A.I. Artificial Intelligence, a Spielberg film which is Kubrickian in origin, marks its 20th anniversary since its theatrical release in 2001.
David (Haley Joel Osment) is a prototype child robot or a Mecha, if you will. He’s been programmed to love unconditionally–this includes Monica (Frances O’Connor). There are all sorts of Mechas and they’re jobs are to make human lives easier. Unfortunately, this also means humans are out of a job. When David’s family comes to later abandon him, he finds himself in a whole new world. Another Mecha, Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), befriends him during this time. Much like Pinocchio, you get the idea that David wants to be a real boy. After all, he already thinks of Monica has his own mother. This is really the gist of the film, which runs almost two and a half hours. All in all, there are three sections of the film: life with the Swinton family, Rouge City, and the flooded ruins of Manhattan.
While the film is certainly sci-fi, one can’t help but notice the Twin Towers as the camera pans the icy skyline of Manhattan. In fairness, this film was released a few months before the tragedy. This portion of the film takes place some 2,000 years after the 22nd century. Meanwhile, the new breed of Mechas had never known humans. They find David and Teddy (Jack Angel) and revive them. This allows David to spend one more day with Monica even if it may be only a memory.
Gigolo Joe is a throwback to the 1930s. One can argue that the film brings about a sense of elegance. In prepping for the film, Jude Law studied the work of both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. This also gives you a sense of how Spielberg wanted to present the character in the film.
In terms of the wardrobe, the clothing goes from generic to vintage once David is left to fend for himself. The film may be set in the 22nd century but costume designer Bob Ringwood gives A.I. a timeless feel. In terms of the lighting and photography, Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kamiński brings his A game as usual.
The strongest parts of A.I. include both the visual effects and the score. In watching the bonus features, Spielberg goes for practicality when possible. If you know Steven Spielberg’s movies, the filmmaker will always opt for practicality over CGI. Of course, the futuristic setting of the film requires the use of CGI. It brings about some cutting-edge work for the era. The CGI is rather impressive for the flooded Manhattan. Of course, filmmaking has changed in the past two decades. The ice excavation required 8 tons of real ice a day rather than fake ice. Using real ice helps to sell the authenticity where fake ice or even CGI might not. I mean, we’re talking about a scene that was made to look like it was there for a few thousand years. More often than not, a filmmaker would probably go for fake ice.
John Williams would earn another Oscar nomination for his work on the film. Williams describes the music as “quiet schizophrenic.” There’s more or less two parts to the score. The futuristic world plays with synthesizers and electric guitars. The inside world, which represents David’s internal feelings and love of Monica, is more like a lullaby in nature. Williams especially uses this during the film’s closing scene. Moreover, Williams quotes a Richard Strauss piece. This is a specific request from Kubrick for inclusion in the film. The homage works perfectly. It takes place while David is traveling on the bridge to Rouge City.
There’s a few things going on here. On one hand, we have a relationship between mother and son. And on the other hand, there’s a civil war going on. Finally, the film takes us into the future. This was a film that originated back in the 1980s with Stanley Kubrick. Back in the mid-1990s, Kubrick decided to produce the film with Steven Spielberg directing. With Kubrick’s passing in 1999, Steven Spielberg went full speed ahead. A.I. Artificial Intelligence manages to honor its Kubrickian origin while Steven Spielberg adds his own touch. Spielberg is no stranger to science-fiction but the film is certainly among his darkest films.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Steven Spielberg
CAST: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Robards, and William Hurt