The Good: Essentially good philosophical question, Some acting
The Bad: Overly graphic, Thematically heavy-handed, Characters that are difficult to connect with, Loses focus
The Basics: The MPAA drops the ball on not rating this nightmarish fairy tale “R.” Otherwise, there is little of note here.
It did not take watching A.I. or Artificial Intelligence long to realize that Steven Spielberg was the wrong director for this movie. At best, no other director could be accused of trying to capitalize on the same type feelings as E.T, at worst, no other director would be a target for trying so desperately to make a hit film. Artificial Intelligence fails to be as simply endearing as E.T. was upon its release and too pointlessly graphic and needlessly complicated to be the real hit that he wanted.
When Henry Swinton believes he has found the solution to his wife's heartbreak over their son's apparent coma, he purchases a robot (mecha) that has the ability to love her without question. David, the mecha, takes a while to endear himself to Monica and eventually, she begins to return his affection. When her biological son reanimates, there is natural conflict between the two children and Monica decides to abandon David. David, unalterably programmed to love Monica, begins a search for the Blue Fairy from Pinocchio in an attempt to become human. In the process, he flees the most dangerous element of humanity, the Flesh Fair, and journeys to the submerged Manhattan to try to become human.
First of all, if you are not a fan of Pinocchio-type stories, this will be a huge let down for you. Essentially, it is a souped up fairy tale with all the simplicity and none of the charm. Haley Joel Osment does a fine job portraying David with simplistic, childlike wonder, but there is no magic in his performance. There's no spark of joy in him, which makes watching Osment's David difficult.
If you read my reviews, you will no I am not a prude for most of the things Conservatives decry are wrong with movies. I was disappointed at how sexually graphic Henry And June (reviewed here!) wasn't and the ultra-violent "Empok Nor" rates as one of the best Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes in my book. That said, the MPAA completely dropped the ball when it came to rating this movie. Whatever dolts at the MPAA slapped a PG-13 on this movie instead of an "R" deserved to be fired.
Why? A significant portion of Artificial Intelligence happens at a Flesh Fair. The Flesh Fair is basically a bunch of hicks getting together and tearing apart robots. In the scene, we see a robot shot from a cannon, through a ring of fire and into a jet engine where it is destroyed, another is drawn and quartered before our eyes and yet another is melted completely with acid. The purpose of the scene is to illustrate what monsters humans have become in relation to their servants. This horrific scene immediately follows a scene wherein a dump truck of already destroyed robots attempt to reconstruct themselves and includes such things as one robot tearing jaws off other dead droids to find one that fits. The problems of these scenes are twofold. 1. They do what they do exceptionally well, to the point of being overbearing, oppressive and gross. In the robot dump scene, we see quite comprehensively how poorly the robots have been treated and any viewer with a brain is going to feel the sense of injustice and "get" that this situation is absolutely wrong. The scene that follows with the chase and torture of robots is therefore unnecessary. Add to that, the scene is supposed to illustrate how inhumanely the robots are being treated by showing their torture and we are to understand how wrong that is. The MPAA completely dropped the ball on this one in that it uses the excuse that the beings being tortured are simply inanimate objects to justify showing things it would never allow to be illustrated with human beings. Thus, the MPAA is desensitized, becoming in itself a flesh fair. It is unethical and desensitizing to allow such graphic torture to be shown, especially to youngsters and the idiocy of the MPAA's decision to rate this PG-13 is that the robots are, of course, humans in actuality! The second problem is both of these intense, graphic scenes of dismemberment, torture and destruction are too long. We get the thesis of the scenes. They feel like the Ripley Clone Room scene in Alien Resurrection (reviewed here!) - we got it, get on with it.
Following the disgusting and inappropriately rated Flesh Fair scene, the movie falls completely into chaos. The comic relief provided by Jude Law's character Gigolo Joe wears thin immediately such that the viewer is not disappointed by his rapid exit from the movie soon after. Then the movie descends into a weird fairy tale involving massive passages of time and alien beings.
The problem, ultimately, with Artificial Intelligence is that it does not seem to know what it wants to be. Too often, it is an oversimplified fairy tale. Other moments, however, it rises to a wrenchingly graphic and adult portrayal of ostracization and loneliness. In the end, none of the characters come alive. David is simplistic and monotonous, Monica is pretty much the worst mother ever, Joe is a one trick joke, and Professor Allen Hobby, who has great potential as a philosopher somehow loses his way in the last scenes we see of him. His philosophical quest motivates the movie, yet his actions at the end are inexplicable; until he knew the outcome of the David experiment, why would he start other such experiments?
In contrast to the characters, the acting is halfway decent. Almost redeeming the movie are the performances of William Hurt, who plays Hobby as intelligent and compassionate, and Haley Joel Osment, who earns his fee easily with his weird, robotic performance of David. The contrast between the warmly emotional Hurt and the quirky, quasi-dispassionate Osment works quite well.
Unfortunately, it is not enough to save this movie. It lacks serious direction other than trying to prove that the responsibility one would have to an artificial life form is the same as one would have to a biological entity, but that is proven rather quickly. The lack of purpose through much of the movie is complicated by a situation devoid of empathetic characters and ruined by an unnecessarily gruesome set of scenes that defy good taste. If you want a better time making an ethical argument over robots, I strongly recommend "Measure Of A Man" from Star Trek The Next Generation's second season. They say that if a movie resonates emotionally with you, it's good regardless; I say if it resonates only in that it makes you nauseous and others when you describe it, it's garbage. There's no antacid that counteracts the Flesh Fair and only sadness that 28 Days Later's Brendan Gleeson was a part of it.
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© 2011, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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