A.I. Artificial Intelligence on DVD
by Jim Bray
A.I. is Steven Spielberg's take on the story of Pinocchio.
It was supposed to be a lot more than that, since it's also a kind of
posthumous collaboration between Spielberg and another legendary director/producer,
A.I. began life as a Kubrick project, though he apparently had been pushing
to have Spielberg direct it. This is understandable: the story is sugary
sweet and much more suited to Spielberg's lighter touch than Kubrick's
brilliant though darker hand.
It would have been fascinating to have seen how Kubrick would have done
A.I.. The first two thirds of the film would have suited his style very
well, though the final third is Spielberg at his warmest and most fuzzy.
And that's the film's fatal flaw: it can't really decide if it's a Kubrick
or Spielberg movie and in trying to honor the late director Spielberg
has watered down the best of both directors' styles and given us instead
a bit of a mishmash.
So while A.I. is an interesting, visually and aurally stunning movie,
it's also one that's terribly flawed. It's still well worth a look, though
- as is any Spielberg and/or Kubrick film whether you love or hate the
The story, based on sci-fi writer Brian Aldiss' short story "Supertoys
Last All Summer Long," follows the "life" of a robot boy named David (Haley
Joel Osment, who is outstanding in this role) from his first conception
(well, proposal) by a robot manufacturer (William Hurt). David is conceived
of as the first robot capable of giving real love, a surrogate child for
couples who dream of having children but who are barred by legislation
The prototype David goes home with one of the company's employees, Henry
Swinton (Sam Robards) whose own son has been put into cryogenic hibernation
and is to all intents and purposes dead to them. He brings David home
to help fill the void in his and his wife Monica's (Frances O'Connor)
life. And it looks as if David will work out very well as both parents,
especially Monica, fall under his innocent spell.
Monica eventually decides to activate the cybernetic bond between them
by performing a programming routine that's analogous to a futuristic version
of programming a VCR. This process imprints Monica onto David's neural
circuitry, forming a mother/child bond, and is irreversible, so she has
been admonished to be sure she's ready to commit to a lifetime with David
- and she truly feels she's ready.
David becomes the perfect surrogate son, calling Monica Mommy and heaping
plenty of childlike love on her. It's a wonderful robotic achievement
and I could see childless couples lining up for their own Davids if the
model ever went on sale.
But then something goes horribly wrong, thanks to unforeseen circumstances.
Henry and Monica's real son Martin (Jake Thomas) is restored to them,
and through no fault of his own - or really of Martin's - David becomes
a real threat to the family. So Monica leaves him off by a roadside much
as one might dump an unwanted dog, forcing David into a life on the road
where nothing is certain except uncertainty.
There are echoes of Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun" here, in the young
"boy's" new life and the unlikely partnership he strikes up with an adult
figure (in "Sun" it was John Malkovich's character who mentored the boy;
here it's Jude Law as pleasure robot Gigolo Joe).
And it's here that the Pinocchio themes really start to surface, getting
progressively more heavy handed (or at least less subtle) as the film
progresses. Rejected by his family, David thinks if he could only become
a real boy like his "brother" Martin, then his mother would love him again
and everything would be as it was.
His search takes him to a "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome-like" environment
called the Flesh Fair, where humans destroy robots for entertainment.
Since the movie's being told from the robot David's point of view, and
since Spielberg can play his audience like a violin, we feel on the side
of the robots as they're humiliated and shattered - yet though the humans
methods may be suspect their actions may turn out to have been right,
because later in the film we find that humanity is extinct and the dominant
form of intelligence on Earth appears to be highly robotic.
The movie ends with an excruciatingly warm and fuzzy episode where David's
millennia-long search comes to fruition and, other than the outstanding
special effects, the movie would have been far superior if it had ended
earlier, when David first becomes trapped under the ocean surface in what
had been New York City before the oceans rose. It would have been a downbeat
ending, but an more appropriate and believable one. Perhaps the final
segment could have been done as a quick epilog, and could have worked
that way, but Spielberg went whole hog with it and played it up to the
A.I. isn't as good a retelling of Pinocchio as Spielberg's "Hook" was
of Peter Pan. One reason may be Hook's unabashed connection; it was more
of a sequel than a retelling, whereas A.I. presents itself as an epic
sci-fi adventure and only after you're warming up to its fascinating vision
and story do they sneak in the "puppet who dreamed of being a boy" motif
- and then they spend the rest of the movie beating you over the head
A.I. is Spielberg at his best, and at his worst. It's a marvelous technical
achievement and a mostly heartwarming film, but it's also unforgivably
schmaltzy and sentimental and that's its ultimate flaw. And while Spielberg
throws in some definitely Kubrik-esque touches and shots, it's really
Spielberg's vision of Kubrick and, while that isn't necessarily a bad
thing, it succeeds in watering down what would have undoubtedly been a
much harder edged and probably more interesting Kubrick film.
