THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


A.I. - it has been well documented - was developed by the legendary Stanley Kubrick. When Kubrick passed away, his longtime friend Steven Spielberg took over the project, using the late director's notes to carry out his vision. This mixture of two great, but vastly different, filmmakers has made A.I. the most speculated-about movie of the new millennium. The studios releasing the picture (Warner Bros. and Dreamworks) have maintained a Kubrickian sense of secrecy regarding the plot, which only serves to fuel the intrigue. Because of all this, I should probably tell you what I hoped A.I. would be when I entered the theater. I wished for it to be bold, weird, unsettling, thoughtful, unpredictable, challenging.

That was my laundry list of wishes and, to my surprise, I got every single one of them. A.I. is destined to be one of the most discussed and debated pictures of the year. There are those who will love it, declaring it a masterpiece (as I am about to do). There will be others who hate it, proclaiming it a seriously flawed film. Those people will make a compelling argument. For me though, a great movie is one that elicits this kind of response. Despite any flaws it may or may not have, this is an important piece of filmmaking that will not leave you without a strong opinion.

The story is essentially divided into three acts. Act I opens with Professor Hobby (William Hurt) - a noted creator of robots or "mechas" - announcing his newest breakthrough. He believes it is entirely possible to create a robot that is capable of feeling love for people. To prove this, he creates David (Haley Joel Osment), a mecha boy. David is "adopted" by Henry and Monica Swinton (Sam Robards and Frances O'Connor), a couple whose own son has fallen into a coma. Monica engages the "imprinting" command in David's computer chip, transforming him from an automaton into something that acts and speaks like a real little boy. Certain events (which I dare not reveal) force Monica to abandon David in the woods. The mecha child is distraught at being deserted by the family he desperately loves.

Jude Law and Haley Joel Osment visit a futuristic city in Steven Spielberg's sci-fi epic A.I.
In Act II, David hits the road. Remembering the tale of Pinocchio, he goes in search of the "blue fairy" who will make him real, thereby enabling the Swintons to love him in return. He ends up at something called the "Flesh Fair," a demolition derby in which old robots are sadistically destroyed for bloodthirsty audiences. (This disturbing sequence is pure Kubrick, and it is one of the most electrifying parts of the film.) Also there is Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a mecha programmed to satisfy lonely women. The two escape and Gigolo Joe promises to help David find the fairy. Their wild journey takes them to an amazing futuristic city that resembles a space age Las Vegas. The production design in this sequence deserves an Oscar. This city is so cool looking that I want to visit it. (Check out the picture to get a glimpse.)

Act III...well it wouldn't be fair to say too much about that. It starts in a New York City almost completely submerged in water and goes to even more unexpected places from there. The conclusion, certain to be one of the most hotly contested parts of A.I., uses some subtle irony to make its ultimate point about the ever-expanding capabilities of artificial intelligence. I am already hearing from people who think the ending is bogus. I disagree, and although I won't spoil it here, I would be happy to offer my interpretation to any readers who would like to hear it. (My e-mail:

Like I said, there is going to be a percentage of the audience that will regard the film as a letdown. I already know what they will criticize. Some will argue that the tone of each act is alarmingly different, that the movie never achieves any consistency in its atmosphere. (I liked that about the movie.) Some will say that the mixture of Spielbergian fantasy and Kubrickian detachment never gels. (To me, the unexpected merging of styles only gives the picture more suspense.) Some will be infuriated that the story introduces little subplots, never to follow up on them. (I think the movie is not about subplots; those elements have been included merely to suggest certain things about the characters, to allow us to fill in the gaps later using our own imagination.)

Anyone who makes such criticisms is, in fact, right. You can absolutely make legitimate complaints against A.I. for those reasons and about a dozen others. But what I love about the movie is that it is alive. It continually reinvents itself as it plays. From one moment to the next, I did not know what to expect. A.I. gets you thinking by constantly challenging your expectations. The performances, particularly from Osment and Law, are flawless. Both actors have to retain the picture's mysteries in their characterizations. The acting is one more element that adds to the evolving feel of the film.

Like my very favorite sci-fi movie Dark City, this story is about the search for the intangible parts of the soul. Little David, in every respect, resembles a little boy. But he is not, because he lacks that elusive thing that makes us "real." This is heady stuff for a big budget Hollywood film. If A.I. is sometimes maddening in its circuitous approach to the subject, that is only because it is filled with big ambitions, big ideas, and a big desire to be more than just mechanical. The film is a lot like its hero.

( out of four)

A.I. is rated PG-13 for some sexual content and violent images. The running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes.
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