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Directed by Steven Spielberg for Dreamworks

A.i. from an idea by Stanley Kubrick
starring Jude law, Haley Joel Osment, Frances O'Conor, William Hurt

It is difficult to know where to begin or to say just how very bad this film really is.
Personally I have felt that Spielberg has disconnected with his audience for some time now. Perhaps he just got too rich or too insulated, surrounded by people paid to tell him how wonderful he is. Whatever the reason, he has made a stinker and he should be embarassed.

A.I. begins with a voiceover telling us the world has been changed by climate disasters and essentially America is a drowned world. New York is drowned and by chance what do we see but the World Trade Centre sticking out from the depths. This is the only thing that is not Spielberg's fault, but a pithy reminder of the tragedy of New York.

The plot is simple enough. A robot manufacturer wants to market a new model. They make money out of humanoid robots that do the work, be the sex objects, and are sentient beings quite aware of what they are and despised by the humans who nevertheless can't seem to live without them.

In this mix William Hurt's drab morose inventor wants a new child robot to comfort those who have lost their children or can't have them. It will be programmed to love the parents and 'bond' with them. Failure to bond will mean the 'child' will be destroyed. (Which seems a bit drastic as most software you can overwrite surely?)

The boy David, played with conviction by Haley Joel Osment is given to 'sample' parents whose boy in in a deep freeze awaiting recovery from a coma and they have little hope of seeing him alive again. So they are quite receptive to David coming into their lives. Mother, Frances O'Conor is about to bond when miracle of miracle, the real son returns, they slaughter the fatted calf and what do you know the boy robot isn't wanted anymore and gets bullied by the jealous son.

The boy is abandoned in the woods by his 'mother' and left to fend for himself with only 'Teddy' for a friend.. Teddy, by the by the absolutely the best thing in the movie and deserves his own show. A walking talking, all wise bear is just what a boy needs.

Of course the woods are full of 'old' unsophisticated terrorised robots also on the lam, fleeing from the 'flesh fairs' where humans, not at all humbled by their eco-disaster, still listen to 80's hard rock and spend their time 'killing' robots. It's always the way in these movies the robots seem so much more reasonable than the people.

Pic: Haley joel Osment and Jude Law in the Woods.

Needless to say David makes a friend of Joe, who is a male prostitute robot, played with a sense of fun by Jude Law. It might have been nice to see him at work, but all we get to see is why he is on the run because he has been set up for murder by a sexually jealous human husband.

David and Joe flee and David is fixated on finding the 'Blue Fairy'. He listened to his 'mother' read Pinocchio to his 'brother' and believes that if he finds the Blue Fairy he will become a real boy and his mother will take him back.

Of course, on the way they must go to this world's Las Vegas, 'Rouge City' a very clean, antiseptic place where they meet the Wizard of Oz -sorry Dr Know, where you get to ask some questions about the truth of life and such. All answers then lie in the submerged Manhattan, so off we must go.

There are several stories in this trite, sentimental film. The Wizard of Oz and the yellow brick road is one, Pinnochio another, a Ray Bradbury novel possibly, but no Kubrick movies. No real violence, no real people, no passion or feeling or sense of time or place. There is no sense of wonderment and yet the opportunity was there.

Ai is a disappointment from the opening voiceover and the music which is dull, intrusive and plain bad throughout. The opening address by William Hurt to his fellow scientists is embarrassing and unconvincing. The ordeal of David arriving at his new home painful to watch and very slow. His abandonment, in a studio forest set, weak and never once do we address this lost world. If the weather has turned bad and the crops failed and people starved, would America really look like this? Why did the parents have to be so rich, so uncaring. David is well enough acted, but after 'Play it Forward' another excretable film starring this kid, it is hard to stomach him.

A future that doesn't seem to have weather or strife, a future where you have sex with robots rather than humans, a place where robot children could be acceptable just isn't explored. This should have been a gritty adult movie and it ignores the world' Bladerunner' created for us for a magazine spread in some future Hello magazine. In a world that has been devasted where is the coffee coming from, where are all the ethnic people? Why are there so many trees? How come they still print books, still print newspapers, what kind of future is this? New York flooded up to the sixtieth floor level. Well do the math, how far would the inland sea be? I want to see this world. But not with Mr Costner in charge.

The movie ends ironically with David and Teddy the sole survivors of the human race. (No explanation of where they went except voiceover man says the oceans froze.) David is woken by aliens (of course) who raid his memory for what he saw and did. They even recreate his dear Mama, just for one day....

But by then, you just don't care when the robot weeps.

This movie directed by someone connected to the world and the strife within it might have transformed this material, but as it is, you emerge blinking into our world and you realise that you have never left. Try doing that with 'Moulin Rouge' a film that transports you to another place and pummels you to death, but at least you are engaged, you are 'there'. Clearly why it is the runaway best film of the year so far in the UK.

Ai is just monumentally disappointing.

The good news is that TEDDY the bear will be available for Christmas from Tiger Electronics.

© Sam North 2001

September 20th To date the film has taken around $180 million wordwide.

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