor), who are still reeling from a injury their son, Martin (Jake Thomas), had and left him in a coma. Through David, Henry and Monica get the chance to help raise another child; one that, due to the technology embedded in him, no matter what, David will always and forever love them both. And for awhile, it seems to be going great, but once Martin wakes up, then all hell breaks loose for David and the rest of the Swinton family. This leaves David navigating through the rest of the world where robots are either left to slave their ways through raunchy jobs, or get destroyed for the public’s amusement. But no matter what, David wants to become a real boy and along with Joe (Jude Law), a robot gigolo, he believes that can happen.
A lot of people have gotten on Spielberg’s case for A.I. and unreasonably so. For one, all of the odds were stacked against him as is with Kubrick wanting to make this movie, dying, and then having his estate pass off the rights to him. Another, is that Spielberg really had to make this appeal to a broad-audience so that he could not only make a “good” movie, but one that would also make rich people, even more rich (something that, due to the source material he was stuck to work with, was no easy task). And lastly, well, because he’s Steven Spielberg; while he can do whatever he wants, he still always loves to end things on a happy, if not overly-positive note.
Which, considering the bulk of A.I., is surprising.
What’s perhaps most interesting about A.I. is that it finds Spielberg in pure-creative form. While we start the movie off at a suburban household, we eventually get thrown into this huge, futuristic world, and this is where Spielberg really shines. This isn’t to say that the first-half of the movie doesn’t work as its own, because it does, but it also seems manipulative in that Spielberg needed a reason for David to be thrown out into this great big world, so therefore, had to create tension among characters who, quite frankly, are pretty stupid.
No seriously, take the Henry character, as played by Sam Robards, for instance. At the beginning of the movie, we see that he’s suddenly all about having a robot-boy come into their lives and fill the void that their unconscious son can’t for the time being. Monica, on the other hand, but soon turns the other cheek. Around the same time, however, Henry begins, for no reason or another, to despise the very idea of David and clearly wants nothing to do with the thing, so therefore, scolds it and refers to it in passing, as if it’s something they have to deal with, rather than embrace.
Uhm, excuse me, bro? But weren’t you the one who bought it in the first place?
Anyway, then the Martin kid wakes up, gets pissed-off that David is trying to be too much like him, and then, we’re treated (which, in this case, probably isn’t the right word, but whatever), to one of the more disturbing scenes Spielberg’s ever made. David is abandoned in a grassy, mostly deserted area of the woods by Monica, who does nothing but push and shove him away from her, professing that she wished she “taught him more about the world”. Considering that she never discussed this when David and her were spending so much time together, this seems random, but still, the fact that David – something manufactured to love unconditionally – is yelling, screaming, and clearly, “feeling” distraught, makes this scene hit harder than it probably should. After all, David is now lonely in this world and while he may not know what to expect, he’s still a young thing, and it’s hard to not feel an ounce of sympathy for him.
But like I said, once the movie gets into discovering this world more, Spielberg clearly starts to work his smart wonders in not only exploring its creepiness, but its downright bleakness. While Kubrick would have definitely envisioned a much darker, more disturbing future, Spielberg’s future is still pretty damn bleak; a future where huge crowds of hooting, hollering, beer-swigging crowds cheer over the destruction of malfunctioning robots for entertainment. Once again, the picture that Spielberg paints isn’t nice, or sweet, but because it’s Spielberg, it’s slightly a bit lighter than what Kubrick would have done and because of that, it’s always going to be held up to scrutiny.
However, it shouldn’t and that’s the problem.
One of the key themes within A.I. is loneliness. David being on his own for a solid majority of this flick (although, he does have the adorable Teddy by his side), this is especially clear. He has a quest for becoming a real boy, but because we know that this dream of his will never come true and the adventure will lead to almost nothing, it’s very sad to watch as he constantly tries to make himself, as well as those around him, believe in it. Though he’s a robot, he’s still a kid-like robot, whose wonder and amazement of the world around him can never be matched by any cynic old-head, like you or I.
Once again, this is all sad and it’s supposed to be. Even Joe’s story, although random and not especially necessary, still seems to revolve around him making all sorts of sweet love to women, yet, still not have any true connections in the world and mostly just glide-on by. That he has nothing else more to make of his life other than that he was “a great lover”, already makes it clear that Joe is a robot, with nothing else to him but just that. Together, David and Joe find one another and seem to set out on a world that, quite frankly, doesn’t care about whether or not exist.
I’m getting depressed just writing about this. But I’m not mad, because that’s the point.
By the same token, though, Spielberg still screws the movie up by losing this idea about half-way through. Though the movie is nearly two-and-a-half-hours, it takes a long while to get where it needs to get going and once it eventually does reach its drive, it feels like something of a cop-out. Spielberg decides to take us to the source of David’s creation and what’s supposed to be scary, shocking, and disturbing, just seems like an odd twist thrown at the end to create a drama, as if this were some sort of futuristic soap opera.
