"I take orders from the Octoboss."

A.I. – Artificial Intelligence (10 years later)

chapter 8

2001posterreleased June 29th, 2001
(ten years ago today!)

Today, as we celebrate the opening of the third Steven Spielberg produced Hasbro adaptation about overly detailed space robots with different accents wiggling around and smashing buildings, let’s also take a moment to note the tenth anniversary of that one time when Spielberg tried to make a thoughtful robot movie.

I always liked A.I. Not perfect, but ambitious, and the stuff I really liked – which was most of it – I really liked alot. I always thought it got a bum rap. Now I’m watching it ten years later, the parts I had a problem with don’t seem as bad, the parts I loved seem as good or better than ever. And watching all these movies from the time right in a row… CROCODILE DUNDEE IN LOS ANGELES, DRIVEN, THE MUMMY RETURNS, PEARL HARBOR, EVOLUTION, LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER… it really makes me wonder what the fuck is wrong with people? In the middle of that all-you-can-eat-dog-shit-buffet this is the one people complained about! Too much mood and think. Me need more bang and joke!

Rotten Tomatoes audience ratings: A.I.: 58%. Tomb Raider: 60%. Mummy Returns: 69%. Pearl Harbor: 73%. It boggles the fuckin mind.

mp_aiDirector Steveley Spielbrick tells us the heartbreaking tale of David (an eerily dead-on Haley Joel Osment), a robot designed to seem like a little boy and programmed to love his mommy. A couple grieving over their terminally ill son brings him into their family, at first with hesitation, then being horribly creeped out by him, then becoming emotionally attached, then considering him a “toy.”  When their real son is miraculously healed, David’s shortcomings become more obvious, and he becomes increasingly scary when the other kid turns out to be a total bastard who gets off on tricking and tormenting him into acting out and making mistakes.

One of this little futuristic prick’s schemes is to get mommy to read them the story of Pinocchio, so that David will realize he’s not a “real boy” and feel bad about himself. The plan works out so well that David is still on a quest to find the Blue Fairy 2,000 years later, long after the extinction of all human life. Great job, kid. You did it. You win.

Like some of the other Kubrick pictures (I’m thinking 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and FULL METAL JACKET: A ‘NAM ODYSSEY) A.I. is divided into very distinct sections, in this case basically three (at home with the family, out in the world with Gigolo Joe, in frozen Manhattan with the futuristic super-robots). I really dig that about it, it’s three stories within one story and I especially like that it spans more than two millenniums.

My least favorite was always the “Flesh Fair” part in the middle, after David leaves the house but before he makes it to the city. He gets rounded up with a bunch of broken down robots and brought to this sort of out door carnival where humans who morally oppose the use of robotics listen to Ministry and watch stuff get shot at the robots. It’s this bloodthirsty audience but even they get upset when they see David out there and it looks like a little boy getting tormented. And people in the audience stand up and speak out on his behalf. I think Kubrberg was trying to give anti-robot bigots a fair portrayal, but it seems forced. The modern day Tea Party movement aside I don’t buy it, either that Flesh Fairs would be a thing or that if they were a thing that there would be normal, reasonable people in the audience who would turn on the ringleaders and try to appeal to their sense of decency.

I remember it always bothered me that there was a robot that looked like Chris Rock and had his voice. I was surprised to see how brief that part of the movie actually he is – he only has one line. I still don’t think it works but this time I decided he was supposed to be a comedy robot, that’s why he makes a joke before having his head crushed. It’s like having a robot of Groucho Marx or Charlie Chaplin, they sell Chris Rock robots in the future.

But there are aspects of the Flesh Fair that do ring true to me. They have a sign that says “Celebration of Life” – it strikes me kind of like groups who say they’re “protecting marriage” by being against other people getting married. They think they’re celebrating humans by helping them to get off on the pain and mutilation of robots. But you keep seeing examples of why this is bullshit. Even the life-celebraters have a hard time knowing what’s “life” and what’s not. A little girl sees David locked up and convinces everybody that a human boy got in there by mistake. And in fact it seems there was a time in the past where somebody confused a real guy for a robot.”You’re sure he’s not a man?” one of the workers asks. “I wouldn’t want a repeat of the Trenton incident.”

One part I loved this time, not sure if I forgot about it or just never properly appreciated it, is the nanny robot that David meets at the Flesh Fair (she’s the disembodied-face lady on the poster). She starts saying kind things to David and trying to make him feel safe as soon as she sees him, but it’s not entirely comforting. It’s partly creepy because it’s obvious that she’s programmed to respond that way to kids just like David is programmed to love his mommy. It seems kind of desperate, even. While being dragged off to be publicly executed she gives David a warm, reassuring “Goodbye.” Then she smiles at him as acid is dumped on her head and her face melts away. Following her programming to the bitter end.

That part is heartbreaking, but not half as much as the earlier scene when mommy Monica ditches David in the woods. She’s actually supposed to return him to the manufacturer to be dismantled, but she can’t stand the thought of it. It’s kind of like a woman leaving her baby in front of a church or at least abandoning a dog. She can’t bring herself to have him deactivated so it’s actually somewhat an act of compassion to dump him like this with Teddy to guide him and maybe he can survive. But of course he doesn’t understand that and he freaks out, trying to figure out what he can do to stop mommy from leaving him there. “Please mommy! Please mommy!” It’s rough.

And Monica’s crying too and she says “I’m sorry for not telling you about the world.” And if this is the first time you see it you think Oh shit, what did he need to know about the world? What’s out there, anyway?

What kind of world is it? One where there’s guys dressed like a combination of TRON and the Leathermen from BARBARELLA driving around on motorcycles with metal dog’s heads on the front. You sort of see it from the naive boy robot’s perspective. It’s dark and you don’t know where you are and there’s crazy shit going on all around you. A fuckin nightmare.

