Artificial Intelligence (Warner
Review by Ernest Lilley
Note: This review previously appeared in Byte.com at www.byte.com
Directed by: Steven Spielberg Writing credits: (WGA) Ian Watson (VII) (screen story) and Brian Aldiss
Cast: Haley Joel Osment .... David Swinton Jude Law .... Gigolo Joe Frances O'Connor (II) .... Monica Swinton Sam Robards .... Henry Swinton Jake Thomas .... Martin Swinton Daveigh Chase Brendan Gleeson .... Lord Johnson-Johnson William Hurt .... Professor Hobby Jack Angel (I) .... Teddy
(source: IMDB: http://us.imdb.com/Title?0212720)
When I think of the most thought provoking and influential Science Fiction film of all time, 2001, a Space Odyssey by the team of Stanley Kubrick and Arthur Clarke wins every time. When I ask myself whoís the most prolific and popular creator of film Sci-Fi alive today, Steven Spielberg tops the list.
Evidentially, Kubrick thought so too. Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg met in 1979 when Spielberg was in England filming Raiders of the Lost Ark. They developed a close friendship that lasted until Kubrickís death in 1999. Kubrick saw Spielberg as one of the great filmmakers of the next generation, and asked him to take on a project of his that was nearly an obsession. A story about a robot that experiences love and is transformed by it.
A.I. is the culmination of years of work on the part of Kubrick before his death. In an earlier version, he worked with Spielberg to adapt his story ideas, and weíre not talking about a comment made in while sharing an elevator, but marathon phone calls and thousands of storyboards. That effort, made in the 80s, failed to materialize, largely because the CGI wasnít ready yet.
After Kubrickís death his widow Christine approached Warner Bros with the idea of AI going ahead with Spielberg at the helm. Though he hadnít written a screenplay since Close Encounters, Spielberg was adamant that heíd write this himself, though he says that it was like having his old friendís ghost looking over his shoulder at every turn.
The story that he wrote, and the movie that resulted, is a somewhat uneven blend of the two styles. Visual homages to Kubrick abound, but the emotional core is Spielberg. The script that Spielberg labored over strays into fantasy more often than many will like, but itís theme, Artificial Intelligence, is every bit as timely as 2001ís was of space exploration. The only difference is that while the exploration of space in 2001 clearly didnít happen on schedule, if it ever will, I seriously believe that AI will reach and pass human intelligence within the next quarter century. SF author Vernor Vinge calls this the Singularity, and predicts that man will be obsolete shortly afterwards. I doubt it, betting instead on a trans-human evolution in which we develop a symbiosis with machine intelligences, my pocket computer foreshadowing things to come.
Interestingly, the classic test for qualifying an A.I. as sentient seem sadly dated today. The "Turing" test, named for British mathematician Alan Turing, who proposed the standard 50 years ago proposes that if you can't tell whether you're talking to a computer after an hour or so, it doesn't really matter. This piece of anthropomorphization has led us to think that AI was somewhere down the road, when in truth, we're surrounded by powerful AI systems every second of the day. The test of conversation hardly seems appropriate...especially as I know plenty of humans that would fail it. The reality is that Artificial Intelligence runs everything from fuel injection systems and traffic lights to global money systems...and that we wouldn't have it any other way.
The movieís cast and direction are superb. You may have thought this would be a remake of D.A.R.Y.L. (Data Analyzing Robot Youth Lifeform - Paramount, 1985) or some Stepford Kids movie, but the stunning performance by Jaley Joel Osment, whom you have to remember as the kid who saw dead people in the Sixth Sense brings a high degree of credibility to the whole project. Osment says that though he would become more fluid and less mechanical as the film progressed, some of the subtle cues that he is a robot would never go away.
There is irony that his least human attribute, is also his most human quality. The "love" he "feels" for his imprinted mother/owner. No human could maintain the level of obsession David conjures up. Even if they could, they would probably be aware that it wasn't really a good thing. Of course, no one would ever really write code that let a robot get stuck in an obvious do loop.
Still, taken on it's own merits, the mix of humanity and mechanism throughout makes this a notable work.
Jude Law, from the Talented Mr. Ripley, shows no less talent as an older generation robot, a love-bot named Gigolo Joe, who is more of what we expect from an android, or even what we might hope forÖdepending on your preferences. The entire cast, including excellent performances by Frances )íConner as the mother and William Hurt as the visionary cyberneticist is top of the line.
Though A.I.: Artificial Intelligence was based on the 1969 short story by Brian Aldiss. Super Toys Last All Summer Long, A lot of it resonates with the 1951 Isaac Asimov short story Satisfaction Guaranteed, in which a man brings home an experimental household robot to help his wife, and she falls in love with it. Itís a one sided affair, but the robot, bound by Asimovís laws of robotics, canít let her know lest he cause harm to a human.
The film is a tribute to Stanley Kubrick, but you can see the hands of many others in it as well. Intentionally or not, itís a tribute to many SF visionaries, starting with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, both of whom have influenced the genre and both of whom this is a good time to remember.
Children may not be ready for the pace of the film, though there are enough special effects and futuristic sets to keep them interested for the most partÖbut beware, itís not a lighthearted romp to the future, but a thoughtful look at what comes next.