A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

Tagged: Film

Film (2001). Warner Brothers/Dreamworks/Amblin Entertainment. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by Steven Spielberg, based on a screen story by Ian Watson based on the story "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long" (December 1969 Harper's Bazaar) by Brian W Aldiss, with uncredited contributions from Stanley Kubrick. Starring Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor, Sam Robards, Jake Thomas, William Hurt, Robin Williams (voice). 146 minutes. Colour.

In the future, global warming (> Climate Change) has flooded much of the Earth and reduced the human population, creating a need for Robots. An experimental child robot named David (Osment) with the capacity to have human emotions is given to a couple, Monica and Henry Swinton (O'Connor, Robards), as a replacement for their own son Martin (Adams), who is in cryonic suspension due to a rare disease. But after David is permanently bonded to Monica, Martin is cured and returns to his parents' home, creating tension between the human and robot sons. Unwilling to send David back to the factory to solve their problem, Monica allows him to escape, though he and the robot Gigolo Joe (Law) are captured by humans who enjoy demolishing robots for sport. But the spectators are moved by David's pleas for life, allowing him and Joe to avoid destruction. The two robots then make their way to Rouge City, a garish center for scandalous pleasure, where they seek information about the mythical "Blue Fairy" that David believes can make him, like Pinocchio, into a "real boy" who could regain Monica's love [for Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio and Real Boy see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. A Computer program called "Dr Know" (voiced by Williams) leads them to the partially submerged Manhattan (> New York), where David meets his creator, Professor Allen Hobby (Hurt), who upsets David by showing him all of the duplicate Davids that he is planning to market. David flees underwater, floats past the drowned Statue of Liberty until he reaches Coney Island, where he fixates on a statue of the Blue Fairy, part of a Pinocchio theme ride; here he comes to rest, unendingly repeating "I love you" to the blank-faced Icon that represents everything he has been programmed to yearn for. Millennia later, David is discovered beneath the frozen sea and revived by the advanced, elongated robots who are now the masters of Earth, having replaced the extinct human race; to make David happy, they are able to grant him one day, and one day only, of life with a revived Monica, who is given no choice in the matter.

Some enormously talented people were involved in the effort to make Aldiss's story work on the big screen, including Aldiss himself, sf writers Bob Shaw and Watson, and directors Kubrick and Spielberg; yet the released film, surprisingly, does not really work, though it is unquestionably both fascinating and emotionally moving. To explain its inadequacies, one might flippantly say that its creators should have also purchased the rights to Clifford D Simak's story "All the Traps of Earth" (March 1960 F&SF) for some commonsensical guidance on how to tell a satisfying story about a robot who escapes from human dominance to achieve a happy life. More probingly, the film might be regarded as a rebuttal to the argument famously advanced by Isaac Asimov that we should construct robots who are designed solely to fulfil human needs. However, David's story appears to demonstrate that such robots would be forever stunted in their development and ultimately tragic; rather, the film suggests, humans should grant robots the freedom to evolve in their own fashion in response to their own needs, like the robots who uncover the comatose David. Such a counterargument, though, would have had more power if the film had presented, to contrast with David's plight, some of these fulfilled, contented robots as fully developed characters; instead, all the film offers are the vacuous, sketchily rendered saviours of the final scenes. Still, one can appreciate A.I.: Artificial Intelligence for various moments: the technologically advanced but sterile home of the Swintons; the raucous robot demolition derby, populated by robots of all shapes and sizes; the sleazy Rouge City and its lively, colourful Dr Know; and the ruined, flooded cityscape of Manhattan. Embedded within a fully functional narrative, such scenes might have made A.I.: Artificial Intelligence a true masterpiece of sf film, a status it visibly aspired to but failed to achieve. [GW]

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