A.I. Artificial Intelligence

(Dir. Steven Spielberg, USA, 2001)

[part of a BFI essays collection]

For a while after the events of Tuesday 11th September 2001, New York City was understandably treated with caution when it came to scenes of devastation. This embargo seemed to have faded by 2004, when The Day After chose the city as a centre for destruction. But back in 2001 producers of Spider-Man (2002) pulled a trailer showing a helicopter caught in a web between the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and a Schwarzenegger film about terrorists was shelved; British television cancelled the New Jersey Tunnel disaster movie, Daylight (1996), scheduled to air on Saturday 15th. However, the producers of A.I. had no choice: by September 11th, their film, with its impressive vistas of a flooded New York in which only the tallest buildings - including the twin towers - are visible, was already on general release in America. In Britain it had opened less than two weeks earlier. The culmination of a collaboration between twin giants of the cinema, Kubrick and Spielberg, would have to ride the storm.

As a result, when the books were being balanced at Dreamworks there was, perhaps, a temptation to shrug shoulders and blame the film's indifferent box-office on world events. However, if the truth be known, A.I. was destined to founder because A.I. is not a great film.

With Spielberg taking full charge of the project after the death of Kubrick in 1999, the problem was never going to be with its visuals. Indeed A.I.'s $90million budget ensures a film laden with seductive images of a disparate future world: from the gruesome carnage of the robot circus, through the Shinjuku-esque splendour of 'sin city', to those chilling images of a flooded New York. No, the problem is Spielberg's script. Seemingly unable to decide which story to tell, and presumably attempting to incorporate at least some of Kubrick's vision, Spielberg grafts at least three plot threads together, creating a sprawling mass of false climaxes and denouements which evolve into a saccharine confection, schmaltzy enough to outstrip even E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982) (compare the titles).

Haley Joel Osment, repeating his personal success in The Sixth Sense (1999), here plays David, an advanced android whose unrequited love for his biological 'mother' drives him on a quest to become a real boy. David seeks help from the Blue Fairy to find his own maker. But not happy merely to discover the nature of his own existence, Spielberg's hero continues, finally rediscovering the Blue Fairy in the submerged Coney Island. Not content with this as a climax, Spielberg produces an ice-age and the film travels two thousand years into the future, where David is discovered by aliens. He is still gazing at his Blue Fairy. Reactivated, David now has the chance to touch his dream, but the ice-cold fairy shatters. Avoiding this climax, the aliens recreate David's mother, so that he can spend one last perfect day with her. Again, not content with this, the film finally climaxes with the recreation of the Blue Fairy. This film owes less to its science fiction source, Brian Aldiss' Super Toys trilogy, and more to the Disney-soaked fantasy of Collodi's Pinocchio.

Despite advertising itself as "A Stanley Kubrick Production" A.I., like Kubrick's real last film, Eyes Wide Shut (1999), sadly offers inadequate testimony to a master science fiction film maker. For indications of Speilberg's own ability to master this genre, go instead to his first attempt, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

USA; Amblin, Dreamworks, Stanley Kubrick Productions, Warner Brothers, 145 mins; UK cert. PG
Producer: Bonnie Curtis, Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg; Writer: Steven Spielberg (story by Ian Watson), inspired by Brian Aldiss ; Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski; Editor: Michael Kahn; Art Direction: Richard I. Johnson, William James Teegarden, Tom Valentine; Design: Rick Carter; Music: John Williams.
Cast. David Swinton: Haley Joel Osment, Monica Swinton: Frances O'Connor; Henry Swinton: Sam Robards; Martin Swinton: Jake Thomas; Gigolo Joe: Jude Law; Prof. Allen Hobby: William Hurt.

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