Neil Young’s Film Lounge – A.I.
aka A.I. Artifical Intelligence : USA 2001
director : Steven Spielberg
script : Spielberg, based on a screen story by Ian Watson, from short story Super-toys Last All Summer Long by Brian Aldiss
producers include : Spielberg
cinematography : Janusz Kaminski
editing : Michael Kahn
music : John Williams
lead actors : Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances OConnor, William Hurt
AI isnt much good. Its shamelessly sentimental, manipulative, pretentious, portentous and ponderous. But were talking Spielberg here, and surely these things go with the territory. Theres also the shadowy presence of Stanley Kubrick to contend with, causing Spielberg even more constipation than usual, as he makes a very simple story seem dreadfully leaden: robot boy David (Osment), abandoned by his human parents (OConnor, Sam Robards), sets off on a quest to become real. Aided by his faithful robot-bear Teddy (voiced by Jack Angel) and love-android Gigolo Joe (Law), he tracks down his maker Professor Hobby (Hurt). But this turns out to be only the beginning of his very long journey
If you can overlook Spielbergs limitations as writer-director, and his countless basic mistakes (endless muzak; banal dialogue; hazy visuals; plot holes, etc), A.I. is surprisingly watchable. It doesn’t feel like an unusually long movie, though it surely wouldn’t have killed Spielberg to aim for a two-hour maximum. Some of the visuals are undeniably impressive, and there’s a freewheeling loopiness about the final half-hour that’s engaging enough, if you don’t think too long or hard about whats happening.
But A.I. makes the fatal error of wanting to be taken seriously. It has themes and explores morals and philosophy or at least it thinks it does. As soon as you try to analyse anything about the picture, it immediately falls apart. The ending, like the opening, is dominated by a largely redundant voiceover as in Chocolat, the film tries to paper over all its problems by explicitly presenting itself as a fairy tale.
It doesn’t work. In fact, only one thing in the whole film does, but its enough amazingly – to make the whole thing just about worthwhile. One could say that Teddy steals the film. But that wouldn’t be fair. Teddy saves the film. He arguably is the film. Hes the one injection of pep and life into a film that’s otherwise a trudge through treacle, and he brings out the best in Spielberg the director, suggesting that the basic problem is a simple mismatch between film-maker and (Kubrickian) subject-matter. There isn’t much magic in this film, but this mechanical bear is, remarkably, responsible for just about all of it. Time and again Teddy points up the rest of A.I.s deficiencies, but, it must be said, he also goes a very long way to compensating for them.
20th September, 2001
(seen Sep-19-01, UGC Middlesbrough)
by Neil Young