Magazine article Insight on the News

Artificial Intelligentsia

Magazine article Insight on the News

Artificial Intelligentsia

Article excerpt

A.I., dazzling and dizzy, is a case of overweening ambition by an extraordinary filmmaker. The movie takes itself too seriously, but its visual effects are and the price of admission.

Steven Spielberg has directed or produced eight of the 20 highest-grossing films ever made, and if A.I. brings him closer to an even half he will be indebted to his collaborators responsible for the film's spectacular visual effects. But computer-generated graphics, no matter how clever, can't save a screenplay that careens out of control. And that's the trouble with A.I., a psychotherapeutic fairy tale that mixes together robots and aliens, a mad scientist, a conflicted mother and a talking teddy bear to make a sci-fi Oedipal stew.

Based on a short story by Brian Aldiss ("Super-Toys Last All Summer Long," published in Harper's Bazaar in 1969), A.I. isn't so much about artificial intelligence as it is about real emotion: Can a robot learn to love? Professor Hobby (William Hurt), director of Cybertronics, has created an advanced type of robot he hopes can experience human feelings. He places his prototype, a boy-model named David (Haley Joel Osment), with Henry and Monica Swinton (Sam Robards and Frances O'Connor), whose real son, Martin (Jake Thomas), has been cryogenically frozen because he suffers from an incurable disease. But just when Monica and David seem to be developing a genuine bond, Martin is revived, sending the Swintons into a swoon -- they have their son back, yet he now has a "half-brother" who is a machine.

Osment, widely acclaimed for his role as the haunted boy in Sixth Sense, is uncanny as David, eerie and lovable at once. (Barely a teenager, he seems programmed for superstardom.) O'Connor must wear her maternal instincts on her sleeve to facilitate the plot, but she effectively projects her growing confusion about David. This first third of the film is so engaging -- morally intriguing, genuinely thrilling -- that the rest of A.I. is frustratingly anticlimactic by comparison.

Indeed, the ensuing narrative, a high-tech version of Pinocchio, eventually slides into silliness, but not before David, accompanied by a typically Spielbergian "super-toy" named Teddy and a decidedly un-Spielbergian "pleasurebot" named Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), struggle through a series of harrowing adventures in Rouge Town, at the Flesh Fair and, finally, in Manhattan, now submerged beneath the Atlantic Ocean, the result of greenhouse gases. …

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