Science fiction and fantasy                                            

A.I. Artificial Intelligence

directed by Steven Spielberg

A.I. Artificial Intelligence poster  
Parenthood without responsibility, or any of the mess. It's an intriguing idea. In the future, robots with artificial intelligence are all around. The latest development is a robot child, designed to love its parents and be loved in return. The idea is that childless couples might want one.

Frances O'Connor and Sam Robards play Monica and Henry Swinton, a couple whose son is dying of an incurable illness. He has been cryogenically frozen whilst they wait for a cure. They are the first to test the prototype robot child, David. At first the mother is horrified by what she sees as an attempt to replace their child. But he learns to be more human, and she is won over by his robotic charm. However, if she decides to imprint him as her own it will be irreversible. The only way to change it would be to take him back to the factory to be destroyed.

The early scenes between David and his new mother are all very cute and a little too sentimental. Then something amazing happens and Martin, their real son, is able to come home. A jealousy develops between them as Martin and David compete for Monica's affections. But David's programming is flawed and he ends up putting David in harm's way. David has to go.

He is abandoned, and it is here that David comes across the other unregistered "mechas", including Gigolo Joe. Things begin to get interesting as we move through less homely environments. Joe is a sex robot, on the run following the death of one of his customers. This death is never fully explained, presumably it is accidental but we aren't told. Although when you see Joe in the movie trailer saying "They hate us," it gives the impression of something far more sinister. In the context of the film however it loses some of its threat.

David and Gigolo Joe stick together to help each other out. David has a quest to complete, he has read Pinnochio and wants to become a real boy. Essentially he has come to hope for the impossible.

Haley Joel Osment has quite a bit of scope for interpretation, as a boy playing a robot playing a boy. He can't go wrong. However he manages to make David both a believable robot and a likeable character. The cast in general put in strong performances. Jude Law's Gigolo Joe adds a bit of excitement and colour to any scene he is in.

The visual effects are consciously very showy. There are touches of Blade Runner in some of the scenes, and the ending has a completely different look to the rest of the film. But some of the best effects are in the robots themselves, in their many guises. David's teddy is one of the best of these, as well as being one of the more sympathetic characters.

AI is a good, watchable movie until about three quarters of the way through. It's a thoughtful and intelligent fable about love and the nature of humanity. Unfortunately it doesn't quit while it's ahead, and is overly long, the ending being particularly slow and mushy. Style and good performances can't make up for a poor story. The scriptwriter hasn't succeeded in expanding Brian Aldiss' short story into a full-length film without adding unneccessary padding. The film has a promising start, but it doesn't sustain interest for the entire duration of the movie. I kept wondering when it would end, and hoping it would be soon. And then when it did end, the whole affair was disappointingly saccharine. Even if you like weepies this is not guaranteed to please.

Bonus Disc

The DVD comes with an entire disc of bonus material, with a good hour's viewing on it. In the acting section Haley Joel Osment reveals his technique for playing David. I didn't think he needed one, but apparently he didn't blink during the entire movie in an effort to appear robotic.

The disc also covers designing, lighting, effects, robots, special visual effects and animation by Industrial Light and Magic, sound and music. It really brings home the expense involved in this kind of movie. If you have a special interest in any of these things it will be worth watching, but it's not rivetting. And like many bonus sections the emphasis is on propaganda as much as animation. I wish just once someone would say that the director is a bitch to work with, and that Jude Law picks his nose. It's all too serious.

Film Details

Year: 2001

Categories: Films

  Science fiction

Classification: 12

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2 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson

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