Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Artificial Intelligence is better than NO intelligence at all!!!

The following review is an old one from my previous site. I was talking to my girlfriend about this movie last night about how both of us pretty much didn't like this movie and I wanted to dig up this old review to see what my thoughts had been about it. I actually was easier on it than I remembered. Though I still stand by my opinions on the negative comments, I do not even remember ANY of the positive things I mention, which is weird.

On with the show...

D. Steven Spielberg

I must state up front that if you plan to see this film then do not read this review until after. In the process of explaining my decision regarding this film’s worth I will give away major plot points and even the ending. Regardless of my opinion, you as an audience member deserve to make up your own minds and see a film with it being spoiled by a critic. So if you want to see A.I. stop reading now.

This much anticipated adaptation of Stanley Kubrick’s former project by his supposed buddy Steven Spielberg has polarized audiences from coast to coast. The film could easily be summed up with a new title of "DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC TEDDY BEARS" as it shamelessly pulls plot ideas and situations from Phillip K. Dick’s story DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTIRC SLEEP which went on to become the seminal Sci-Fi film BLADE RUNNER.

For those who don’t know A.I. stands for Artificial Intelligence. The film is about a robot boy played by Haley Joel Osmett (of THE SIXTH SENSE). He is real in every way (well almost but we’ll get to that later). He is placed into a home of a family whose son has been in a coma for a long time and looks like he will not be coming home. The experiment is too see if human’s can learn to love something that is not human, and can it love them back.

The first 50 minutes of the film cover this quandary in the typical Spielberg fashion. Which is to dump the robot kid into as many jeopardizing situations as possible to pull at your heart strings. Actually interesting arguments such as whether or not it is a good idea to play god by creating an artificial person are left by the wayside so the film can be packed full of tearful interludes as the parent’s begin to fear the robot because he doesn’t understand their world. Essentially it is E.T. with a robot kid. Much is made early on about imprinting the robot kid’s memory with emotions. Only the Mother can do this and it is made very clear it is irreversible. The mother spends the first few minutes of her screen time appalled by the very idea of the child robot. But after spending a day with him annoying her she decides she does want to be his real Mommy and imprints him. No reason is given for her change of heart. She just does it to set the plot in motion. Almost immediately the Father begins to resent the little light box of a kid, even though it was his idea to bring the thing home and keep it in the first place. These are just examples of emotional inconsistencies that are present only to further the film into the area of forever flowing audience tears.

Next the child who was in the irreparable coma (the child we have not scene since the beginning of the film) is magically okay and moves back home. He immediately begins to destroy the family life the robot kid has made and instills the very easily planted seeds of dissent in the parents.

The climactic moment of the first act (the movie is very carefully structured in the Hollywood blockbuster acceptable three act screenplay) is the Mother abandoning the robot kid in the forest cause she simply cannot live with his robotic menace anymore. She loves him, but her real child is back, so it’s the highway for Haley the Roboboy.

The remainder of the film (nearly two hours) is the kid’s journey to get back home and to become a real boy just like Pinocchio (which is hammered so far into your skull that you want to go back in time and murder all involved with Pinocchio just so you never have to hear it referenced in the movie ever again!).

Then the movie really begins with roboboy’s journey to discover who he is and what being and Android is all about. But lets stop a minute and look at the first third of the movie. The crux of the rest of the film hinges on the idea that the kid wants to be reunited with his flesh parents and be a real boy. These are the same people who favored sending him back to the factory to be killed (the Dad wants that) and the Mom who can’t deal with the guilt of that act so SHE ABANDONS HIM! Its okay though because she can’t die he’s not a real boy! So as an audience we are supposed to take the next two hour journey with this character to find something that is pretty much reprehensible. The movie really could have taken a turn here and made some statements about child abuse and learning to be an adult. But it doesn’t.

