Deathcamp. David (Osment) faces certain doom at the Flesh Fair...
dir-scr Steven Spielberg
with Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor, Sam Robards, Jake Thomas, William Hurt, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Rock, Kelly Felix, Jack Angel, Robin Williams, Ben Kingsley
release US 29.Jun.01; UK 21.Sep.01
This astonishing hybrid between Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg is also a real rarity in the cinema: a serious science fiction film. The plot mixes Pinocchio with The Wizard of Oz to tell the story of David (Osment), a "mecha" (mechanic) child adopted by a couple (O'Connor and Robards) whose son Martin (Thomas) is in cryogenic suspension with a fatal illness. Unable to cope with the grief, Mommie bonds seriously with David. And vice versa. Then Martin comes home and everything changes. David becomes obsessed with becoming a real boy, a desire fuelled by the Pinocchio story. And he goes on an epic journey to achieve it, braving the dangers of the futuristic society accompanied by a mecha gigolo (Law) and chased by a robot hater (Gleeson).
The blending between Spielberg's childish sentiment and Kubrick's cold, hard stare is remarkable. It's so expertly made that it takes the breath away. As we'd expect, the extensive effects are virtually seamless. But the surprise is the forceful treatment of the themes--passionate and provocative, yet never pushy or obvious. And there's real drama too, most notably the mother-son stuff, but also in the realistic interplay between the "brothers" and their friends. For once, Spielberg isn't afraid to be gritty and sexy, and he uses reflective camera angles and off-beat production design to stunning effect. He also draws revelatory performances from the entire cast: Osment carries the film with nuance and even more magnetism than in The Sixth Sense. Neither he nor Law (who's very funny and lively) ever cross the line--their mechas are always machines, but they give lovely hints of soul as well. Meanwhile, O'Connor is heartbreakingly authentic, while Hurt brings an intelligent intensity to David's creator, the Geppetto character.
Spielberg moves with surprising ease between confrontational imagery and the human touch, without ever drifting into schmaltz. If there's a problem it's in the final 20 minutes--a strange epilogue that seems to go on and on and gets increasingly unnecessary. Spielberg seems unable to resist that final nudge-nudge scene (see also Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan). This ending, much like Kubrick's mind-bending final sequence in 2001, both muddles the film that went before and challenges us in a new way.
"AI absolutely enchanted me from beginning to end. I had no idea where the narrative was going and was constantly suprised at each turn. The Spielberg/Kubrick atmosphere was positively the most affecting I have had the joy to sit in the dark and absorb, and the visuals were stunning, again producing a unique, dark and beautiful vision of the future. I found nothing akin to Bladerunner in the cityscapes as many reviews have deplored. I am disappointed that so many people just did not get this film and wrongly assumed that the ethereal beings in the last act were aliens; they were simply, and I thought obviously, highly evolved mechas. I cannot wait to own this film on DVD and continue to learn from its craft. In my opinion this is Spielberg's most masterful achievment." --Nick, Charters Towers 11.Jan.02
"For God's sake people, those are advanced robots at the end, not aliens! Thought of as aliens, I agree it would be a weird random ending. As robots, the ending is poignant and disturbing." --John Brown, US 18.Apr.02