To : Mr. Steven Spielberg
Cc : Montreal Film Journal readers
Subject : Artificial Intelligenge, or how I yearned to love that bomb
Dude. Face it. You can’t write. You can direct great, but you can’t write. How you managed to pen Close Encounters of the Third Kind (your previous solo script), I don’t know; ghost writers, maybe? Anyway, the matter at hand is your latest film, “A.I.”, and there’s a script that would never have seen a greenlight if you weren’t “the Beard”. From what I understand, you wrote it from a 90 page treatment by Ian Waston and the late Stanley Kubrick, who tried for some twenty years to realize this adaptation of a short story Brian Aldiss published in Harper’s Bazaar in 1969, “Supertoys last all summer long”. Well, I’ve heard you say how much you respected Kubrick, but turning his pet project into corny, shallow tear-jerking crap is not the best way to show it.
Okay, now I’m overreacting. “A.I.” ain’t that bad, in fact at times it flirts with greatness. But that ending! What were you thinking?!? I never rolled my eyes in disgusted disbelief as often as during those nearly unwatchable last thirty minutes. It looks like you’re trying to ape the oh-so-mysterious, oh-so-ambiguous “2001” finale, but while similar in form, the difference between Kubrick’s conclusion and yours is major. Now pay attention, this is important: you do not need to spell out everything for the audience. It’s already a lot to ask that we suspend disbelief enough to buy the whole 2000 year jump into a future Ice Age in which those creepy robots dig out David and somehow resurrect his mommy so they can spend one perfect happy day. Were you so desperate for that final bit of melodrama to not mind defying all logic and boring your audience to death doing so? Worse, making the last scene utterly unredeemable is the pointless, out-of-nowhere Ben Kingsley narration telling us how we’re supposed to feel and what we’re supposed to think. Don’t you have any faith in the people who watch your movies?
*sigh* Now that I have gotten that off my chest, I can put things into perspective. As I said, I didn’t hate everything, I actually enjoyed a good deal of the movie, though not right away: the opening suffers from the same obnoxious need to over-explain everything as the ending. We did not need to have Dr. Hobby (William Hurt) spending nearly ten minutes telling us about your movie’s synopsis (the raison d’être of a robot capable of love, what distinguishes machine from man and so on). This is the moving pictures; show, don’t tell. Despite that false start, the movie eventually managed to involve me. I was intrigued by the repercussions of having a couple whose only child is in a coma bring a lifelike robot into their home.
Haley Joel Osment is very convincing as David, both in his artificiality and in the seemingly human behaviour. Through the film, you keep alternating between thinking he’s a machine and believing he’s for real. Good work, especially for a kid. Sam Robards, as the father, is not as good. He kept reminding me of Lewis, the tall dimwit played by Ryan Stiles in “The Drew Carey Show”. Not a good thing to act sitcomish in a movie like this, by the way. Frances O’Connor is much more engaging as the mother. I could understand her emotional turmoil, torn between her need to love and care for a child and her reason knowing David is just a glorified action figure.
So you see, Steven, I’m not out to get you. I thought that first hour was a good balance between Kubrickian character study and your natural, sentimental instincts. You still know how to handle kids on screen, and you got a gift for making us care for non-human beings. Well, David’s a given, he looks like a cute young boy, but I also loved Teddy, the mechanical, talking stuffed bear who’s sort of Jiminy Cricket to David’s Pinocchio. Oh, speaking of which, the overt references to the classic Carlo Collodi story give the film an interesting fairy tale feel but, again, you didn’t have to hit us over the head with it over and over. ( Suggested drinking game: Down a shot every time you hear “blue fairy” or “I wanna be a real boy”. Warning: alcohol poisoning may occur. )
But back to what’s good. Well, the second act, that sorta sci-fi road movie beginning after David is abandoned in the woods, is quite awesome. Visually stunning sets, impressive special effects, boundless imagination… This is your field, Steven, and you don’t let us down. You gotta dig Jude Law as Gigolo Joe, a mecca programmed to pleasure women who can play romantic music by tilting his head and who has a pick-up line for every situation. Or what about all those mutilated meccas wandering about in junk yards to replace a missing arm or eye, or the Flesh Fair, an offbeat gladiator gala in which robots are tortured and blown to pieces, or Rouge City, Las Vegas by the way of “Blade Runner”. And, finally, the submerged Manhattan, where the painfully misguided events that close the film unfold.
So there. Some of “A.I.” works, some of it fails miserably. Half brilliant, half crap. Hence, I give it two stars out of four. I guess it’s worth seeing for the eye candy and Osment’s performance, but I’d recommend leaving early, right before the retarded, Robin Williams voiced Dr Know segment. It only goes downhill from there, and it keeps sliding into lameness until it can’t suck any worse. Anyways, just my 2 cents. We’ll always have “Close Encounters”, “Raiders”, “E.T.”, “Temple of Doom”, “Schindler’s List”… And who knows, maybe “Minority Report” will put you back on track.
Take care Steve-O,