After twelve years of work on A.I. Artificial Intelligence, the great master Stanley Kubrick passed away. He had already handed the directing reins of the project to Steven Spielberg, who saw the film through to release in 2001, an apt year for Kubrick’s final project. For that is what this film is. While A.I. is undeniably directed by Spielberg, complete with his trademark style of lighting and camera movement, it is also undeniably dominated by the mind of Kubrick. What should have been the penultimate collision of two filmic pioneers, however, is an unfortunate miss.
In an eerily prescient future plagued by global warming and a waning human population, Cybertronics creates David (Haley Joel Osment). A “mecha,” David is a humanoid capable of emotion created in the likeness of the sickness-stricken son of one of Cybertronics’ employees. He becomes a part of the family, enmeshing himself to his mother (Frances O’Connor), until their actual son returns home and engages him in an ill-fated sibling rivalry. David then embarks on a Pinocchio-esque story, questing to become a real boy with his robotic teddy bear (Jack Angel) and the superbly performed sex-mecha, Gigolo Joe (Jude Law).
In the dozen years Kubrick took shepherding the project, he ensured even Spielberg’s influence wouldn’t overshadow his own. The film’s incredible roster of voice talent (Robin Williams, Meryl Streep, Ben Kingsley, and Chris Rock among others) all recorded their parts with Kubrick years before the project would go into production. A notorious hermit who would abscond for years prepping his next picture, Kubrick’s concept art guides the visuals of the film, as his handpicked choice of classical music and Full Metal Jacket-referencing band, entitled Ministry, play.
Spielberg’s influence on the film is obviously dramatic as well, but one unquestionably feels they are watching a Kubrick film done by Spielberg, and not the other way around. And perhaps that is where the project strays. Or perhaps, it simply wasn’t a satisfying story to begin with. Made two years after the equally discomforting and uncannily similar Bicentennial Man, which followed on the tail of Robin Williams’s other un-family-friendly family film, Jack, all three of these missed for one simple reason: they weren’t fulfilling to watch.
The film never quite gets off the ground, perhaps due to the limited emotional attachment one feels for the mecha protagonists. While the film’s objective was to humanize them and elicit an audience reaction on their behalf, it never did. The world is staggeringly bleak and the humans so tragically beyond saving, that one can’t help but adopt a feeling of “so what?” as we follow a robot boy travel a failing world.
The worst of the film will have to be spared discussion, in the interest of leaving the ending unspoiled. It is worth saying, however, that any thought that this tale was meant for a younger audience goes out the window. The joy so present in Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, a film that wrenched and warmed the heart, seems to have faltered into a dismal shell of itself. There is no message of hope, no light at the end of the tunnel. While tragic endings have their place, to add one onto the depressing two-and-a-half hours the audience has sat through compounds the weighty pessimism of the film.
Kubrick created with the strokes of a master. Spielberg has earned his place in the annals of cinema. Together they should have surmounted the highest peak. Perhaps with a different project they would have.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
A.I. comes packed with some fantastic features that will take you behind every aspect of making the film. With specific featurettes focusing on the actors, the design, lighting, visual effects, and more, you’ll be set for plenty of sci-fi happy techno-babble. Spielberg himself speaks over the credits to poise questions about human responsibility when dabbling with real-life artificial intelligence. To call it a warning is to understate the dramatic world of derelict creativity and reckless emotional harm that he manages to summarize in three minutes, when it took an unsteady film two-and-a-half hours to do the same, without any hope for the future.
"A.I. Artificial Intelligence" is on sale June 29, 2001 and is rated PG13. Sci-Fi. Written and directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, William Hurt.