It's Not About Steak Sauce After
There's an article I remember about 8 years ago hearing rumblings about
this mysterious project Stanley Kubrick was working on, called AI. At
this point, Full Metal Jacket was the last film he had produced, and
that was in 1987, so Kubrick fans were chomping at the bit for him to
bring out another masterpiece, and a science fiction one at that. I
waited and waited, and apparently Kubrick didn't feel he, or the current
state of special effects, were ready to make AI the right way, so he
gave us Eyes Wide Shut instead, and died shortly before post
production was through, seemingly leaving AI dead in the water.
I left Eyes Wide Shut with a bad taste in my mouth. Aside from
some nice nude shots of Nicole Kidman, and a hypnotic sex party scene,
the film didn't seem to be a fitting end to Kubrick's career. Frankly,
the film pretty much sucked, with the real life romance and turmoils of
Cruise and Kidman's relationship clouding anything the film had to say.
When word came out that Steven Spielberg was going to take AI over, I
was skeptic to say the least. Certainly he gave us tremendous films like
Jaws, Close Encounters, and Schindler's List, but to stack popcorn
munching fare like ET and Jurassic Park against 2001 A Space Odyssey and
The Shining seemed like a joke. Was he going to dumb it up? Was he going
to sacrifice deep intelligent filmmaking for robots and car chases? The
odds were certainly stacked against him.
And so apparently were the initial reviews. I thought it was a bad sign
when the newspaper ad was topped with a quote of praise from Rex "I'll
rave about any film just to keep my name out there" Reed. Moriarty from
Aintitcoolnews.com ripped it to shreds and called it a let-down, and
even Roger Ebert, the critic I respect the most, seemed mildly
disappointed with it. Hell, even Matt told me some of his friends walked
out on it an hour into it, so I feared the worst.
But faced with a schedule that made me choose between The Fast and The
Furious, and AI, I had to give it a shot. I'm glad I did.
I always like stories where we struggle with what humanity really is.
From Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, where man reanimates the dead to create
life, to various series of Star Trek where Data and the holographic
Doctor evolve as machines, but never quite get there. If you make a
machine that looks like a human, talks and moves like a human, even
fucks like a human, as in the case of AI, is it human? What defines
life? The missing element, explored in this film, is LOVE. While Moulin
Rouge celebrates how "all you need is love" in a heavy handed and campy
way, AI curses its main character, a boy robot named David (brilliantly
played by Haley Joel Osmet from The Sixth Sense), with the ability to
A couple, who's son's been in a coma for years, is given David to "field
test" and see if they like him. The mother, who's a wreck and has been
mourning her son's coma for ever, activates the commands that imprints
love for her in David's circuits, bonding him to her for all eternity.
It's a dream come true, until the realities of the situation turn it
into a nightmare.
David can't understand that she'll die someday, and he'll be forced to
live forever. And when her "real" son recovers and comes back home, he's
relegated to being "a toy". As her affections wane, his only grow
stronger. David just wants to be held and loved by his mom. Imagine if
you got sick of your Furby but you couldn't turn him off and he followed
you around everywhere.
Unfortunately, once activated to "love", the programmers can't remove
the emotion, and his mother knows that he'll be destroyed if she takes
him back to the manufacturer, so she abandons him in the forest, like
the father in Hansel and Gretel, to fend for himself. It's one of the
most heart wrenching and sad scenes I've seen, as he clings to her
screaming as she flings him aside and drives off into the night.
At this point, he begins a fairy tale quest, inspired by the Pinnocchio
story he was read, to find The Blue Fairy, in hopes he can be made into
a real boy, so his mom will love him back.
That's the central question of this movie. If you can teach a machine to
love, can you actually love it back? Is a mother showing love for a
robot son any different than Tom Hanks bonding with a volleyball in Cast
AI is a masterpiece. You've got beautiful eye candy that puts
Bladerunner to shame, and performances from Jude Law (the robot
Gigolo Joe) that are impressive beyond belief. Not to mention "Teddy", a
walking talking stuffed bear that is unbelievably cool looking. (And
with this technology, a live action Winnie The Pooh film would kick
major ass). And though the signature Spielberg touches are there
throughout, the spirit of Kubrick has affected everything. John
Williams' soundtrack is made more classical and haunting than his usual
scores. Even the somewhat sad and cryptic ending leaves you asking
questions as the credits roll, much like we saw in 2001 A Space
Spielberg was fortunate enough to actually meet with Kubrick and discuss
AI in detail before he died. Perhaps that may prove to be AI's undoing
with so many, though, as the film is too smart for the average American
moviegoer. The same audience that Spielberg helped to create, ultimately
are the folks that will hate this movie. People want happy endings with
sharks blowing up that are easy to figure out.
Spielberg has solidified himself as the greatest American filmmaker with
AI. It's sad to see his comrade George Lucas sinking deeper and deeper
into Star Wars toy commercial oblivion, while he continues to grow.
Let's hope it doesn't take the death of another great director to
encourage Steven to try something like this again.