A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Spielberg’s warm touch of sentimentality is obvious if reassuring in this sci-fi project that Kubrick was working on before his untimely passing.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #573

Dir. Steven Spielberg
2001 | USA | Drama/Sci-Fi | 146 mins | 1.85:1 | English
PG (passed clean) for some sexual content and violent images

Cast: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor
Plot: Finding himself rejected by the human world, a robotic boy programmed to love sets out to find the mythical Blue Fairy to transform himself into a real boy.
Awards: Nom. for 2 Oscars – Best Original Score & Best Visual Effects; Won Future Film Festival Digital Award (Venice)

Distributor: Warner

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Being Human, Love, Robots
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: DVD
First Published: 12 Dec 2010
Spoilers: No

If not for his untimely death, this would have been Stanley Kubrick’s next film after the mixed critical reaction he received for his last film Eyes Wide Shut (1999).  

His unfinished project was taken on by his long-time cinematic pal, the illustrious Steven Spielberg, who as a tribute to the great director of Dr. Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and A Clockwork Orange (1971), decided to complete the film for him. 

Written by Spielberg based on Kubrick’s early material and vision, Artificial Intelligence is at times brilliant and immensely thought-provoking.  As a science-fiction film, this is one of the genre’s better Hollywood entries.  

It may have suffered scathing criticisms from people who disliked the extended ending (which I admire and will try to rationalise its importance), but it remains to be a very well-told and identifiable story that has its roots in Pinocchio and realist fantasy.

The story tells of a robot boy called David (Haley Joel Osment) who is brought home by a loving couple to ‘replace’ their comatose son, Martin, who would never wake.  

Set in the distant future, the creation of David, a mechanical human-like companion who is programmed to love, turns self-aware and seeks to become a real human after the miraculous recovery of Martin leads to a competition for love from Monica (Frances O’Connor), their mother.  

Because of a series of misunderstandings, David is left to survive on his own outside the comfort of home together with Teddy, a talking toy bear who can think.

For most parts, Artificial Intelligence is a film chronicling the journey of one persevering robot as he attempts to find his ‘Blue Fairy’ who he hopes would turn him into a human so that he could return to Monica and be loved again.  The existentialist nature of Spielberg’s film allows viewers to question the idea of human consciousness. 

“Mommy, if Pinocchio became a real… and I become a real boy, can I come home?”

What makes us humanly real?  Is it because we can differentiate truth from falsehood?  Or is it because we are living flesh and blood?  By similar extension, what makes a Mecha humanlike?  Is it because they look human?  Or is it because of their capability for reciprocal compassion and love?

Spielberg’s direction is mostly assured, and with regular Janusz Kaminski photographing the film, expect a visual feast for the eyes.  The use of visual effects, which is nominated for an Oscar here, while unabashedly cool, retains a measure of hypnotic allure.  

There are moments in the film in which only Spielberg could have conjured up.  For instance, the shot of Teddy’s silhouette against a huge, bright moon, which references E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982).

In addition, the heavily-criticised final thirty minutes features some impressive visuals, with one particular moment evidently a homage to Kubrick’s 2001—that of a box-like vehicle floating across a desolate icy landscape.  

Speaking of which, it is with an acute sense of irony to note that the final act was what Kubrick had actually envisioned—the idea of moving thousands of years into the future—faithfully and boldly recreated by Spielberg but unfortunately thought of as overindulging in Hollywood sentimentality.

In my view, I feel that the final act is very important as it gives the film the closure that it needs – a measured, subtle, (and even meandering) philosophical ending that not only tugs at the heartstrings, but offers composer John Williams to finally perform the full main theme in all of its beauty and melancholy, which until then has only been heard in parts. 

Artificial Intelligence is an engaging science-fiction adventure that melds Kubrick’s chilly bleakness with Spielberg’s warm touch.  But for better or worse, it is the latter’s imprint that is more influential here.

Grade: A-  




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