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From: Adam Stephanides <adamsteph@earthlink.net>
Subject: Re: (urth) OT: A.I. (SPOILERS)
Date: Sun, 26 Aug 2001 23:12:18 

on 8/21/01 12:15 PM, James Jordan at jbjordan4@home.com wrote:

> Go for it. I'm interested. I found the Disney-Pinocchio twists interesting,
> but I thought Bladerunner addressed the fundamental issue better.

I haven't seen Bladerunner, but I agree that, despite Haley Joel Osment's
amazing performance on the knife-edge between machine and human, A.I. didn't
have anything profound to say about what it means to be human, or whether
robots can be "human."  In fact, the film's treatment of robots in general
is a serious weakness.  To start with, there's the inconsistency in the
portrayal of the robots.  The supposedly advanced female robot at the start
of the film is far more mechanical in behavior than the obsolete robots
rounded up by the Flesh Fair, to say nothing of Gigolo Joe.  And the whole
"human hatred of robots" motif is a sf cliche which is poorly motivated
here.  Supposedly humans need to cull the robots back to stop them from
taking over, but why would anybody build robots capable of taking over?  For
that matter, why would they build robots capable of living "unlicensed" in
the wilderness?  (And the robots in the film are basically too stupid to
take over, anyway.)

Other serious flaws in the film are:

1.  The middle section, up to David and Joe's arrival in Manhattan, is a
series of flashy special-effect-laden set-pieces that make little narrative
sense and completely disrupt the mood of the picture.

2.  In general, there are a lot of things about the plot that make no sense.

3.  David was just too stupid and too fixated on one idea for me to have
much interest in his quest, especially since it is doomed to failure from
the start.  (Maybe this was Spielberg's intent, but I don't think so; and if
so it was a mistake in judgement.)

4.  Spielberg is very heavy-handed with his allusions at times, especially
the Rouge City segment.

So why do I say it was excellent?

1.  The first part of the picture, up to the point where David is abandoned,
is brilliantly directed, and quite innovative for a Hollywood movie.  For
instance, non-naturalistic lighting is central to the film to an extent I
don't recall in any other movie, Hollywood or no (though no doubt there are
examples).  After David is abandoned the picture deteriorates, as I said
above, but the whole Manhattan sequence is brilliant, and while the rest of
the picture isn't as sure-handed as the first part (and those alien-like
robots just don't work for me) there's some very good stuff there, too.

2.  Everybody raves about Osment's performance, but to my mind Frances
O'Connor is even better.  (I really don't understand why so many people find
her character unsympathetic.)

3.  I enjoyed Spielberg's audacity in undercutting the exploitation of myths
and fairy tales upon which he's built his commercial success.  The
Pinocchio-based quest upon which the film has resolved, and which we've been
encouraged to identify with, turns out to be stage-managed by Prof. Hobby as
a test, not to judge David's moral worth as in the original story, but to
determine his commercial value as a mass-marketed product.

4.  As for the much-maligned "second ending" set two thousand years in the
future, if you think about it it's not a sentimental cop-out, but a
psychological tragedy.  Forget for a moment that David is a robot, and
consider him just as a child.  In this light, he's a boy who is completely
fixated on his mother, so that it is literally impossible for him to want
anything else.  In Freudian terms, he can never resolve his Oedipal
conflict, despite the sex proferred in Rouge City.  In the end he gets his
one narcissistic "perfect day" with the recreated Monica, who
now--literally--lives only for him, and that's it: his life is essentially
over, because there is nothing else he can want or aspire to.  If he hadn't
been given this one day with "Monica," it would not be clear that his
tragedy is not his inability to be reunited with Monica, but that whether he
succeeds or fails, he has no other goals.

Incidentally, while several reviewers have assumed that Spielberg foisted
this ending upon Kubrick's pure vision, articles on Kubrick's involvement
available on the Web make clear that it was part of Kubrick's conception for
the movie.  Conversely, one "Kubrickian" moment, the scene where David sees
all the replicas of himself, was Spielberg's decision to include, though
Aldiss's idea.  And I say this not as a Spielberg fan, because I'm not.

5.  Though I don't think the film has anything profound to say about what
makes one human, the ambiguity as to whether David is really human deep down
or just a programmed machine is thought-provoking; and similarly with the
questions of whether recreated Monica is really Monica or the advanced
mechas' simulacrum to make David happy, and whether her statement of love
for David expresses her real feelings or is just what David wants to hear.

6.  To sum up, A.I. is a remarkably uncommercial "art" film masquerading as
a feel-good blockbuster (and sometimes being taken in by its own con, to its
detriment).  No wonder it bombed.


*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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