Ever since the first days of civilization, mankind has had to ponder the meaning of life. Centuries later and still no closer to an answer, humankind has seen society evolve into an existence where machines are commonplace and to many necessary part of everyday life. As machines become more and more of our lives and as machines perform duties that were traditionally done by beings of flesh and blood, the question arises, what does being human/alive mean?
Many films over the years have tried to answer this, ranging from “2001” to “Bicentennial Man” and “Blade Runner”. While they can discuss human qualities ranging from emotions, intellectual growth, capacity to learn, and creation, none has been ever able to illustrate why humankind is more than just a sum of our parts.
The late Stanley Kubrick started our cinematic look at the humanization of machines with “2001”, as the supercomputer Hal, was a warning at the dangers of dependence on technology as Hal suffered from the same issues that can hinder human beings. Namely fear, jealousy, and not always making the correct decisions.
With the untimely passing of Kubrick, his pet project, “A.I” never made it to the screen. Kubrik had
long discussed his take on the story Super-Toys Last All Summer” by Brian Aldiss with his good friend Steven Spielberg. Kubrick had shown his storyboards and outline to Speilberg, soupcon Kubrik’s passing, Spielberg took it upon himself to write and film his friends, project as a tribute to the legendary filmmaker.
“AI” is set in the Earth of the future where the Polar Ice caps have melted flooding a good portion of the planet. While the technology of society is far advanced, the supply of natural resources are limited so human reproduction is strictly controlled, and only couples with a license are allowed to have a child.
This has created a need for children amongst many childless couples, and a robotics creator, Professor Hobby, (William Hurt) proposes the creation of a robotic child, or Mecca, who can love and in turn be loved as a substitute for the organic children many couples are not allowed to have.
Since adult robots have long been used for everything in society, it is determined that a test family is needed for the new child robot, and a young couple, the Swintons, are selected to test the prototype. The Swintons have a natural child, but he is in cryogenic stasis with an incurable disease making the distraught couple an ideal choice, as they have need for a child, and know how to care for a child. At first the wife Monica, is horrified at the idea of replacing their child with a machine but soon warms to the child robot David, (Haley Joel Osment) After accepting David, Monica activates his imprinting program allowing him to bond with the family, knowing that once this is done, David will always be imprinted upon the family, and should he not remain with them, he will have to be destroyed.
Soon after the imprinting, the Swintons receive word that their natural son, Martin, has been cured, and will be able to return to the family. This brings great joy to the family, but soon after Martins return, the family starts to see David as more of an accessory then as a child, start to ignore him. Martins tormenting of David further complicate matters as he tells David that he is nothing more than a doll.
Matters arise that force the Swintons to return David to be destroyed, but Monica has a change of heart and leaves David in the woods, with only his robotic teddy bear and instructions to avoid humans and seek his own kind.
It is at this point that “AI” becomes lost much as young David is. David wanders the woods looking for the Blue Fairy from Pinocchio, as he is convinced she can make him a real boy and he can return to his family. Along the way David meets a Pleasure model named Gigolo Joe played by Jude Law. Joe is on the run as he has been framed for a murder committed by a jealous lover and has to seek others of his own kind for survival Joe becomes a mentor for David and they set off to find the Blue Fairy while Joe informs David about the Humans as they like us, always quest to discover and understand their creators.
A Flesh Fair soon captures David and Joe where people who see their kind as an abomination to humanity destroy robots for entertainment. Though Joe and David escape, the path they continue on is uncertain as they wander to a futuristic city to continue their quest.
The biggest problem with “Ai” is that while it is a visual marvel at times, it is a long (2 Hrs 20 Minutes) movie that has a very slow pace. The ending of the film was very unsatisfying as few of the questions the film presented were ever answered and the reliance upon the fairly tale myth of Pinocchio sometimes takes on absurd proportions as the quest of the two robots has some serious inconsistencies in logic on continuity. At one point near the end, David meets up with his creator, only to have him excuse himself from the room for a moment never to return. It is almost as if the good Professor dropped off the edge of the world.
Towards the end of the film, “AI” reflected heavily on some of Kubrik’s more dark visions of humanity and there was some very unsettling things, I found the resolution of the films ending to be very unsatisfying as there are options open to us today that I am sure a society with highly advanced technology would have easily been able to reproduce.
I must say that in all my years of doing reviews, “AI” is the hardest film I have ever had to review. On one hand, it is a well-made film with a fantastic performance from Osment and great special effects. On the other hand, it is a long, slow paced, film that leaves one disturbed and unsatisfied at the end. And leaves more questions than it answers.
I would have liked to have seen the film view Humanity from the eyes of an outsider, rather than simply retell the tale of Pinocchio in the form of a high-tech fairly tale. After the first hour of the film, story and logic were replaced with flashy visuals that seemed to be noting more than eye candy and did little to advance the story or character development. Characters enter the story and were often never seen again with no explanations, and while the film is ambitious, it never seems to come close to reaching the potential it held and becomes a film that is dark and disturbing but never bothering to show the viewers the steps that led to key events in the film, and in many ways takes the easy way out for many scenes rather than expanding them to their natural and logical sequences and conclusions. I also want to make a note that due to some disturbing and intense images and scenes, this film is not suitable for children.
2.5 stars out of 5