Artificial Intelligence
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A.I. Artificial Intelligence

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Throughout the ages man has had the need to tell stories of fancy, of dreams. Often these stories come with a cautionary moral to instruct as well as entertain. These stories are the fairy tales that help form the social consciousness of our culture. As we enter the 21st century man’s need for fairy tales are still with us, perhaps in this technological age even stronger. Stanley Kubrick had always wanted to do an updated telling of the Pinocchio story of a mechanical boy that yearned to become a real boy. Upon the death of Kubrick director Steven Spielberg took up the task and A.I. Artificial Intelligence came to film. The original story comes from Brian Aldiss' 1969 short story, "Supertoys Last All Summer Long," What is delivered to the audience is both an homage to one great director from another and the first true fairy tale of the 21st century. The film opens with Professor Hobby, the head of an advanced team of cybernetic experts. They have created the most life like mechanical people, mechas, used to fill the needs created in a world that has suffered ecological disaster. Hobby wants to take cybernetics a quantum leap forward, to create a mecha child that would imprint on a human and provide unconditional love. The end product is David (Haley Joel Osment), the simulacrum of an eleven-year-old boy. He is placed with a husband and wife, Monica and Henry Swinton (Frances O'Connor, Sam Robards). Their son is in cryogenic storage waiting the day when his fatal disease can be cured. Over a little time Monica is drawn to David and speaks the seven words that will activate the imprinting. Things go well until one day the real son is cured and brought back home. Circumstances require Monica and Henry return David but since he is imprinted on Monica he cannot be reassigned and must be destroyed. Monica is unable to bring him back to the factory so she sets him off in a forest with only a mechanical teddybear for company. David figures that if he can find a blue fairy like in the Pinocchio story he can become a real boy and Monica will love him. He sets out on a danger filled adventure to locate her. Along the way he enters into a symbiotic relationship with a love mecha Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a mecha designed to please human women. They encounter much in the way of prejudice, hardship as David is drawn to the ruins or New York City where his destiny awaits.

The film is basically a vehicle for the considerable talents of young Osment. The young man that brought the words "I see dead people" to everyone’s lips scores again with his portrayal of David. To act as a mechanical person is difficult enough for an adult but here we see a young actor that has complete control of his craft. By every account I have read Osment is the consummate professional yet he stills maintains the youthful exuberance of his young years. With unblinking eyes and a thin mask to emulate artificial skin, Osment is capable of invoking a broad spectrum of emotions to the audience. As David’s quest forces him to grow more human Osment’s body language subtly changes, just a movement here or a gesture there but the cumulative affect is powerful for the viewer. There is another rising start in this film, Jude Law. Ever since Gattaca I have been impressed with his abilities. Rather than taking the role of Joe to the obvious two-dimensional comic relief he gives the spark of life to this love robot. There is a very real chemistry between Joe and David, great to watch. The breakout star in this film is not a person at all but little Teddy, David’s mechanical teddy bear. He is the consummate friend and is great as the Jimny Cricket to David’s Pinocchio.

The directorial style is a mixture of two of the greats, Kubrick and Spielberg. Here, Spielberg offers homage to his friend and mentor. One example is the flow of the story. In a very Kubrick manner there is a play in three acts, introduction, action and resolution. The visual style presents the best of both directors. Long time Spielberg DP, Janusz Kaminsky plays with the color, pushing the contrast and altering the pallet to provide a balance between the feel of a fairly tale and hyper-reality. While many viewers have expressed distain for this technique I found it worked for me. It made the film visually interesting. The sound is excellent. Fortunately Kubrick’s perchance for mono sound was not used here. Spielberg uses the full sound field to bring the audience into the story. In a way it was good that Kubrick entrusted this film to Spielberg. The later is much more proficient in the use of modern CGI effects and how to balance special effects with a story that can touch the audience. While the effects are vital to the story they enhance the tale, not overpower it.

The two-disc set is calibration quality. This is how a DVD should be made. The first disc has the movie complete with both Dolby 5.1 and DTS sound. I felt the DTS handled the sound field slightly better, fuller back fill, more balanced low frequencies etc. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video was free of defect and perfect in every detail. The extras go above and beyond the normal. Every aspect from set design to acting decisions to the massive special effects are covered in full detail. Watch the film first, take an afternoon to view all the extras and then go back to the film again. The first viewing for the wonderment of the story and the second viewing to appreciate the technical effort that went into this project. I could not classify this film in the Sci-Fi genre. It is truly the first modern fairy tale of the new millennium, fantasy in the purest form. There are plot holes in the film. Ignore them. Did you question your mother when she read you this type of story at bedtime? Surrender the adult aspects of your life and enjoy the tale in memory of the child we all once were. Don’t over analyze this story, enjoy it.

Posted 3/16/02

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