AI Artificial Intelligence (12)

Review by Jack Foley

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: 2-disc set featuring: Scene access; Creating AI featurette; Acting AI featurette; Special effects featurette; Robots of AI featurette; Special Visual Effects and Animation ILM featurette; The sounds and music of AI featurette; AI archives (feat. trailers, storyboards, and production photos); Cast bios; crew bios; Special announcement by Steven Spielberg: 'Our Responsibility To Artificial Intelligence'; Soundtrack in English, French and Italian; subtitles in 10 languages.

INTELLIGENT, dark, captivating, but ultimately, frustrating - AI: Artificial Intelligence marks a tentative collaboration between two of the greatest visionary directors of all time from opposite ends of the entertainment spectrum.

Steven Spielberg directs what, for the late Stanley Kubrick, became an obsession with predictably mixed results, turning this futuristic Pinocchio into a bittersweet fairytale that, for all of its failings, remains an important and compelling piece of film-making that may even benefit from the passage of time.

Based on Brian Aldiss's short story, `Super-Toys Last All Summer Long', and set sometime in the future, when the polar ice caps have melted, AI tells the story of an experiment by William Hurt's visionary Professor Hobby to find out whether robots can co-exist with humans on an emotional as well as physical level.

He creates a boy, David (The Sixth Sense's Haley Joel Osment), and sends him into the home of a family struggling to come to terms with the long-term illness of their own son. David is programmed to love, but the question remains as to whether his new parents - Frances O'Connor and Sam Robards' Monica and Martin Swinton - will be able to do so in return.

Gradually, albeit reluctantly, Monica becomes attached to David but the idyllic existence - David doesn't eat, he sleeps when told to and never falls ill - is shattered by the return of the Swintons' son, Martin (Jake Thomas), who quickly resents David and sets about trying to oust him.

David is eventually abandoned in a forest and told to fend for himself by a heartbroken Monica and, inspired by the children's tale Pinocchio, sets about trying to find his `Blue Fairy', in the hope that by becoming human, his mother will come to love him as much as she loves Martin. Trouble is, the world he encounters - together with his talking `super-toy' teddy bear, Teddy - is frought with danger and David must enlist the help of Jude Law's over-endowed robot, Gigolo Joe, to find a way to Manhattan and uncover the secrets that lie within.

Given that it takes a classic children's fairytale as a large part of its inspiration, it is little wonder that AI ultimately opts for an upbeat ending, particularly with Spielberg at the helm. But it is to the detriment of the movie and squanders much of the outstanding work that has gone before. For while this may be Spielberg's picture, Kubrick's presence dominates much of the earlier proceedings, particularly during David's early journey. As such, it is very much an adult picture let down by its Hook-esque ending.

For the most part, Spielberg has created a nightmare vision of the future that touches on so many moral arguments and poses so many questions that it is sometimes hard to keep up. Underpinning it is man's propensity for playing God, his appetite for destruction, sex and violence and the question of whether humans could ever really be manipulated to love a robot even if they could be presented as an alternative to couples' struggling to start a family.

But while Kubrick may not have shirked from offering a bleak answer, Spielberg flirts with the possibility, before attempting to deliver the crowd-pleasing ending that has become his forte with hits such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and ET. Even with his `darkest' pieces, Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List, the director could not resist the temptation of resorting to awkward sentimentality. AI, at its best, rivals Spielberg's greatest moments - its visit to a grotesque flesh fair, at which robots are ripped apart for the amusement of a blood-thirsty crowd, is as harrowing as his recreation of the D-Day landings, while O'Connor's abandonment of David in a secluded forest is truly heart-rending and something right out of Kubrick's copybook.

But, at its worst, the movie descends into a saccharine-overload likely to leave a nasty taste in the mouth of all Kubrick purists.

Performance-wise, the film is without fault. Osment and O'Connor, especially, deliver breathtaking turns, while Law's hip Gigolo Joe is a blast, and support players such as Jackie Gleeson and vocal turns from Robin Williams and Jack Angel (as the voice of the superb Teddy) also impress. And the special effects, which played a major factor in Kubrick's decision to delay making it himself, are - as we have come to expect - special.

In a summer laden with disappointments, AI may be perceived as another to add to the list. But its power, inventivity and appeal are undeniable and even a `disappointing' Spielberg is better than your typical Hollywood fare. In years to come, when much of its subject matter becomes more relevant (what with the IT revolution, cloning, etc), AI may even be perceived as more pertinent. For now, though, it remains a bold collaboration that deserves, even demands, to be seen by the more discerning audience. Like it or loathe it, AI is certainly worth making the trip to decide.