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It's hard to know where to start a review of Steven Spielberg's new movie A.I. Do you discuss the convoluted plot or the spectacular special effects? Maybe, you focus on the provocative collaboration between Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick. Or, you could examine the film's theme of what it means to be human in an age of computers, and contrast it with other sci-fi pics that explore similar territory.

What you can't do is try to cover it all. Then you'll end up with a complicated, incoherent work that aims too high and ultimately fails. Which is unfortunately a pretty good description of the movie you're reviewing.

For Kubrick fans, A.I., which stands for Artificial Intelligence, has been hotly anticipated for over a decade. Rumored to be in pre-production for years, the movie was supposed to be the big follow-up to Full Metal Jacket, until Kubrick made Eyes Wide Shut instead.

When fans learned that Kubrick had given control of the project to Spielberg, there was more than a little consternation. Despite Spielberg's many talents, his strengths are almost polar opposites of Kubrick's. Spielberg is known for his populist instincts and ability to tell a story. Kubrick was a master of visual compositions and sound. Furthermore, Kubrick was decidedly not a filmmaker for the masses. Most of his films have gone on to be recognized as artistic achievements, but they rarely received popular acclaim on first release. So, what would a project conceived by Kubrick but written and directed by Spielberg look like?

Huge is the word that comes to mind. Neither filmmaker was known for his chamber pieces, and A.I. is, if nothing else, an enormous spectacle. Gigantic sets include a take-off on Las Vegas called Rouge City, a WWF-like bazaar called Flesh Fair, and the city of Manhattan under 200 feet of water.

It would be both churlish and unrealistic to demand that Spielberg exhibit Kubrick's extraordinary visual control, but I spent a good portion of A.I.'s 150-minute running time wishing that Kubrick had been able to at least handle the cinematography. Though Spielberg adopts Kubrick's fascination with camera movement, specifically long tracking shots, it's used to little effect here. Director of photography Janusz Kaminski (Saving Private Ryan), who usually is solid behind the camera, doesn't seem to have any ideas beyond filling the screen with clutter and eye candy (the special effects, courtesy of Stan Winston and Industrial Light and Magic, are genuinely awesome). And Kubrick's exquisite soundtracks have been replaced by a syrupy John Williams score.

What's most disappointing about A.I., however, is the narrative. The story takes place in an indeterminate future when artificial intelligence has advanced to such a state that realistic human androids are used for all sorts of tasks (one android, played by Jude Law, is a "gigolo robot"). A robot company (led by William Hurt, Broadcast News) attempts to make an android that will actually learn to love, and it gives a prototype (played by Haley Joel Osment, The Sixth Sense) to a young couple (played by Frances O'Connor, Mansfield Park, and Sam Robards) who've recently lost their son.

An hour into the film, the "boy" is separated from his "mother," and he spends the rest of the movie trying to find a way to become truly human so that his mother will love him in return. This leads to a friendship with Jude Law's character and a series of quasi-adventures. I say 'quasi' because there's surprisingly little narrative thrust in A.I. Spielberg, who usually has such a command of the ups-and-downs of a cinematic story, lets the film wander around with characters and even whole plot threads falling out of the picture without ever being resolved. And the film is sloooowwww. Spielberg seems to have adopted Kubrick's sense of pace without taking on the late director's sense of control.

The final breaking straw is A.I.'s ludicrous denouement, a 20-minute finale that takes the worst parts of E.T. and Close Encounters so that the audience can be sent away with some semblance of a happy ending. I can
almost hear Kubrick turning over in his grave.

The obvious references to other movies include a heavy appropriation of and homage to Pinocchio, but the unstated but always looming predecessor is Blade Runner. In light of A.I., which too is concerned with the issue of identity in an age of simulacra, Blade Runner still holds up both as one of the truly great sci-fi films and as a visionary achievement. All of A.I.'s thematic concerns were explored with greater depth in Blade Runner, and Spielberg's visual motifs were done to better effect in Ridley Scott's masterwork.

That's not to say that A.I. is without its positive qualities. Haley Joel Osment gives another great performance, though the emotion of melancholy angst is one he's displayed before. And the film is certainly thought-provoking in ways that will have people arguing on the Internet for weeks to come. Finally, I'd much rather directors take chances and shoot for the stars like Spielberg has done than sit around and make sequels to last year's hits. But, in the end, A.I. is a mess. An ambitious mess, but still a mess. 

