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DVD ReviewIt took A.I. Artificial Intelligence nearly 20 years to finally make it past the development stage and onto movie screens. As far back as the early 1980s, the late Stanley Kubrick, inspired by the Brian Aldiss short story Supertoys Last All Summer Long, toyed with the idea of a film about an artificial child programmed to replace the real thing. Kubrick, not famous for brevity, spent years contracting various script drafts and concept art, but he was never able to progress much past that. He even brought his good friend Steven Spielberg into his confidence on the project, ultimately deciding that the subject matter was more suited to the emotional sensibilities of the most successful commercial director of all time. Spielberg refused the offer, and Kubrick made plans to move forward with the film after he'd completed Eyes Wide Shut. It wasn't in the cards, however. Kubrick shut his own eyes to the world in the summer of 1999, just weeks after delivering the final cut of his last masterpiece. It seemed that Kubrick's pet project, the one that held his passion and interest perhaps longer than any other, would die with him. But in early 2000, Kubrick's widow and his longtime friend and partner Jan Harlen approached Spielberg with a proposition—why not take Stanley up on his offer and direct A.I., a Stanley Kubrick production of a Steven Spielberg film. Spielberg, who'd been languishing for two years since the completion of Saving Private Ryan and toying with the idea of helming Harry Potter, jumped at the chance. He saw it not only as a creative challenge, but also as a way to honor the memory of one of the greatest directors of the 20th century. And so was born A.I., a celluloid contradiction—the cold cynicism of Kubrick meets the golden, sun-drenched humanity of Spielberg. And what a potent combination it is, for at its heart, this story is about nothing more than artificial love, and the consequences of loving something artificial. Kubrick could have made it, but it would be a different film, as he'd never been able to treat his characters with any more than icy indifference. Spielberg, on the other hand, is guilty of loving them too much. He's infused the film with many Kubrickian touches, certainly the same contempt for mankind, but only Spielberg could make it work, could trick the audience into falling for a simulacra of humanity. Haley Joel Osment plays a robot child, David, the first of his kind—programmed to love whoever imprints him. He is sent to live with a young couple, Monica (O'Connor) and Henry (Robards), parents caught in a cycle of mourning as their flesh and blood child lies cryogenically frozen, the victim of a debilitating disease. David is to serve not as a replacement, but as an outlet for grief, a comfort. Monica, despite herself, begins to grow attached to the child construct—after she imprints him, he becomes a constant companion. He ignores Henry; he focuses only on Mommy. And she falls for it, is drawn to his perfect, programmed love. Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski shoot these early scenes with stark lighting, dulling the golden sheen of Americana and sentimentalism that so often overpowers the director's work. That reserved air towards the characters becomes more pronounced as David is suddenly thrust out into the world, driven from his family through no fault of his own, but simply an unfortunate coincidence of circumstance and programming. He's on his own except for Teddy, his Jiminy Cricket, a robotic bear that shows the same affection and dedication to David as he to his Mommy. The voice of Kubrick enters the picture when David runs into Gigolo Joe (Law), a mecha programmed not to give love, but pleasure. Kubrick always focused on the base, the carnal desires of humanity, and Gigolo Joe is the logical fulfillment of those desires, a robotic product of the id. David is convinced that Mommy will love him if he becomes a real boy, and sets out with Joe on a quest to find the Blue Fairy of Pinocchio fame (his favorite story). Joe doesn't understand David's wishes, but he'll come along anyway, if only to provide his services to the Fairy. "She'll make you into a boy because I'll have made her into a woman," he says, and their journey leads them throughout the world, from the garish Flesh Fair, where damaged robots are destroyed for sport to the delight of the watching human throng, to Rouge City, the sexualized equivalent of Pleasure Island, to a New York drowned in an ocean swollen from the melting of the ice caps. Throughout his journey, David travels through the most elaborate and believably grimy imagining of the future since Blade Runner. The special effects wizards at ILM, along with production designer Rick Carter, have worked wonders with the initial concepts Kubrick developed so long ago. Rouge City in particular is a visual marvel, a garish, sterilized sexual wonderland, where the building are women with legs spread to allow entrance and everything is neon and unreal. The devastated New York, which has gained an unintended eerie poignancy in the last year, is a sight to behold, the towering buildings standing defiantly out of the water, a lasting symbol of man's fallibility. A.I. could not exist without Haley Joel Osment's performance. He's even more impressive than he was in The Sixth Sense. His David is not a boy