Artificial Intelligence: A.I. (2001)
Directed by Steven Spielberg

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * *

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Some time not far in the future, robots have become common, and a woman, after her child is left in a coma, purchases one that has been designed to look and act like a young boy (Haley Joel Osment). When the woman's child awakens from his coma, this robot, which she has named David, becomes a problem. Rather than returning him to his makers to be destroyed, however, she abandons him in a forest. Having so been left on his own, David soon thereafter meets a robotic male prostitute named Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), and these two set out together to find the Blue Fairy from Pinocchio in the hope that she can grant David's wish that he might become a real boy and win the love of his mother, to whom he has been programmed to be attached.

Artificial Intelligence: A.I. is among Steven Spielberg's better films, but it is, nevertheless, weakened by its sentimentality and its ludicrous ending.

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The three sections into which the movie is divided, sadly, are not of equal quality. Consequently, although A.I. is frequently interesting, it is not consistently so. The first two parts of the film, which show, respectively, David's interactions with the family that purchased him and his adventures with Gigolo Joe, include a number of fascinating visual and thematic details and are able to engage the viewer. Unfortunately, the concluding section, which reveals his experiences in some extremely distant future, undoes much of the movie's impact.

Of the film's visually impressive elements, the hedonistic city visited by David and Gigolo Joe is, almost certainly, the most remarkable. The place is a marvel, and the characters' entrance into it by means of a bridge passing through the mouth of an enormous sculpted head is one of the movie's most visually memorable sequences. What is more, the city itself is nicely brought to life and is, at once, repulsive and captivating. The director has filled it with a plethora of excesses, which combine the flashy kitsch of Las Vegas with weird technological wonders reminiscent of the oddities that can be found in a Disney theme park.

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Some of the other particularly tacky aspects of A.I.'s future world are also well realized. The scene in which David is to be brutally torn apart along with other robots in a lurid show called a "Flesh Fair" before an audience of rednecks has the look of a cross between a demolition derby and a professional wrestling exhibition. The whole spectacle has a veracity that gives it a horrific quality which, in turn, causes the viewer both to feel sympathy for David and the other robots being destroyed and to question his understanding of what constitutes being a living entity with an inherent right to exist.

In addition to such virtues, the movie is generally well acted. The performances of both Haley Joel Osment and Jude Law are accomplished, and each lends a real authenticity to his character. Although Osment is a typical Hollywood moppet, his appearance and behavior are well suited to a film like A.I. It is easy to believe that a robot built to replace a human child would be made to look and behave very much like David.

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The final part of the movie, in which the world of the far future is shown, is the least satisfying section of A.I.. Spielberg has drawn on the most dull and uninteresting conventions common to movies depicting some extremely distant future and has created a world very much like those found in such movies. The story told in this section also detracts from the quality of the film, being completely implausible, hackneyed, and manipulative.

While A.I. is one of Spielberg's better films, it is, unfortunately, far from satisfying.

Review by Keith Allen

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