Friday, April 27, 2012

A.I. Artificial Intelligence Movie Review

As I often say, I don’t like categorizing films according to genre. It’s an oversimplified way of describing a film and it tends to undermine any movie that doesn’t have a clear cut category into which it fits. There isn’t a lot of genre blending when Sci-Fi is involved, but Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) is an unusual blend of Sci-Fi and drama. I think that’s why some people were put off by it. Generally we go to a Sci-Fi movie to see explosions, action, aliens, and special effects. A.I. does have some amazing special effects, but it’s a character-driven drama first and foremost.
 In the future, the human race reaches the point of creating realistic robots (called mechas). One of the mecha-producing companies builds David (Haley Joel Osment), the first child mecha and the first to have real feelings; particularly a never-ending love for his human “mother,” Monica (Frances O'Connor). David was meant to be a substitute son while her real son is in cryo-stasis with an incurable disease. David lives happily with Monica and her husband, until their real son returns home after a cure is discovered. Rivalry arises between the two boys and they compete for Monica’s affection. Eventually Monica decides to return David to his manufacturer to be decommissioned to prevent any further problems. But Monica has become so attached to David that she sends him out on his own to prevent his destruction. Child-like David decides that if he can find the Blue Fairy from Pinocchio (a story Monica once told him) that he can become a real boy and win back Monica’s love. With the help of Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a male prostitute mecha on the run after being framed for murder, David sets out on a journey to earn Monica’s love again.
A.I. was originally the concept of Stanley Kubrick who later turned it over to Steven Spielberg. After Kubrick passed away, Spielberg finished the project as a tribute to his deceased friend and colleague. Kubrick is known for making bleak movies while Spielberg is known for making happier movies; both writing styles are manifest in A.I., creating some interesting thematic contrasts. We see cold, creepy mechas who look and act similar to humans, but can’t replicate genuine human behavior; compared to genuine love between family members. There is innocent child-like nature and domestic bliss, which differs from the gritty harshness of the world outside where mechas are treated with hate and mistrust by some. These contrasting elements make for an interesting and diverse setting. I think the overall theme of A.I. is that humans are unique, diverse, special, and impossible to replace.
On the one hand, David is remarkably adorable and endearing, but on the other hand there’s something disquieting about him as well. This is a different sort of character that Osment plays from his famed role in The Sixth Sense (1999), and he plays the part brilliantly. One of the subtle things that makes this character so eerie is you never see him blink; this was an aesthetic suggestion that young Osment made to Spielberg. You want to empathize with the lovable David, but we are constantly reminded that he is not real. We (and David’s “mother”) are projecting emotions onto a machine that is only able to simulate emotion, but not perfectly. In the end, I’m still not sure if this artificial being is someone I should relate to or feel sympathy for, almost like an old computer I don’t need any more. I liked the computer, but the machine and I didn’t have an emotional bond. Nevertheless, I tear up at the end A.I. every time I see it.
 A.I. Artificial Intelligence breaks away from our expectations of Sci-Fi and presents us with a drama, not an action movie. I think that divergence is off-putting to some viewers. There’s also several points in the movie where it could have ended, but kept on going. The actual ending is touching, I think. There are themes and directing styles that were influenced by both Kubrick and Spielberg, which make it fascinating to watch if you’re a film connoisseur like me. I’ve got a copy on my movie shelf next to some other favorites of mine. I think this movie would be alright for younger audiences (maybe 10+), though it may raise some awkward questions such as “What does ‘Gigolo’ mean?”

What is your favorite robot movie? It could have good robots or bad robots. Comment below and let me know!


  1. I had a reader say his comments weren't showing up here. His comments were E-mailed to me so I could post them here:

    Well, speaking of favorite robot movies, the OTHER robots in AI are of note.

    The robot of the future, the distant descendant of David's technology, is a thoughtful historian trying to piece together the history and the anomaly of human existence. A masterpiece of character selection, its robotic mind unable to determine what is obvious to the audience; people have souls. . . and David might.

    By the way, I am quite unable to discuss “the perfect day” without tearing up. < excuse me for a moment >

    I do want some of the batteries that kept David cognizant for a century.

    Other favorite robot movies:

    Seems to me that the word 'robot' was not coined until 1939. However, the first robot movie that I am aware of was the 1929 Metropolis. That had to amaze audiences at a time when movie making technology had nothing more than imagination.

    The Tin Man in the Wizard of OZ and the 60's Stepford Wives might not count as Robot Movies, but I certainly remember a few of the finest scenes in cinema history that involved self-aware, ambulatory machines. Some were even called robots.

    Who can forget the meaning of a wink in I Robot?

    Who can forget Harrison Ford in Blade Runner sitting on the rooftop with the now dead replicant that did not want to die alone?

    Who did not cheer for the hero in RoboCop when the jerk CEO was fired and then he was terminated?

    Who would not agree the the liquid metal robot in Terminator II was the most formidable opponent of all time? The ultimate cold ruthless killer.

    Who could not enjoy the space ballet in Wall-E? Best application of a fire extinguisher in film history.

    Who thought that Mecha-Godzilla would actually win?

    Who did not recognize Laurel and Hardy robot characters in the first Star Wars movie?

    Who was not moved by the plea, “No disassemble!” in Short Circuit?

    Who could think of a better resolution of a hopeless story ending than the suddenly animated bolt in Iron Giant?

    Who would not agree that some of the most creative robots were in the movie, Robots?

    Who was not flabbergasted when the Decipticon jumped up, transformed into a jet, and left the scene in the first modern Transformers movie?

    Who was not amazed then Data was overcome with fear in Star Trek: Generations, not accustomed to his emotion chip?

    Who was not intimidated by the towering power station stealing robots in Sky Captain?

    Although Robbie was a secondary character in Forbidden Planet, he did set the standard for robots for the next dozen years.

    Who did not think that the ultimate betrayal by an employer was Ash the android in the first Alien movie?

    I suppose that a non-amulatory computer is not a robot, but one of the coldest murder threats of all time had to be, “I'm sorry Dave, but I'm afraid that I can't do that.”

  2. I am so happy you reviewed this movie! I am so mad that so few people have seen it! Out of all the crap movies out there that get so much hype (Twilight for example) this movie was casted wonderfully, the plot and script were amazing and it really tears at you heart and makes you think. Yet still no one watched it. They should re-release it and force people to see it :)

    1. This is one of my favorite movies! Kudos to you for bashing Twilight. Seems like not many people liked it when it was originally in theaters, I can't imagine more people suddenly liking it if it were rereleased. Those of us who like it can continue to do so in peace and quite while others can go and watch Twilight and other such crap.
      Thanks for your comment!