Instead it becomes a typical action, sci-fi extravaganza that on a purely visual level is actually very entertaining. The next hour of the film sets up a very believable future full of sexual overload (though this is only hinted at really) and burnt out cites where destroying robots has become sport and competition. The scenes in the flesh fair (sort of Robot Gladiatorial challenges) are some of the best stuff Spielberg has done since RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Too bad we had to sit through not one but two faked death scenes of the robokid before getting there (and don’t worry there are more in the film to come!)

This is also where the film introduces Jude Law (who I find to be an immensely annoying screen presence anyway) as the Android sex machine who gets framed for murder in the second scene he is in. I’m sure in the original source material this character played an integral part, but not anymore. He is in the film to guide the kid around from point A to point B. The biggest reason he is in the film (and the reason he is framed for murder by characters we never meet again) is so there can be a climactic tear jerking scene where he is carted off to prison after befriending the kid. There is no reason what so ever for him to be a sex android in this final version of the film.

Here in lies the film’s biggest problems. Whenever a real issue with relevance or importance rears up Spielberg deflects it in his constant barrage of smaltz. Why bother telling a story that makes comments on child Abuse, the idea of Humans playing God, the inability of mankind to communicate emotionally and sexually, when you can have some kids throw the little robo-bastard in a pool so you think he might die. At least then you’ll gasp and maybe shed a tear in relief!

Once again do not read further if you intend to see the film!

In the third act the film literally bends time, space and reality to make sure the kid can be briefly reunited with his bitch flesh Mother. But this has to be the ultimate tear jerk moment, so instead of just letting the kid find his mother (cause then they would have to actually deal with some of the above issues mentioned) they jettison him into a future where he is found by Aliens who can clone his mother but she will only be alive for a day. That way they can spend a perfect day together, she can kick the bucket and everyone walks out bawling. Except it doesn’t work because the Mother has done such a heinous act in abandoning the kid that we feel no sympathy for her.

Is the movie terrible? No, it is not. As per usual with Spielberg’s work the design is breathtaking. The vision of the Future is still BLADE RUNNER light, but at least it is pretty to look at. The midsection of the film really picks up as it becomes a pure sci-fi movie by creating another world were new rules exist. Yet Spielberg sees fit to fill these moments with unneeded audience pleasing clutter that suck you right out of the movie such as the Dr. Know animated character voiced by Robin Williams. Or the convenient way the kid traps himself underwater for two thousand years just so he can be woke up and have his little happy moment without confronting the real issues at hand.

Ironically the best thing about the film is the one element that looks to be the most annoying at first glance. The walking, talking, thinking animatronic teddy bear (simply Named Teddy) is the film’s saving grace more than once. Why? Because it is a character that could have easily been played for cutesy laughs and smaltzy interaction, but instead is played as the brain of the film. He is cute, for Christs’ sake it’s a teddy bear, but he never over does it in a film where everything else does.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding how Kubrick would have never allowed the film to become the three hanky weepfest that it is. I believe that to be true. His last film was one were audiences flocked to see Nichole Kidman and Tom Cruise buck naked and were disappointed when they were faced with an obtuse movie that dealt with real issues, emotions and the extreme complexity within. I’m sure he would have treated the material with the same depth he showed in all his work.

Unfortunately Spielberg is not capable of that kind of depth. Even his best films are simply entertainment pictures (DUEL, JAWS, RAIDERS) that exist to entertain and little else. That is fine, people need entertainment. But when faced with material that demands more the answer is not to rework it to a breaking point so audiences can feel all choked up. It’s a problem Spielberg faces every time he tries to do something serious. Even a film as important as SHINDLER’S LIST is hurt (though not destroyed) by his overbearing need to manipulate the audience into tears and reactions. For God’s sake we are watching a film about the Holocaust, we do not need any manipulation to feel something! We don’t need the little kid we don’t know running from the Nazi’s and hiding in shit, we don’t need the light shinning down from God on Shindler as he gives a speech that explains every point you were supposed to have gotten out of the film.

