Stars: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Steven Spielberg, (based on a screen story by Ian Watson & based on short story by Brian Aldiss)
It’s a fascinating sci-fi fantasy more on the level of Blade Runner with its dark and troubling subject matter rather than the easygoing, light fare usually associated with Steven Spielberg films. A.I.’s themes revolve around love, acceptance, dreams, reality and finally, survival and humanity. It is ultimately a very sorrowful tale.
It’s set in a future world after the ice caps have melted and submerged cities and millions of people have perished, a world that turned to the manufacture of a variety of clever robots that fill mankind’s void without their ever needing to consume the planet’s dwindling resources. They were made, as one character puts it, too smart, too many, too fast and some humans are ultimately threatened by their existence.
But now, a super inventor, Professor Hobby (William Hurt) of Cybertronics decides to create the missing link in robotics, “to build a robot child who will genuinely love” for families without the required government permission to have children of their own. He presents his new prototype, David (Haley Joel Osment), an angelic and very human-like robotic boy who will love without questioning once he has been imprinted onto a human mother. The family chosen for this new venture is Henry Swinton (Sam Robards in a nearly invisible part), a Cybertronics employee and his wife Monica (Frances O”Connor) whose own son is terminally ill and has been cryogenically frozen while awaiting a cure. Can they accept David? Will David fill the void in their lives? It’s a big decision for the Swintons because once the imprinting has taken place, it’s irreversible and David will love them forever. If they tire of him, he may never be exchanged or resold; he must be returned to the factory where he will promptly be destroyed.
After a short trial period, Monica makes David her own and once again leads a blissful motherhood. Trouble starts when her real son Martin makes a miraculous recovery and returns home to find that David has taken over his bedroom and custody of his beloved Super Toy Teddy, the most wonderful walking, talking, thinking teddybear (voiced by Jack Angel) ever seen. The truth is, Teddy is a far better influence on David than the manipulative snot Martin turns out to be. We wish Martin would go back to his cryo-chamber and that David could become a real boy, much like the beloved fairy tale “Pinocchio” and acquire Monica’s undying love that he wants so desperately. But that’s not to be and Monica ends up disposing of David in a particularly traumatic fashion, for both David and the audience. The problem here is that when things do go wrong at the Swinton house, never once do the adults question what or why something happened. They just decide to dump poor David. Considering how very careful Monica was in her decision to imprint on David, you have to wonder why the same care wasn’t taken with her decision to let him go.
David’s path then takes us to another aspect of this futuristic world, one that’s darker and muddier and shows us how poorly the human race treats its servant robotic creations. These are frightening scenes indeed.
We are introduced to Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a robotic sex machine, literally, whose whole purpose is to please women. He and David become enmeshed in a grand escape when they are hunted by authorities bent on reducing them to rubble at something called the Flesh Fair, a hideous ‘celebration of life’ egged on by rabble rousing humans. The escape turns into an adventurous search, when once free, David, Joe and David’s special Teddy go looking for Pinocchio¹s Blue Fairy, a creature that David believes exists and can make him a real boy. Even though Joe is the minimalist comic relief, the film takes us from one harrowing event to the next with little in the way of pleasantries between.
Lotta says: The film is filled with many spectacular sets and effects, particularly involving the robots in their varying forms from “birth” to decompilation and the futuristic look of the film has some wonderfully unique elements to it. Osment is grand portraying the ultra-sensitive, most human-like Pinocchio we’ve seen yet and Law is superbly energetic. O’Connor does a believable job as the somewhat conflicted mother. The other humans in the film are almost inconsequential and largely one-dimensional, particularly Sam Robards who could have been excised entirely and we wouldn’t have missed his role. Don’t expect to be leaving the theater smiling. This is a film that leaves you with something to think about and I found it sad and troubling. To that end, it’s remarkable. It’s done the job it set out to do.