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Review: Artificial Intelligence: A.I. (2001)

Artificial Intelligence: A.I. (2001)

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Premise: In the near future, robotics have advanced to the point where they pass as human beings. David (Haley Joel Osment), a child model who never grows old and is programmed to forever love his mother, is purchased by a couple (Frances O’Connor and Sam Robards) to replace their terminally ill son. When their biological son recovers, it causes complications in the home. David is eventually separated from his mother and sets out on a journey to be reunited with her.

What Works: Although it’s a science fiction film with action and special effects, Artificial Intelligence is primarily about the relationship between a boy and his mother and it uses the same story structure as Pinocchio. The film addresses a wide variety of topics from what it means to be human to adoption to prejudice and multiculturalism to second-class citizenship and Artificial Intelligence does a great job unifying these topic and themes together in ways not seen since Blade Runner. Haley Joel Osment does a wonderful job in the lead role, capturing the innocence of this child robot in a cruel world that he does not fully understand and his desire for the approval and love of his mother is very moving. Also outstanding is Jude Law as a male gigolo robot who befriends David and teaches him about the ways of the world. Together, the two roles present different takes on love and human relationships, and both actor’s interpretations of life and love as synthetic beings shed light on what it means to be human. Artificial Intelligence also features some very unique sequences of a dystopian future that have more to do with George A. Romero pictures like Land of the Dead than the kinds of environments usually associated with Spielberg films. The contrast between the warm domestic settings, the neon metropolis, and the decrepit underground is a complex and sophisticated portrayal of the future human beings have created for themselves and provides a place for David’s journey to play out.

What Doesn’t: A lot of viewers will struggle with the ending of the film. Artificial Intelligence is better viewed two or three times, as the unity of the story and its themes becomes clear. Admittedly, the conclusion does suffer from Spielberg’s worst tendencies toward sentimentality but the ending wraps things up so well that it’s forgivable.

DVD extras: Featurettes, behind the scenes footage, storyboards, photos.

Bottom Line: Although Artificial Intelligence is not well remembered now, in years to come this film may rise to the top of Spielberg’s filmography. While it is not his greatest accomplishment, the ambition of the film and its intelligent foray into tough subject matter make it a notable film.  

Episode: #189 (May 11, 2008)