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A.I. Artificial Intelligence


Haley Joel Osment and Jude Law star as robots in Steven Spielberg's ambitious and otherworldly science fiction epic.

Loosely adapted from the short story "Supertoys Last All Summer Long" by Brian Aldiss (Frankenstein Unbound), A.I. begins in a future where robots are an increasingly commonplace presence.

We meet the Swinton family, (mum Monica played by Aussie Frances O'Connor - Bedazzled; dad Henry played by Sam Robards - TV 101) whose young son is in cryogenic stasis waiting for a cure to be developed for his terminal illness. To supplant his presence in their lives, Henry brings home a "David" (played unnervingly well by Osment), an incredibly lifelike young boy robot who is programmed to love his parents. David is a prototype of a robot made by Henry's employers, leading robotics manufacturers Cyptertronics.

David becomes a happy part of their life, but when medical advances bring their real son back to them, David's presence seems redundant. He comes into conflict with the Swinton's flesh-and-blood son, and everyone realises he can't stay with them anymore.

It a heart-wrenching scene, a tearful Monica dumps David in the middle of nowhere with the apparent intention of saving him from going on the scrapheap with the other robots for which no one has any use.

This marks the beginning of a long journey for David, who along the way hooks up with a fugitive gigolo robot Joe (Law, excellent). David learns about the fictional character of the "Blue Fairy" from Pinocchio, who he comes to believe can turn him into a real boy, which he thinks will make Monica love him. David is committed to finding this blue fairy, a search which takes him to some truly surreal places.

Then the film, um, goes to another place, which appeared to perplex audiences, but I personally found to be the highlight of the film.

A.I. is an amazing, ambitious, flawed, visually spectacular and challenging film which I found to be Spielberg's most interesting work in some time. For me it represented the beginning of a new phase in Spielberg's career - a phase where he would really challenge himself for the first time in a while.

Throughout the 80s and 90s Spielberg made plenty of great films, but they were generally all blatantly, well, Spielbergian. While undeniably well made, these films tended to be quite predictable in their content (yes, I consider Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan to come under this description).

With A.I., Spielberg confounded audience expectation for the first time in two decades, arguably producing one of his most interesting works.

A.I. was developed for many years by the late, legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange), who apparently was waiting for film special effects to get to a point where he could fully realise his vision. The story goes, he worked with Spielberg (a director Kubrick reportedly greatly admired for his ability to connect so intensely with the populist audience) on the project, and then decided that Spielberg's sensibilities were better suited to the material than his own.

"I saw him maybe 12 times over two decades," Spielberg explains. "But one day in the middle of a conversation, he said 'You know, you really ought to direct 'A.I.' and I should produce it for you."

The film made a decent pile of money worldwide, but was not a massive success on Spielbergian terms. Audiences bred to expect straightforward popcorn joy from the man were put off by the extra long running time and big sci-fi ideas; while more hardcore sci-fi fans groaned at some of the more sentimental elements involving David's desire for familial love.

A. I. is a pretty out-there film, which while not without its faults, to me represented Spielberg becoming an interesting filmmaker again. It contains blatantly Spielbergian elements (parental love issues, moon visual motifs), but at the same time represents a massive thematic and conceptual leap for the filmmaker.

It also features some awesome and original futuristic vistas and technology which rank among the best cinematic visuals. I also really loved the "Teddy" character - a futuristic teddy bear (the "Supertoy" from the original story) who can walk on his own and has a disturbingly soothing monotone voice.

Plus keep an eye out for a short cameo by Kiwi actress Rena Owen (Once Were Warriors).


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