There is a scene halfway through A.I. Artificial Intelligence in which a tattered group of androids is being demolished in a circus show. Orphaned robot-boy David, played by Haley Joel Osment, struggles to comprehend why anyone would want to kill a harmless freckle-face like him. But David's robot friend Gigolo Joe, an artificially endowed Casanova played by Jude Law, is world-weary enough to understand that the circus is a product of people's paranoia that robots are taking over. "History repeats itself," Joe says. "It's the rite of blood and electricity."
Movies repeat this rite, too. From Frankenstein to Blade Runner and The Terminator, playing God with technology has inspired filmmakers for decades. What happens when we learn to create in our own image? Or when our technology gives us power we can't control? This fascination has not escaped the cinematic odd couple behind A.I., a film that, though it may not rank with the classics mentioned above, was certainly made with more thought than the typical summer blockbuster.
For nearly 30 years, Stanley Kubrick dreamed of filming a short story called "Supertoys Last All Summer Long," about an android boy with real feelings who, after a series of malfunctions, is abandoned by the human mother he loves. Thinking back to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and its HAL 9000 computer, one can easily see how the irony of a machine more human than humans would fascinate Kubrick. But A.I.'s portrait of a lovable-but-misunderstood outsider also recalls another iconic movie acronym: E.T. That's where Steven Spielberg comes in; he took over A.I. after Kubrick's death. Those of us who prefer A Clockwork Orange to Hook might cry foul, but Kubrick had actually discussed handing the project over to Spielberg, so nobody gets to rant from a cinematic high horse on this one.
What's interesting about A.I., then, is how this unlikely partnership seeks to render anew the oft-explored "playing God" theme, and how the film reflects its creators' widely different sensibilities. A.I. portrays David's quixotic quest to become a real boy, which Pinocchio has taught him is the key to earning his mother's love. But the late-21st century rendered here--a sort of low-rent Blade Runner, despite its computer-enhanced effects--is even crueler than our own time. As androids suffer discrimination, David must learn that his life is no fairy tale. Along the way, as in Spielberg's Schindler's List or Kubrick's Paths of Glory, we're reminded of the dangers of misguided righteousness.
The underlying coldness of David's odyssey is pure Kubrick, but its tender storytelling bears the mark of Spielberg, who gets sole screenplay credit for the first time since 1977's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It's as if The Wizard of Oz's Tin Man and Scarecrow made a movie together--Kubrick gave the story a brain, and Spielberg gave it a heart. Problem is, the parts feel recycled: Like Gigolo Joe says, the rites of blood and electricity resound with both the weight of history and generations of artists--Kubrick and Spielberg included--trying to make sense of it. A.I. lives up to its pedigree, but at the cost of having a life to call its own.
The short story on which
is based, Brian Aldiss' "Supertoys Last All Summer Long," was originally published in a 1969 issue of
Stanley Kubrick reportedly was waiting to direct
until special-effects technology caught up with his vision. After seeing
, Kubrick decided that technology had arrived, but subsequently decided to make
before returning to his pet project, which he would not live to make.