And then, there is, as we all know, the ending. Yes, this is the same ending that Spielberg still catches flak for, as well as he should. To be honest, it feels like something of a cop-out; the idea of having this story relate to Pinocchio’s already feels like that, but when Spielberg jumps into the future, many, many years later, and describes practically everything to us, it’s as if he doesn’t trust his audience anymore. Now, the same audience who sat by, watched and were disturbed by the sci-fi future he had to present, is now the same audience who is listening to Ben Kingsley rant on about exposition that doesn’t make any sense and would have probably been left better off not included.
Then, it just ends. David is treated to a dream that he always wanted, and even though the movie has reached almost two-and-a-half hours by this point, it still feels as if there’s something more to be explored. The outside world surrounding David, maybe, but still, there’s a certain incomplete feeling to A.I. that makes me not only want to watch it again, but possibly think harder and longer of where it could have gone.
But the movie, as it stands, still works – it’s just not nearly as great as it could have been had Kubrick been alive to have it made and see the light of day. Rather than fall for all of the sympathetic, melodramatic sap that hits the later-half, Kubrick would have found a certain path to go with that would have made it stuck around longer. But because he wasn’t around, the movie feels like it wants to tell a sweet ending, to a pretty bitter story.
The only way Spielberg insists on doing.
Consensus: Though it doesn’t reach the magnifying heights it could have with Kubrick alive to make it, A.I. is still bleak, dark and interesting enough to make up for the fact that Spielberg sort of drops the ball with the last-act.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Movpins
I loved this movie……….and I never wanted it to end. Sure it’s a bleak world, no wonder, look at the bleak people in it! The only people (sic) worth rooting for are the robots and they are all on a road to nowhere as soon as they are created.
There is a book available called (something like) A.I. – Kubrick’s Vision, with a lot of fabulous artwork that, I’m sure, would have gone into Kubrick’s film. Obviously Spielberg either didn’t have the money (?) to work with this artwork, or he decided to put his own slant on things. I think the latter applies.
Admittedly, Kubrick’s vision would have been a masterpiece in it’s scope and the characters would have been a lot more wooden (if that’s possible). But still, I’m sure it would have been a wonder to behold!
Spielberg’s “slant” is not a bad thing here. He is a master storyteller and all he had to work with really was the little boy (robot), the magnificent Teddy and a marvellous, but brief, Jude Law.
HJ Osment is outstanding once again and just his expression is worth a thousand lines of dialogue! What a pity that some of these child actors have to grow up (exception-Kirsten Dunst).
Loved the stuff with the family……..his brief journey with Jude Law and then on his own……..for me that movie could have gone on forever! Maybe David would have eventually found The Master himself!
A terribly underrated film!
Loved your review by the way. Thanks Dan!
This is one of Spielberg’s most underrated films … Love it! Solid write-up 🙂
Loved everything about this movie except that ending which you addressed perfectly. Great review!
I probably wouldn’t have seen this movie at all or even gotten interested in seeing if I wasn’t at a time where I wanted to see Haley Joel Osment in everything- that kind of thing tends to happen when I love someone’s voiceover work [in this case, Kingdom Hearts]… and was a tad disappointed that he spends most of the movie doing that whispering thing he did as a kid [starting in his “Sixth Sense” debut] and I only got to hear that Sora’s voice come out of him in one scene that lasted 2 minutes.
That aside, the movie is sad and does run long, but I found it utterly fascinating. Great visuals, a protagonist you really want to see happy despite the futility of it all. Actually, after seeing a bunch of Philip K. Dick sci-fi, I’d been wanting to see this movie again- just to see if I find more to enjoy about it… I saw it so long ago  I have little memory of it
Really great review. I forgot about the tremendous theme of loneliness in this movie (it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen it), and now I remember how absolutely depressed I was after seeing this! The ending stabs a dagger straight through my heart!!!
Need to reassess this film. This has grown in stature over time, but I remember that ending bugging the hell out of me. Like I say, I need to reasses. Nice job Dan.
Need to rewatch this again (another Bluray sitting unopened). I did see a reading of the film a few months ago that believed that David dies at the end when his ‘mother’ dies. Not how I ever saw it but thought it an interesting idea, that he finally becomes a ‘real’ boy and dies, and that the future mechas allow that. It is a fascinating but flawed film. So imaginative in places, you have to wonder though, whose vision are we so impressed by, Kubrick or Spielbergs? Guess Spielberg could never win, but it is one of his most interesting films.
“Rather than fall for all of the sympathetic, melodramatic sap that hits the later-half, Kubrick would have found a certain path to go with that would have made it stuck around longer.”
What do you mean by this? The whole ending of the movie — with David being resurrected by Supermechas — was Kubrick’s idea, not Spielberg’s. Spielberg was remaining true to Kubrick’s vision.