It has taken over a decade for critics to finally realise just how great A.I. Artificial Intelligence actually is. A.I. was Stanley Kubrick’s pet project, until he passed away and Steven Spielberg took over. Upon its initial release, many critics and audience members didn’t quite know how to respond it, with some critics dismissing it as an ambitious mess. Certainly upon its release it was deemed a commercial failure, but often the best films are (examples include Citizen Kane, Vertigo and Once upon a time in America). And, we all know that just because a film is a box office hit, doesn’t mean it’s very good.
I have always held it high regard, for me it’s a film that struck a chord and left a lasting impression. I can’t help but empathise with David (Haley Joel Osment), the robotic child who is a misfit in the world, and abandoned by his mother after her real flesh and blood son recovers from an illness. A therapist would have a field day knowing that A.I along with The Fox and The Hound were my favourite films growing up, and I have always been drawn to the outsider as a character, possibly because that’s what a good film does, it allows you to draw on your own experience and understand the experiences and situations the characters are enduring.
In typical Spielberg fashion, A.I. focuses on the wonders of childhood and the transgression from childhood to adulthood. Unlike Kubrick, Spielberg presents the world with a hint of warmth and innocence. Although Kubrick, spent a long time developing this project and I am a huge fan of his work, I strongly feel it would have been a completely different film if Kubrick had directed. Spielberg adds a sense of magic and wonder to the film by allowing us to view the world through the eyes of a child. Kubrick very rarely shows the world through the point of view of the character, he creates a distance between the audience and the character by keeping the camera back. Spielberg is very much someone who embraces the POV shots and this allows us to truly connect with the character, this is used to great effect in A.I.
A.I. is an odd film, a blend of Kubrick coldness and lack empathy combined with Spielberg’s warmth and optimism. It is certainly a different kind of film for Spielberg who usually does either straight faced dramas or light hearted family films. A.I is a somewhere in the middle, it has some very adult themes but at its centre it is a reimagining of a fairytale, so it is hard to sell this film to a particular audience because well, there really isn’t one.
But maybe now post 9/11 there is one, we have advanced so quickly in the last decade that it’s no surprise that a film like A.I has found new life. It has become something that we can relate to more than ever, what with the arrival of Siri and Alexa. Artificial Intelligence is no longer simply just fantasy, it is here and we are becoming less and less human as our dependence on it grows. This is something that A.I addressed back in 2001, the idea that as A.I becomes more self aware, humans become less.
At its core it’s a fairytale in disguise of a science fiction and special effects blockbuster. A retelling of the classic tale of Pinocchio with David searching for the blue fairy to change him into a real boy, but the truth is that David is more human than the actual human beings he interacts with.
There’s a lot going on in A.I with Spielberg addressing topics such as creationism VS. evolution and investigating the impact of a creator’s responsibility. We have created Mecha’s such as David and Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) to replace human contact and the stresses involved with creating relationships. Humanity has become lazy and selfish, we no longer care about the concept of love and have replaced it with artificial life. We have destroyed our planet, this is describing in the opening shots as the polar ice caps have melted. It is not a surprise that artificial intelligence is becoming self aware and that the film suggests that the beings who David meets at the end of the film are actually mecha’s who have evolved to suppress their creators. Spielberg presents with a strong moral message of never giving up on hope. David prays to become a real boy to the Blue Fairy at the bottom of the Ocean, after becoming trapped whilst on his search for her. It is his hope and his belief which keeps him going, and Spielberg’s message is clear even when our motor function’s fail and our bodies become immobile we can still hold onto our belief.
The concept of never giving up our belief (David’s wish to become a real boy is a metaphor for religious belief in an afterlife and a God. The God here is the Blue Fairy) pays off and for one day David gets to be a real boy with his mother (Frances O’Connor) being brought back to life.
It may have taken us a while to finally recognise A.I as a masterpiece but we’ve got there. It may not be the first film you think of when you hear Steven Spielberg’s name but it is certainly his greatest fairytale.