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2001’s A.I. is a beautiful film…by Steven Spielberg. Whether it would have turned out as beautiful if it had been directed by Stanley Kubrick, as was originally planned, is questionable. It probably would have been more cynical, like a cross between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Lolita, or something like that. Even so, what Steven Spielberg did with Kubrick’s vision is impressive, if a bit over the top and mawkish.
A.I., believe it or not, is a lot like Full Metal Jacket (and yes, there WILL be a lot of references to Kubrick in this review. Brace yourself.). I don’t mean in the sense that there’s an anti-war or an anti-dehumanization message here, though you could definitely make the argument for the latter. What I mean is, A.I. really feels like two separate films, much like Full Metal Jacket and its boot camp/war is hell sections. There’s the first part of A.I., which is a really touching, haunting film about a family dealing with a robot child (Haley Joel Osment) and their emotions toward each other. And then, there’s the fantastical, out-there adventure story about that same robot boy and his journey with his robot gigolo companion, played by Jude Law. I’m not really sure which story I prefer, as they both have their merits. But I do know that you can definitely see the different minds of Kubrick and Spielberg at work in those two different storylines. Kubrick’s vision is on the front end of the movie, and Spielberg’s is on the back end. It makes for a disjointed, complex film that still holds up, even after a decade.
The story is ultimately about mankind’s technological progress moving too fast, almost to the extent that we’re making technology better than us and making mankind obsolete. This is not just the viewpoint of a staunch Luddite, either, but a prevalent message to be taken about the entire movie, which is made evident by the finale of the film, where robots have actually advanced to the state that they’ve evolved on their own. That said, the story is also a Pinocchio tale about a boy who desperately wants to be real, and it’s that element of heart that really makes this movie shine.
Haley Joel Osment does the best acting of his career here. He plays a robot, here called a mecha, who only wants to be loved by his owners, and goes on a bizarre journey that concludes with some of the strangest material I’ve ever seen put to film. I definitely know where the movie Knowing got its conclusion from now. Again, the whole Spielberg touch is definitely prevalent here, and I would have loved to see how Kubrick intended the story to end. That said, the journey is all quite magical, and we feel sympathetic toward Osment’s character. I’m also quite sure that Kubrick would have taken the story in a different direction, what with his fear of extreme advancement in 2001: A Space Odyssey. But again, this was Spielberg’s interpretation of a Kubrick film, and in that, I think he did a pretty decent job.
Along the way, Osment meets Jude Law’s robotic male prostitute character, Gigolo Joe. And from there, we’re introduced to a whole assortment of different robots that are done in a very sophisticated manner that is a melding of both CGI and actual robotics. In the year 2001, it’s nice to see that Hollywood still wasn’t CGI obsessed, and I think it says a lot that we might have taken a step backward in using so many computer generated effects today. I wonder what Kubrick would have had to say about the current state of movies, what with their green screens and Zack Snyder mindsets.
But I digress. If there’s one major problem I have with this movie, it’s that it’s too long. I get that Spielberg had quite the tale he wanted to tell here, partly because he liked the story, and partly because he wanted to create a fitting coda to Kubrick’s career, but there’s just too much stuffed in here. I think a good half hour could have been cut from the film. Still, A.I. is a masterful film full of deep concepts and startling imagery, especially on Blu-Ray, which I now think is the only way to watch this film. If you’re a sci-fi junkie like myself, and also a Kubrick nut, then you need to see this film. It’s got a lot to say and it deserves to be heard.
There is well over an hour of extra content loaded on this disc, but I’m pretty sure there’s nothing new here that didn't appear on the original DVD release. Still, it’s almost overwhelming how much content is in the special features. The only thing missing is a director’s commentary, but you get so much in exchange that I think it’s a good thing it’s absent. It probably would have been too much.
“Creating A.I.” is just that, a segment on the creation of the film. There’s a lot of talk and pictures of Kubrick and the deeply etched money bags underneath his eyes here, and it’s great. Being a massive Kubrick fan (he’s my favorite director, by far), it’s nice to hear so much love thrown in his direction and to learn that at one point in his creation of the film he even requested that Spielberg direct it and that he produce it. I never knew that. I always just thought he died before he got a chance to do anything with it, but according to these special features, that wasn’t the case at all. He had already gotten the project off the ground since the '80s.
“Acting A.I.” features both Osment and Law talking about what it’s like to play robots. It’s fascinating stuff. Especially seeing what raw talent Osment once had. He was such a natural actor (jeez, I’m talking like he’s dead).
“Designing A.I.” “Lighting A.I.” “A.I./F.X.,” and the “Special Visual Effects and Animation” features are all deep and introspective looks at everything that went into making the visuals so stunning. “The Robots of A.I.” is a lengthy, but interesting, discussion on the purpose of robots in our society and how they were created in the film. Some were actors is costume and some were actual robots. It’s really impressive. “The Sound and Music of A.I.” delves into the strange sounds that go into a sci-fi flick and also the John Williams’ score that plays throughout. And “Closing: Steven Spielberg: Our Responsibility to Artificial Intelligence” is similar to what I mentioned earlier about the film’s message on how we need to be careful with how much of our souls and intellect that we invest in technology. It almost sounds like Kubrick is talking vicariously through Spielberg in this segment.
Designs and two trailers round out the rest of the special features.
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