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Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #265: A.I Artificial Intelligence

A unique marriage between the styles of Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick, A.I Artificial Intelligence (2001) is Pinocchio set in a dystopian future. Originally developed by Kubrick in the 1970s, it languished until 1995 when he handed it out to Spielberg who ended up directing the project after Kubrick’s death in 1999. The result is the engrossing story of a robotic child wandering a crumbling America as he tries to become a real boy.

The movie came out in 2001, the year of one of Kubrick’s most famous movie. That year was also one of the last I spent in Peru, as my family and I were living in South America because of my dad’s job. This was one of many movies I saw in English playing with Spanish subtitles and like many Steven Spielberg movies I saw it with one of my parents. Between E.T and Tintin, Spielberg has given families plenty of films to watch together. My mom loved it and of course rooted for the robot to have a happy ending, even if at the end of the day he is an artificial being.

Like many science-fiction movies, A.I is set in a rather grim future. Global warming has done its worse by flooding major cities and reducing a great part of the human population. But also like in many visions of the future technology has taken a huge leap forward, with robots becoming extremely intelligent and human-looking on the outside. Known as Mecha, they can emulate human thoughts and emotions. Professor Allen Hobby (William Hurt) wishes to take things a step further by creating a robotic boy who could actually display love, the most elusive of emotions.

Hobby creates a prototype called David (Haley Joel Osment) for the Cybertronics company who gives it to one of its employee for a testing phase. Henry (Sam Robbards) and Monica Swinton (Frances O’Connor) already have a son, but he is ill and in suspended animation until a cure can be found. Initially frightened by David, Monica warms up to him after she activates his love program, causing David to project love onto her like a real child would to a mother.

Yet after their real son Martin (Jake Thomas) returns from the hospital trouble ensues. A series of incident resulting from sibling rivalry makes the father see the robotic boy as a threat to his real son and decides to have him destroyed. On the way to Cybertronics, Monica cannot bring herself to destroy David even though he is a machine. He certainly does not act like one, seeming heart-broken when she abandons him in the woods and tells him to stay away from humans.

This is where the fairy tale really takes off. Believing his mother rejected him because he is not a real boy, David sets out on a quest to find the Blue Fairy, thinking she is a creature that can make him human just like in Pinocchio. Joining him on his quest is a robotic teddy bear (voice of Jack Angel) he befriended at the Swinton’s home, and Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) a male prostitute who has a different definition of love imprinted in his system. Their journey takes them in a forest where humans destroy Mechas for entertainment, to the futuristic Rouge City where they gather information from a holographic search engine, and finally to a flooded Manhattan.

There are many great things here, from Spielberg’s expert directing of a project with a troubled history and Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography depicting a world that is at times grey and dull and sometimes filled with beautiful neon colours such as in Rouge City. Then you have Osment proving his Academy Award nomination for The Sixth Sense was no fluke, as he initially behaves like a machine and eventually convinces us there might be a soul in there. You really end up rooting for this boy, whatever he is. 


The ending has often been derided as being a touch too Spielbergian, as many assumed it was his idea to flash forward to the future when tall beings give David one more day with his mother. However he has said in an interview that this was the ending originally intended by Kubrick. Either way, I don’t think the audience would have gone with any other ending. For all the time David spent in his watery grave, he deserved one happy day with his mother regardless of his humanity.


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