Imagine, if you will, a train, running along its tracks. It's one of those
trains that you imagined as a kid, when you wanted to be a rail engineer traveling
around the country, with a perfect plume of smoke hanging above the engine,
which, of course, is a sparkling black.
Now, imagine this train derailing. Actually, not just derailing, but leaping
off the tracks, ricocheting off a nearby oil tanker that had parked itself over
a massive gathering of baby seals, and slamming into three school buses containing
children, none of whom are wearing orange snow coats that cover their faces.
This was my experience watching A.I.
Spielberg's new movie, famously known as Stanley Kubrick's last project, succeeds
in many ways, but fails so spectacularly that there is no way that you can leave
the theater without laughing uncontrollably.
The movie tells the story of the first "mecha" (robot) that was
designed to love. In the first scene, Dr. Hobby (William Hurt) proposes this
idea to his team at Cybertronics, a robot manufacture company. A fellow scientists
asks a thoughtful question that goes ignored through the rest of the film: what,
if any, responsibility, does an "orga" (human) have towards a robot
that loves it?
David (Haley Joel Osment) is the child mecha with a maturity beyond his years
-- his movements, expression and voice are all modulated in an imitation of
what a perfect young boy might act like, a subtlety that most young actors would
miss. His questioning stares and stilted words ("Should I go to sleep now?")
He is given to Monica and Henry Swinton (Frances O'Connor and Sam Robards),
a couple whose biological son is cryogenically frozen due to illness. Because
of the mass flooding of the earth by the melting of the ice caps, the government
has imposed restrictions on who can have children. So, when Henry, an employee
of Cybertronics, is given the opportunity to bring home David, he takes it,
in hopes that Monica will finally be able to heal from the loss of her son.
Monica reacts naturally -- with rage at the idea that her son could be replaced.
But after adjusting to his presence, Monica "imprints" David, binding
his love to her.
After some time, Martin, the Swinton's son wakes and returns home. Monica's
affection is now split amongst her "real" son and David.
There are other elements: Teddy (Jack Angel), a supertoy bear whose gravelly
voice and matter-of-factness bring real moments of humor to the film. A Flesh
Fair, where orga protest the existence of robots. It is there that David meets
Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) a lover-robot.
The movie, up to this point, is fine. It is visually impressive, consisting
of dystopian scenery bathed in blues and grays, punctuated by holographic neon.
Jude Law plays Gigolo Joe as a cocky, single-minded machine who has no sense
of humanity -- we wince as he asks an abused woman if "these are the marks
of passion?" And Osment is consistently brilliant. However, occasionally,
we feel like the film becomes nothing more than an over-budgeted B-movie (see
Joe's intonation of ``Man-hattan'' and the dog-shaped motorcycles).
But it's bearable, and, around an hour and a half in we are presented a climactic,
emotional, and truly poignant scene. I sighed and prepared to exit the theater.
Huh? There's more?
Twenty-five minutes later, I had lived through the most impressive movie implosion
ever. Not only does the most fundamental rule of (screen)writing go out the
window (show, don't tell), we are put through a cynical manipulation of the
audience's emotions, pseudo-philosophical babble about time and space, and a
cloying coincidence had me gagging for ten minutes.
"Let's make them cry," shouted the movie executive, "for that
will raise our profits!" I did weep -- for the death of this movie's potential.