Review: A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #800

Number of Views: One
Release Date: June 29, 2001
Sub-Genre: Dystopian Sci-Fi
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $100,000,000
Box Office: $235,900,000
Running Time: 146 minutes
Director: Steven Spielberg
Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg, Bonnie Curtis
Screenplay: Steven Spielberg
Story: Ian Watson
Based on Super-Toys Last All Summer Long by Brian Aldiss
Special Effects: Michael Lantieri, Stan Winston (uncredited)
Visual Effects: Scott Farrar, Henry LaBounta, Dennis Muren
Cinematography: Janusz Kamiński
Score: John Williams
Editing: Michael Kahn
Studios: Amblin Entertainment, Stanley Kubrick Productions
Distributors: Warner Bros. Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures
Stars: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor, Sam Robards, Jake Thomas, Brendan Gleeson, William Hurt, Ashley Scott, Kathryn Morris
Voices: Jack Angel, Ben Kingsley, Robin Williams, Meryl Streep, Chris Rock

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Daze “Tamagotchi”

[2] John Williams “Stored Memories/Monica’s Theme”

[3] The Pinker Tones “S.E.X.Y. R.O.B.O.T.”

[4] John Williams “Where Dreams Are Born”

Am I alone in thinking that Tamagotchi were perhaps the most utterly purposeless pieces of junk ever to vacate the production line? In the late nineties and early noughties, these virtual pets were all the rage and over 76 million of the buggers found their way into homes worldwide. By and large, their owners were children and we all know how much attention kids pay to instruction manuals. We all want that adorable little Russian hamster and cross our hearts that we’ll take care of the little fella, but that interest soon wanes once the entire house starts to reek of rodent piss, and it’s a good job our parents are on hand to bail us out and take over cleaning duties. Tamagotchi may not have possessed bladders, but that didn’t stop us having to toilet train them. Worse still, failure to mop up their droppings or feed them regularly would result in low productivity levels and eventually death. It’s bad enough that old people start dropping like flies once we hit a certain age, without our best-loved gadgets starting to croak too.

Thankfully we live in an ever evolving world and technology has advanced considerably since the turn of the millennium. Just think of the gizmos that will be available by the late 22nd century; the mind boggles as to the kind of future proof gear that we’ll be able to get our hands on by then. Of course, with global warming moving at its current rate of knots, the entire world will be largely flooded and any coastal cities such as Venice and New York will have been wiped clean off the map. But this is one way to address the population explosion and Mother Nature is only too happy to lend a hand there. In addition, the good folk over at the Cybertronics Corporation have patented a new class of robot called Mecha, a highly progressive model capable of emulating human thoughts and emotions, so those who qualify to take one home need never again feel lonely or incomplete.

Take David (Haley Joel Osment) for example and tell me you’re not instantly won over by his big blue eyes. Don’t make the mistake of expecting him to blink as you’ll have a long wait believe me. On the surface at least, David is very much your average cute as a button prepubescent boy. However he’s also a prototype and with the latest Mecha model preparing to launch to market, this cherubic little face could soon sit all dewy-eyed on the shelves of all good retailers. Needless to say, malfunction is as unlikely as mood swings, as David has been programmed primarily to love and doesn’t have a bad diode in his body. This is great news for faithful employee Henry Swinton (Sam Robards), and his wife Monica (Frances O’Connor), as their only child Martin (Jake Thomas) is currently in suspended animation while doctors search for a cure for his rare illness. David would make an ideal stop-gap and they can simply boot him down when their real son eventually comes to. Everyone’s a winner right?

I mean look at the face on him, isn’t that just the most precious little artificial child you ever did see? As if he isn’t already winsome enough, he has even befriended a similarly synthetic robo-bear named Teddy and the pair appear to be getting on rather famously. Granted, he has a tendency to follow mom around the house like a wayward lamb, particularly once she begins to warm to their new house guest and activates his imprinting protocol. But this just means that David will have an enduring devotion to his mother, and with her husband so busy with his work, Monica could really do with the company, not to mention the unconditional love that he donates by default.

The pair soon bond, and where first tentative, it soon reaches the point where she cannot imagine life without her little tech-trooper. What he lacks in bona fide emotion, he more than makes up for with a willingness to learn and the fact that puberty will never show up unannounced and gatecrash the party. David is now utterly indispensable and it seems that nothing whatsoever could tarnish the good thing he clearly has going at the Swintons. Happily ever after it is then.

But what’s this? Those medical bigwigs have only gone and discovered a cure for Martin’s affliction and released him from his perpetual limbo. Never mind David, you may no longer be mommy’s number one son but think of the positives – at least you now have a brother to play with. Naturally there will be a dash of sibling rivalry but just the usual – asking Teddy who he likes more to overload David’s circuitry and challenging his love rival to cut off a lock of mom’s hair while she’s sleeping using a pair of scissors not designed for safety. It could be worse, it’s not as though Martin is about to stage an elaborate ruse out by the swimming pool, leaving David looking like he cannot be trusted around their beloved boy under any circumstances.

I do hope you’re water-resistant David, and while we’re on the subject, crushing disappointment resistant would come in handy right now too. You see, while it’s been just spiffing having you around the house, mom and dad aren’t quite ready to shoulder the burden of liability and that means it’s back off to Cybernetics for on the spot termination. Hold on, did I read that right? Termination? Mommy, have a heart will you? Surely you can’t allow this to happen to your once precious substitute child after all the smiles and cuddles you shared. Tell you what, swing by the forest on your travels and abandon him instead but don’t forget to pack Teddy so he won’t be alone when he is captured minutes later and hauled off to the anti-Mecha Flesh Fair. They’ll take good care for him and at least he can be terminated in front of a crowd of cheering onlookers. Out of sight. out of mind, eh Monica?