Maybe part of the problem is that Spielberg wrote the script himself,
something he hasn't done since the equally epic and flawed "Close Encounters
of the Third Kind." He's a better director than he is a writer and all
of his most classic films were penned (or is it "word processored"?) by
Still, you have to give him credit for trying and for the most part A.I.
is entertaining enough to be worth owning - just don't expect either Kubrick's
or Spielberg's best. But if you want an intelligent Sci-fi film that asks
as many questions as it answers (for example, we're left to wonder what,
if any, our obligations are to the intelligent beings that we create),
this is a good example.
And watch for the sci-fi teddy bear; what a great toy!
An unrelated observation: It's said that the new 20th anniversary edition
of Spielberg's ET the Extraterrestrial has had a digital makeover to make
it more politically correct, in that they've supposedly replaced the government
agents' guns with walkie talkies (I wonder if the expression "Penis Breath"
is still there, though). This ridiculous trick of fuzzy liberal thinking
comes despite ET never having been known as a film that inspires people
to violence. Rather, it is inspiring in the opposite way, preaching tolerance
and a sense of awe for new things. Dumb! And unforgiveable.
Yet in A.I. we see the ruins of New York, complete with the twin towers
of the World Trade Center that were destroyed in September of 2001, shortly
after A.I. played theatrically. Go figure. Other films made appropriate
changes to change New York, which I think is kind of silly. Yet this supposed
look at the future includes buildings that would not have existed in A.I's
I guess it's okay to digitally paint a moustache on the Mona Lisa if
it suits liberal "values," as in E.T., but not in the name of historical
Or maybe Spielberg's saying the towers will be rebuilt? I'd like to think
so, but somehow I doubt it.
Anyway, the A.I. DVD is a pretty good example of the species - but be
careful before you buy it!
Why? Because Dreamworks has chosen to release two different versions
of A.I. on DVD: an anamorphic widescreen version that preserves the film's
original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and a Pan&Scan one that fits 4x3 TV's
by slicing the sides off the widescreen picture. Fortunately, they sent
us the widescreen version, which fits the 16x9 TV screen beautifully.
Many viewers may prefer the Pan&Scan version because it fills their
current TV screen - but if you're planning to buy a widescreen TV sometime
down the road (and you will, believe me) you're far better served with
the widescreen version, which features minimal black bars above and below
the screen of the 4x3 TV. The Pan&Scan version won't work well on
a widescreen TV (it needs to be stretched or zoomed to fill the sides),
which means you'll either kick yourself for having purchased the wrong
version or be forced to buy the widescreen version then.
Perhaps that's the strategy: sell more copies over the long term. If
so, that's a cynical shame when they could easily put both versions in
the same package - as they did with Shrek.
Other than that, it's a pretty good two disc Special Edition set. The
picture isn't as good as I expected, which really surprised me. It's a
tad grainy and soft, not as razor sharp as the DVD medium allows, and
it hasn't been giving the THX mastering treatment that supposedly (and
usually does) assures the best audio/video quality. This is a shame.
The audio, on the other hand, is top notch. The soundtrack is offered
in both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 channel surround, and it's deep and
rich and textured - and John Williams' typically masterful score comes
through beautifully on the home theater.
Then there are the extras, plenty of them, though they're also relatively
superficial. There's over 100 minutes of behind-the-scene footage in all,
including new interviews and featurettes. You get Spielberg himself talking
about developing A.I.'s vision, Lucasfilm's Industrial Light and Magic
group showcasing the film's magical special effects, mechanical creature
wizard Stan Winston explaining how the robots were brought to life.
You also get a featurette on the sound effects and beautifully sweeping
orchestral score, storyboard sequences, an effects portfolio, portrait
gallery, behind-the-scenes and production design photos, and more.
It's a good package and a good, DVD, but one that could have been much
better. In a way, this is kind of fitting for a good science fiction epic
that also could have been much better.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence, from Dreamworks Home Video
145 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 TV compatible (and Pan&Scan
in a different package), Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 surround sound
Starring Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor, William Hurt,
Produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg, Bonnie Curtis,
Written and Directed by Steven Spielberg.
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