Retro Review: A.I Artificial Intelligence

AI movie posterIn the early 1970s, Stanley Kubrick acquired the rights to the 1969 short story by Brian Aldiss titled ‘Supertoys Last All Summer Long.‘ Intellectually obsessed, Kubrick began working on a screenplay to turn Aldiss’ short story into a modern-day Pinocchio, hiring a team of writers to work on a script for over 20 years including the original author, sci-fi author Bob Shaw and eventual screen-story credit Ian Watson.

The film stagnated in development for years. Kubrick felt that a child actor would make David too human and that the CGI capabilities of the day weren’t quite up to scratch. Rather than give up on the project, Kubrick chose to wait for technology to catch-up with the demands of the film. Attempts were even made to create automated, robotic version of David, though efforts were quickly stopped as the robot was described as ‘too creepy’ by the production team.

Four years before his death in 1995, Kubrick handed the project over to his dear friend Steven Spielberg. Staying close to Ian Watson’s original screen adaptation, Spielberg took on the mantle as both screenwriter and director.

The final cut is loaded with Kubrickian touches; cold, elegant, darkly philosophical. But Spielberg interposes with love, combining Watson’s original screenplay with his own, often overlooked, fierce intellect. A.I Artificial Intelligence is a broad, child’s POV sci-fi epic, except without the usual Spielberg-ian blanket of comfortable sentiment.

Still from A.I. Artificial Intelligence

© Warner Bros.

The film begins with forlorn couple Monica and Henry mourning the loss of their son as they discover he may never wake up from him coma. They are chosen to take on David, a ‘mecha’ child robot capable of love. The only snag is that once you encode David with love, there’s no turning back.

We are experts at throwing our own human emotions onto non-human subjects. These emotions are carefully managed within our own minds and the way we see these emotions reciprocated is heavily constrained. But what would it really be like if we were to imbue a non-human subject inexperienced with emotion, with ‘real’ love?

Just pause for a second to consider, the demands of loving another human being. A.I asks us imagine a love that is unconditional, without judgement, without fatigue. Now imagine you programmed this, and only this, into a robot destined to live for eternity. Sounds intense right?

Osment’s performance is in equal measure unnerving and mesmerising. Spielberg and Osment work together to produce David with unblinking eyes, a waxen complexion and a deep naivete.

Osment’s adult career will be forever marred by his uncanny ability to act beyond his years, in a way contemporaries couldn’t quite manage. His father was said to have refused to use ‘baby-talk’ around him, which may go someway to explain Osment’s disconcerting precociousness.

After a particularly traumatic scene where David is separated from his ‘mother’ the film  shifts gear as David embarks on his journey in the real world to find the Blue Fairy and become a real boy. With his bear automaton Teddy acting as his guardian, David teams up with sex-mecha Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) and finds himself escaping from the Flesh Fair and venturing onward into the neon, ‘mecha equivalent of Las Vegas’, Rouge City.

Both the Flesh Fair and Rouge City are shining examples of twisted Kubrickian influence and Spielberg’s outlandish imagination colliding with  the most inventive applications of CGI. Acid-soaked nanny robots with melting smiles, actors faces seemlessly split in half to revealed their inner workings, even the way Jude Law’s hair is given a still, plastic-y finish akin to the hair on a Ken doll.

The film battles with some pretty weighty philosophical quandaries and certainly questions the notion of sentience. In one scene at the Flesh Fair, an old butler ‘mecha’ is about to destroyed and he asked one of the other captured ‘mechas’ to turn off his ‘pain receptors.’ The ‘mecha’ is fully aware of what is about to happen to him and knows that he’d rather not feel himself be ripped into pieces, thank you very much. For the viewer, watching these ‘mechas’ be destroyed is a deeply unsettling experience.

Unsettling, confusing and profound; A.I is a voyage into a fairy-tale wonderland slotted neatly into a cold and bleak vision of an artificial future. While many audiences may recoil from the weighty ideas being juggled around in the film or balk at the fanciful and ‘out-there’ ending, you have to admire Spielberg’s vision. If anything, A.I is a certified conversation starter, guaranteed to keep you debating long after the film has finished.

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