I suppose my biggest complaint with A.I and Spielberg’s work is that he treats the audience like they are feeble minded by watering down actual ideas in his work and overstating the elements that he really wants you to feel. Let me feel something on my own, don’t force my attention into it. His work is the epitome of the Hollywood ideal that Audiences are stupid and have to have everything spelled out for them. Its insulting.

I also have a beef with his use of Kids in his films. Most of the time they are there simply as a focal point for the young audience. I understand that and it is fine. My problem is that he uses kids whenever he feels the need to twist an emotion out of an audience. E.T. is the worst for this as the kids are chased, threatened, abused etc. all to get the audience to cry along with the movie. E.T. himself could be seen as a big kid that Spielberg ultimately KILLS to elicit a reaction, but then back peddles and for no reason at all, brings back to life for the triumphant resurrection! I would hate to see what Spielberg would do to the Christ story!

But back to the kid thing. In abusing the kids for the audiences pleasure (and kids are very often abused in his pictures, both JURASSIC PARK flicks, E.T, HOOK and now A.I.) Spielberg shows a very sadistic instinct. Its almost as if he is inviting you the audience to enjoy the degradation of the children (in fact in JURASSIC PARK the scenes in which the little boys are threatened or hurt it is the good guys doing it and usually ends with an audience laugh). In A.I. this is taken to ridiculous extremes since the kid can’t die. There is even a scene where the kid confronts another robot made to look like him (why would the company looking to market robot children make all of them look exactly the same. Wouldn’t that make keeping track of them really more difficult that it would be worth) and he literally rips off his face and knocks off his head! But it gets worse! I find the way he handles the sexuality of children to be very creepy as well. Especially the scene in A.I where all the kids gather around Robokid and touch him repeatedly. Yes within the context of the story it makes sense, but did it have to happen by the pool so all the little boys are almost naked. Did it have to be shot and blocked so it feels like a rape scene? Did the big bully kid need to look in Haley’s shorts to see if he had a dick? Did Spielberg really need to abuse all those half naked native kids in INDIANNA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM? Was the scene where all the kids gather around and paint Robin Williams body really need to be there in HOOK? These are just questions to ponder the true meanings of.

If you catch A.I. in a theater make sure it is a matinee or second run and you probably will not hate it. But if you are like me and have a real problem being manipulated instead of honestly engaged by a film then stay away at all costs! I think I should go read some Phillip K. Dick now to cleanse my palette. (AC)

And here is a clip of Haley Joel Osmet's finest work outside of The Sixth Sense...


  1. "Even his best films are simply entertainment pictures (DUEL, JAWS, RAIDERS) that exist to entertain and little else. That is fine, people need entertainment."

    But it is not fine that Spielberg is treated as the King of Filmmakers by a fawning public when there are other directors who have made much more thought-provoking, challenging, and emotional films than Spielberg. What about David Cronenberg? David Fincher? Or even Stanley Kubrick himself? Does Spielberg deserve to be on the same plateau as those guys?

    "I suppose my biggest complaint with A.I and Spielberg’s work is that he treats the audience like they are feeble minded by watering down actual ideas in his work and overstating the elements that he really wants you to feel. Let me feel something on my own, don’t force my attention into it. His work is the epitome of the Hollywood ideal that Audiences are stupid and have to have everything spelled out for them. Its insulting."

    Obviously the audiences are stupid because when you bring up that criticism (or any other criticism of Spielberg for that matter) they look at you as if you've committed a mortal sin. I admit that statement may be a bit overly cynical. Still, as Crispin Glover pointed out in his essay "What Is It", its pretty much social suicide to question Spielberg.

    Anyway I found a really interesting article online about Kubrick, Spielberg, and AI that you might like:


  2. Nice review..I've read that those werent aliens at the end but advanced robots.They eventually became the dominate species.