A.I. (2001)      

It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
"That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all." . . . . .
                                                    - T.S. Eliot

Stephen Spielberg: can't think of any titles off the top of my head, but i'm sure he's directed something.
It's like a G-rated version of Blade Runner with more emphasis on parent-child relationships and an ending that's awfully similar to both 2001 and Contact. The movie had some cool stuff in it to be sure, like the seemless and frequent transition between time and space (specifically air and water). Plus, I'll take any chance I can get to see New York City under 500 feet of water. And then there was the whole Dr. Know sequence, which although it was so Jumanji, was still pretty cool, at least until they friggin' explained it, reminding me of the explanation of the force we got in Phantom Menace, which was, of course, so wonderful. The whole thing with 'Joe the Gigolo' was cool, and the head music thing was funny, at least the first two or three times. The 'Flesh Fair' was nearly cool even if it did smell a bit like Running Man. The teddy bear was ten times tolerabler than Jar Jar Binks as a sidekick. All in all, it had lots of cool stuff (the movie just looks great), was emotionally very gripping, and kept you interested most of the time. I just think Kubrick would have done more with the concept. And as someone else pointed out to me, the ending might have been better if they had just left him there under water.1 Instead, Spielberg went Contact on us. I mean, hopelessly benign aliens are one thing, but hopelessly benign machines? Schwarzeneggar would turn over in his grave. Talk about Sleeping With The Enemy. 'Just give us a piece of bone, a bra, anything, we can rebuild her-and make a tyrannosaurus rex too, free of charge.' That said, it has to be better than Pearl Harbor, Titannic Reloaded and whatever other fifty million dollar turds are floating around out there now. So you might as well go see it.

1 Some have suggested this review should have ended at this point. Others disagree. Today I discovered a film critic named Jonathan Rosenbaum. He writes:

A.I. Artificial Intelligence and Waking Life

For starters, both movies confound habitual assumptions about authorship and intentionality. For all its personal elements, is A.I. just a movie by Steven Spielberg, as so many reviewers have been insisting? It can be taken that way, but only at the cost of missing much of what's provocative and challenging about it. Similarly, one can see Waking Life as simply a Richard Linklater film only if one rules out Bob Sabiston, who designed the software program that made its animation possible, and the 30-odd artists who implemented the program.

I wouldn't call A.I. simply a posthumous work by Stanley Kubrick either, though I wouldn't rule out that dimension which is clearly what motivated Kubrick's widow and brother-in-law to persuade Spielberg to take over the project and is part of what motivated Spielberg. Indeed, I suspect that Spielberg approached this project with more seriousness and more willingness to show fidelity to its source than he did when approaching the Holocaust or Oskar Schindler's life for Schindler's List. His limitations are still apparent in spots, but this film makes the usual distinctions between success and failure seem trivial. Pretty much the same holds for the dramatic construction, dialogue, and animation of Waking Life, because whenever any of these pieces falters, the film's conceptual strength a sense of existential identity and place that exists beyond the parameters of "objective" photography, and the notion of animation itself as a kind of dreaming with profound links to our waking life is still strong enough to carry them.

A.I. is about the ambiguous differences between human and nonhuman; Waking Life is about the ambiguous differences between real and imaginary. These are two sides of the same ontological issue, which I see as the primary issue for both technology and the media, including film. Despite the misanthropy of A.I. (which I associate with Spielberg as much as Kubrick, regarding 1941 and Barry Lyndon as two sides of the same coin), the film made me cry. And despite the ingenuousness of many of the bull sessions in Waking Life (which I tended at times to regard as musical accompaniment), the movie made me think. As a whole, audiences appeared to have an easier time with the innovations of Waking Life. In contrast, legions of viewers felt comfortable only with the middle section of A.I., wished the film had ended with the Blue Fairy, and preferred the pat ironies of Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) to the confusing emotions aroused by the lead mecha (a superb Haley Joel Osment); they seemed to be hankering for the sort of Spielberg film they already knew. Anyone who found this one merely sentimental wasn't paying close enough attention to the bleak and bitter undertones.

At the Savannah film festival I was fascinated to see some of Waking Life's initial live-action DV footage on Sabiston's laptop, and I hope that samples of this material will be included on the film's DVD. A.I.'s DVD is slated to be released in April, and I'm sorry it apparently won't include any of the 90-page Ian Watson script written for Kubrick that served as Spielberg's main source though it reportedly will include a few of the 600 drawings by Chris Baker that Kubrick also commissioned.

And here is the problem. When he says, 'In contrast, legions of viewers felt comfortable only with the middle section of A.I., wished the film had ended with the Blue Fairy...' I think he's saying he thinks the film should not have ended there. I have suggested the film should have ended there. Does this mean Rosenbaum is an idiot? But wait, he just mentioned 'Barry Lyndon' in the same review as A.I.. Nobody mentions 'Barry Lyndon' in the same review as A.I.. That would be like if Jacques Chirac concluded a state of the French union speech with a brief explanation of the twenty-four second shot clock. It just doesn't happen. But there it is in plain text. And nobody who mentions Barry Lyndon for any reason can be very wrong about much. My tenets collide. What if I am the one who 'wasn't paying close enough attention'? I understand how the additional footage provided some interesting material: the robots searching the surface of the earth, that they cared enough to dig him up at all, that they loved the memory of humans as unconditionally as Haley Joel loved his human mom, and most impressive, that they were able to find him in all that ice. That all said, it still seems that to end like it did somehow diminished the ambiguity. Perhaps it would have been more sad and poetic for him to just be sitting there for all eternity. I suppose my problem with the ending is similar to my objection to the scientific explanation of the Dr. Know sequence and Lucas' deconstruction of 'the force.' It reflects in myself a generalized resistance to what I perceive as an attempt to demystify the 'magical' and 'unknowable' aspects of the universe. In this sense, A.I. can be seen as a bit of a slap in the face to romantics, which is never such a bad thing. In any case, what with all this music, and melancholy, and William Hurt and everything. I am lonely.

Oh and by the way, Waking Life sucks.

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