searching for love, but a robotic boy trying to carry out his programming, and Osment clearly understands, and masterfully portrays, the essential difference. David isn't robotic, but he isn't human either. Equally worthy of praise is Jude Law, who injects a playfulness into Gigolo Joe that is undercut by an ominous menace ("They hate us, you know, the humans. We are suffering for the mistakes they made because when the end comes, all that will be left is us," he tells David). Frances O'Connor also contributes to a vital, difficult role—Monica is the object of David's idealized love, but she is anything but the idealized mother—and O'Conner injects her with the perfect combination of conflict and heartbreak. It is David's story, but Monica is the soul of the movie.Upon release, A.I. met with sharply divided audience reaction, and, for the moment, the naysayers seem to have overpowered the film's champions. Admittedly, it's not perfect. There are some significant structural problems, and the first act especially feels alternately overlong and rushed. At times unwieldy, the film seems constantly on the verge of breaking down, the warring sensibilities of Spielberg and Kubrick imploding onscreen. Some say that, at the end, it does just that. But then, the same was said about 2001: A Space Odyssey, and while the denouement of A.I. isn't nearly as maddeningly complex, it carries equal subtleties certainly not apparent without a lot of thought from the audience (and even then, it really all comes down to a matter of interpretation). And here's mine, my answer to the critics who see this as little more than a warmed-over fairy tale: David's quest for humanity would seem to drive the picture (the allusion to Pinocchio is more than subtle, it's downright blatant). But really, it's nothing more than the culmination of his programming. He can do nothing but love Monica, and somehow he's gotten it into his subroutines that becoming real will help him accomplish his goal. Spielberg realizes this, of course, and the controversial ending is staged and shot in a way that feels like vintage Spielberg. Some will say that they can feel the director going for the manipulative, tear-jerker moment—John Williams' score at the finale does everything but break into "When You Wish Upon a Star." But what he is really doing is illustrating, in rich, oversaturated, unreal colors, the power of our emotions to trick us. In context, it's clearly an ironic commentary, undeniably Kubrickian. Does David fulfill his quest? Do his feelings become "real?" Emotions, so easily fooled, so fallible, are they the essence of humanity? It is this question that lies at the heart of A.I. Emotions make us weak, but they also make us human.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: The transfer on this disc isn't one that you'd use as reference material, but any perceived flaws are more the result of the way the film was shot than any errors in the transition to DVD. Each of the film's three acts has a different visual look, and the third in particular shows a lot of intentional grain. Portions of the image have a slight softness to them that, again, was present in the theater, but fine detail is nevertheless very good. On the other hand, the middle section is very slick, with bright, saturated colors. Throughout, blacks are very solid, and detail during darker scenes is excellent. I noticed no edge enhancement, which was a relief, and no compression artifacts or aliasing.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The audio mix on this disc is as varied as the visual look. It's presented in both DD ES and DTS 6.1 EX, and though I only have a 5.1 setup, I can easily say that this is one of the better tracks I have heard recently. It isn't an action-intensive track with lots of explosions and such, but the mix does support the innovative sound design very well. First of all, dialogue is very clean throughout, anchored in the center and always clear. John William's score is spread over the very wide front soundstage, with occasional support in the surrounds. The effects are impressively integrated, with subtle use of directional, panning, and front to back effects. The surrounds and the mains blend together very smoothly, and the effects don't come off as too showy. The louder scenes (ie, the Flesh Fair) make good use of LFE channels. All the elements of this track work together to provide an audio mix that is totally immersive. And kudos to DreamWorks for finally allowing audio tracks to be selectable on the fly.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: generic plastic two-disc keepc
Layers Switch: 01h:15m:52s
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsFilm fans will likely debate for years what Stanley Kubrick's version of A.I. would've been. I'm just glad I got to see Spielberg's. A cinematic vision that is breathtaking to behold, it is a step forward for Spielberg and certainly his most ambitious project to date. Audiences were polarized by the alternately distant and emotional tone, and critics seemed largely unsure what to say about it, calling it some variation of "captivating, but deeply flawed." Perhaps it will gain respect in critic's circles over the years (as have many of Kubrick's films), but it already has mine. A.I. is a fully realized fable of the future and a remarkable movie.
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