No need to feel hard done-by as I’m sure you’ll make friends once you’re there. I understand that a trauma like this could wreak havoc with a young boy’s wiring but you were pre-programmed way back at installation so stop whining like a bitch as you’ve already served your purpose and the slag heap really ain’t that bad once it burns through the first few layers of chrome. Fine, you’ve obviously got a bee in your bonnet over something so knock yourself out little buddy and grab yourself a besty. Look, there’s one right there as we speak and a finer specimen I never did see. You can borrow my WD40 if you feel like oiling those joints so to speak.

Just for the record, I was speaking of the one on the left but whatever fills your hard drive I guess. That is Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a fellow artificial human just like you, although more geared up towards the adult entertainment side of cybernetic engineering and far from your PG-13 variety of droid. Apparently this hot metal hunk ‘o’ man machine can perform acts with his tongue that only mommies and daddies are permitted to know about, and if you ever manage to track down yours, then don’t forget to ask her about the birds and bees and put that neglectful bitch well and truly on the spot. After the shit she pulled back at the thicket, I’d say she’s earned that excruciating pleasure. Had I mentioned that Joe is currently wanted for murder? Don’t blow a gasket, it was a frame-up and he’s actually a rather congenial fella once he zips his junk back in.

Together perhaps you can locate your old family home and suffocate Martin with his pillow while he sleeps. After all, the only thing that really matters is finding your owner and picking up where you left off as Cybertronics Corporation didn’t think to fit you up with any secondary objectives. This proposes to be a rip-roaring adventure and I’ll have my fingers crossed that it all works out in the end. However, right now I must leave you in the capable and mildly blood-stained hands of Gigolo Joe as we’re no closer to finding out why the hell we’re here in the first place. Call it a debrief if you will. I hear the Blue Fairy doesn’t like to be kept waiting.

Is he still looking at me? Thank fuck for that. Jesus he’s clingy. Anyhoots, Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence was actually the brainchild of none other than the magnificent and wonderfully quirky late great Stanley Kubrick after he acquired the rights to Brian Aldiss’ future savvy story, Super-Toys Last All Summer Long, way back in the seventies. He sat on it for many years, before approaching his close friend and asking him to hop aboard. Something about this particular tale (which Kubrick referred to affectionately as Pinocchio) troubled him greatly and he felt that the project would be better served under Spielberg’s supervision than his own. Computer graphics were still relatively in their infancy and he didn’t feel that he could do such an elaborate design justice at this point.

As a result of his hesitancy, A.I. wound up sitting in development hell for another lengthy period, and with Kubrick pre-disposed with Eyes Wide Shut, was placed on indefinite hold. Alas, he died soon after and all that was left was for Spielberg to honor his buddy’s grand vision as best he could. By his own admission, the pressure of such an undertaking was immense as this had been on the back-burner for too long not to work specifically to Kubrick’s insistent specification. Wherever Stanley is now (and I have no doubt that it’s some place hyper cool and happening), I reckon he’s smiling wide so feel free to pat yourself on the back Steven as you did the old boy proud.

The bleak dystopia you fashioned feels vibrant and tangible; a faintly chilling interpretation of what the 22nd century may well look like if mankind doesn’t pull its thumb from its ass and cease treating our fair planet with contempt. His world feels both familiar, and in the exact same moment, utterly incomprehensible, but never anything less than epic. From Rick Carter’s magnificent production design and Janusz Kamiński’s dazzling cinematography, to the typically grandiose orchestral score of John Williams and the impeccable state-of-the-art visual effects that never once distract us from the saga unfurling before us; A.I. is slick enough to lick.

However, the most extraordinary achievement comes courtesy of our stray replicant David, and when you consider that Osment is in practically every scene in the film, what he produces is nothing short of staggering. We all know he has the cute kid down to pat after this turn as Cole Sear in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, but his task here is far more monumental as he has to balance being lovable with not possessing the correct tools to compute why anyone would show him such affection. How do you even begin to coax a performance like this out of one so young? The answer where Osment is concerned is simply roll cameras and bask in his glorious light. 

It’s clearly infectious as Law’s performance as Love Mecha, Gigolo Joe, is as flawless as his skin, and once again, we find ourselves warming to what is essentially a collection of nuts and bolts preset to randy groping. Meanwhile, the role of nutty professor seems custom-built for William Hurt and he predictably hits the ball out of the stadium in the short time he is on screen. Possibly the most magnanimous support comes from O’Connor who beautifully conveys her character’s thankless plight.

On one hand, her family comes first, and this leads to some decidedly difficult decision making. However on the other, David is the only one who can truly give her what she craves most and the moments between mother and synthetic son are both sweetly captured and organic. No small feat given that David is only ever one compromised firewall away from factory settings.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence asks a great deal of its audience. It requests that we open our doors and hearts to a young boy who only feels because it is embedded in his programming, that we forget any human emotions are merely projections and yearn for his return to the one place he can ever find something non-generic. Spielberg has always been one for cheery optimism and we know sentimentality will be soundly sewn up under his jurisdiction.

But Kubrick’s uncompromising vision of the future runs right through every frame and the result, while a rectifying tube away from absolute perfection, is a marriage that will stand the test of time I’m sure. Love is the message Grueheads and it matters not whether blood pumps around your heart or data to your CPU, we all deserve that one shot. And who says beauty is only skin deep?

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10

Read Ex Machina Appraisal
Read Blade Runner Appraisal
Read Dark City Appraisal
Read Interstellar Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

Click here to purchase All of Me Vol. I, II, III, IV, V & VI

Click here to purchase on Amazon

© Copyright: Rivers of Grue™ Shadow Spark Publishing™

If you like what you've seen & read please feel free to share your thoughts with us!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.