out of five
: 145 mins
Spielberg’s long-awaited collaboration with Stanley Kubrick finally comes to fruition – by turns mesmerising, moving, irritating and frustrating, it is unquestionably worth seeing, not least for its incredible central performance by Haley Joel Osment.
You could be forgiven for thinking that A.I. was little more than a schmaltz-laden robot kid version of E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial or worse, ‘Bi-centennial Boy’, after the abysmal Robin-Williams-as-robot movie that flopped a couple of years ago.
Thankfully, however, that’s not the case - the spirit of Stanley Kubrick prevails and the syrup-levels are, for the most part, kept in check, resulting in what is perhaps Spielberg’s darkest and weirdest film to date.
The plot, adapted from sci-fi writer Brian Aldiss’ "Super Toys Last All
Summer Long", is, essentially, an update of Pinocchio (a perennial
Spielberg obsession) for the robotic age, with chunks of The Wizard of Oz and echoes of Schindler’s List and Blade Runner thrown in.
It’s set in a future where the ice-caps have melted, coastal cities are
underwater and population levels need to be strictly maintained. Thus, when Monica (Frances O’Connor) and Henry (Sam Robards) are given the option of ‘adopting’ a robot child after their own son ends up in a coma, Henry jumps at the chance and brings home ‘David’ (Haley Joel Osment), which, initially, frightens and angers Monica.
David, however, is no ordinary robot. As the wordy opening scene makes clear, David is the first of a new kind of robot – a robot that has been programmed to love.
The only question is, can the parents be taught to love a robot? Initially, the answer seems to be yes. Monica gradually warms to David and hard-wires him with her ‘love’ - the scene where he stops calling her ‘Monica’ and starts calling her ‘Mommy’ is both moving and deeply creepy.
However, when their real son Martin awakens from his coma and returns home, David becomes extremely jealous and –in a heart-breakingly traumatic scene – is eventually abandoned in the woods with only his robot-teddy as a companion, and forced to fend for himself.
The movie is essentially divided into three parts: in the delightfully dark and sleazy second section, David hooks up with Jude Law’s sex-bot Gigolo Joe after they escape a ‘Flesh Fair’ together (a sort of demolition derby where pleading robots are destroyed in imaginative ways for baying audiences).
Eventually, in the third section, the syrup finally materialises and things go a bit mystical (with definite shades of 2001) with an ending that, though thematically consistent, is still fundamentally unsatisfying and smacks of Spielberg’s crowd-pleasing tendency.
There’s an awful lot to enjoy along the way, though, from the jaw-dropping visuals on display and the amazing robot effects, courtesy of effects maestro Stan Winston.
‘Teddy’ is particularly impressive and a terrific character to boot - with his old man’s voice and tired demeanour he almost steals the entire show.
In truth, however, the film belongs to Haley Joel Osment, who gives a
terrific performance that will surely merit some Oscar attention come March.
It’s to Osment’s credit that he manages to make David so thoroughly convincing, at once childishly innocent and disturbingly creepy, and yet you truly come to care about the character and his quest to become "a real boy".
Make no mistake, A.I. is not a perfect film, but it’s by no means the
disappointment suggested by the film’s under-performance in the States,
either. Indeed, it has moments of astounding brilliance and is brimming with little details that will ensure the film rewards repeated viewings.
In the end, regardless of the misguided final sequence, it remains unquestionably worth seeing, not least for Haley Joel Osment’s stunning performance. Highly recommended.
Images courtesy of Warner Bros