J. Robert Parks 7/10/2001

We have a large assortment of movies to choose from this summer. There are those action movies that require little thought to understand and only ask that the viewer prepare to be entertained (The Mummy Returns and Tomb Raider). There are the chick flicks that require just as little thought and throw in emotion in lieu of action (Crazy/Beautiful, America's Sweethearts). And then there are movies about fast cars (Driven and The Fast and the Furious). While there is certainly a place for entertainment and sometimes it is indeed nice to not have to think during a movie (a phenomenon I noticed during Evolution), it also should be remembered that some of the best films require thought and reward you with something of substance. However slow these movies may be, the pay off always comes by the end. Last year, those movies were Unbreakable and Cast Away. By June of this year it didn't look like there would be any good, thought-provoking movies released this year. Thankfully, that movie has been found. Surprisingly, it is from Steven Spielberg.

Spielberg's latest release is quite unlike anything the famed director has ever released. While his earlier successes such as Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark may have raised a few interesting questions (should we get into cloning? Is it really safe and worth our time to look for he lost ark?), they provided much more action than material for mind mulling. Not only does A.I. have depth, it also has heart. The depth comes somewhat from the heart so it all works together quite nicely.

In the 21st century's future, things aren't exactly perfect. The ice caps have melted and much of the world has been flooded. However, there are still plenty of human beings and they are still developing technology. Robots have become common and are used to do housework, baby-sit, and even provide sexual satisfaction. In the midst of all this, a genius professor (played by William Hurt) constructs a child robot named David that has the ability to feel emotions. David (played by Haley Joel Osment) is given to a couple that is struggling over the loss of their son.

It takes time for the mother Monica (played by Frances O'Connor) to get used to the idea of a robot son and eventually, David is forced to leave home with his robotic bear Teddy. He sets out on a quest to become a real boy, inspired by the story of Pinocchio. David believes that once he is a real boy he can go back to his mother. The futuristic world seen through the eyes of David is rather dark and frightening, yet fairly believable. People are still much the same no matter what time period they live in.

A.I. is best described as a futuristic fairy tale, but one that is held within the boundaries of science and not quite as mystical as some might fear. What really holds the movie together and keeps one interested is its surprising emotionality. The questions the movie raises (without necessarily asking out loud) are good ones: Is it right to create beings that can actually feel, yet keep them subservient? Will some humans always fear technology? Can technology go too far and replace a civilization? It helps one realize how blessed it is to be a human being.

The love of David for his "mother" is particularly compelling and Haley Joel Osment as David is what makes this movie perfect. Osment conveys the character of David in a way that really only he could pull off. He makes the viewer really care what happens to David. A best actor Academy Awards nomination for Osment would not be surprising.

This movie defies explanation. It has to be seen. Those who seek thrills and excitement may be better off checking out The Fast and the Furious or The Mummy Returns, but if your mind and your heart are craving a bit of food from the movies this summer, do yourself a favor and check out A.I..

Trae Cadenhead 7/16/2001

Watching A.I. is like watching a car wreck. Not a simple two-car collision, but a twenty-car pileup with five gas trucks exploding into balls of flames. It's so grotesquely fascinating that you can't keep your eyes off of it, even though you are endangering sensory overload.

The movie is about a robot named David who wants to become a real boy. Sound familiar? It should. It's the Pinocchio story all over again. A.I. takes this well-worn story and adds layers that are complex, beautiful, breathtaking, and disturbing. Although Stephen Spielberg directed, the ghost of Stanley Kubrick had his hand on this film at all times.

This movie does what great movies ought to do. Not only does it entertain, but it also asks questions. What is love? What is real? If we are ever able to breathe life into an inorganic object, will we be pleased with our creation or will we fear it?

Like many other Kubrick films, the story that is seen with the eye is only a representation of the true theme. One should not fear the machine. One should fear the man behind the machine, no matter what his or her intentions are. An artificial intelligence can only fabricate artificial love that is programmed into its microchips at a factory and what if this program had some kind of glitch, or a virus? Could love, with nothing else to "balance the scales" be the virus? The movie only hints at how dangerous such a situation could become.

There are many different ways to interpret this film, but no matter how much of its underlying concepts you grasp, the film will haunt you as you leave the theatre and become an unforgettable experience. Films like those have always fascinated me. So have car wrecks.

Adam Duckworth 7/21/2001



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