My favorite character is still Teddy, the “supertoy” teddy bear that becomes Jiminy Cricket to David’s Pinocchio. He sounds and moves like a weary old man. He’s long since outgrown his novelty status and is resigned to accept the cruelty of his life, or whatever it is he lives. Just like all the more advanced robots he has a programming, it is to be loyal, so when David gets snatched for the Flesh Fair he holds onto the net and comes along even though he could get away. I don’t know, maybe I’m reading this wrong but I think this is somewhat of a choice for Teddy, because there’s a scene where the dickhead brother tries to make Teddy choose between him and David. He should still be programmed to be loyal to his original owner, shouldn’t he?

When David and Teddy make it to Rouge City they meet Gigolo Joe (Whaddaya know?), played by Jude Law. You kind of expect Joe to be a little wiser about the world. He’s an adult, after all. He works in the big city. He’s experienced alot more. But he’s kind of like a little boy too. He only knows what he knows. He follows along on David’s quest just as naively. David’s gonna find the Blue Fairy to “make me a real live boy” and Joe’s gonna “make a real woman out of her.” He’s programmed to give women pleasure, so that’s what he’s always looking for.

The last section of the movie seems to be the least popular, and I never got that. Judging from the comments I’ve heard I think some of that is because people misunderstood what was going on. The shape of the robots made them think they were supposed to be aliens, even though they explain who they are. And even though they have TVs in their heads.

I love that section because it’s an imaginative portrayal of a future we can’t understand. It’s a future past humans, so civilization isn’t entirely based on human concepts. Vehicles are strange, shifting geometric puzzles. The ruling robots have a technology far beyond our understanding, but tragically the best they can do is use it to give David one night of what humans programmed him to want two thousand years ago.

Or is that all? I suppose the last shot could mean many things. William Hurt, as David’s creator, believes he is special and human-like because he has the ability to chase down dreams. Maybe he’s done that. Shit, I’m still trying to do some of that. I hope it doesn’t take me that long.

I love A.I. because it’s a summer event type movie full of great sci-fi concepts and special effects, but it leans much more heavily into somberness and making me ponder my own life than you’re really supposed to do in a movie like this. It hits me in the emotional balls because I feel like we’re just like these fuckin machines. The first mecha we see in the movie is shown putting on makeup, and then it cuts to human Monica doing the same damn thing. Both of them need to be loved.

At the Flesh Fair people are surprised to see David, because “No one builds children. No one ever has. What would be the point?” Well, the point is that somebody like Monica needs to be loved by a child, and needs a child to love. The doctor built David to look like his own son, because he lost his son too, and he needed to fill that hole. We all have these holes, the machines are an imprecise way to fill those holes. It kinda works for a while but then it leaves mommy and son both tragically unfulfilled.

How much of us is in our programming? How much of it is just us? How much of it can we overcome, or do we even want to?

A.I. is not just thought-provoking for a movie that came out in fucking Summer of 2001, it’s thought-provoking for a Summer Popcorn Movie in general. It does lean heavier into the cerebral and emotional side than the thrills and excitement side, so I can see how that might violate the rules for some people. But it’s exactly the awkward but amazing offspring I want out of a Spielberg-Kubrick marriage.

* * *

datedness: the World Trade Center is shown in the post-apocalyptic future. I don’t know about Ministry being in the Flesh Fair scene, or Chris Rock. But the opening section has a perfect late ’70s/early ’80s Kubrick look that makes it feel timeless.

would they make a movie like this today? No, this is pretty much a one-time-only type of movie

Summer of ’01-’11 connections: Spielberg has his name on a pretty different type of robot movie this summer

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 29th, 2011 at 2:03 pm and is filed under Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

120 Responses to “A.I. – Artificial Intelligence (10 years later)”

  1. I think people may have been unfairly hard on this because it has so much good about it, and that makes it all the harder to accept the stuff that doesn’t work.

    I was quite dissapointed by it when it came out, but over the years the film’s amazing imagery and fascinating, textured, philosophical themes won me over. It’s a totally unique and immersive film with tons to talk about.

    I still think the final, final bit about the one-night-only reunion is just too forced to really work, though. It’s such an arbitrary tearjerker setup that it brings me right out of the movie. I’ve heard it claimed that it was Kubrick’s idea and as such infallible, but if it was I think only Kubrick could have done it right. Spielberg can’t resist the urge to turn it into a fairy tale and make that an excuse for the duex ex machina; Kubrick, I think, wouldn’t have needed an excuse. I get the point of it, but even all these years later it still seems dissapointing and maybe even a little condescending compared to everything else in the movie.

    One other random thought: I like that the Flesh Fair is the big bloodthirsty redneck kill-a-thon, and yet when we get to look behind the curtain its a bunch of bored, workaday tech guys actually doing the work to make it run. It’s a facade of bloodlust put on for profit by a bunch of guys who just figured out how to create a niche market by stoking robophobia in people. That part didn’t seem all that relavent in the summer of 2001, but it seems really important and telling these days.

  2. YES! great review Vern

    I re-watched this on blu ray not long ago and it held up better than I remember, it’s a great damn movie, it deserves to have a much better reputation

  3. also one thing I love about A.I. is I have a feeling our future may look a lot like it

    I’ll say this, if robots ever do become real like the movie, there will undoubtedly be a Flesh fair type movement and sentiment

  4. and they also never give the year in which A.I. is actually set, I find that interesting, I’m guessing it’s about 50 years, but it could be more like a century

  5. I love this movie too. I guess the ending day with Mom part didn’t bother me for its schmaltziness because it suprised me so much, I really thought the movie was going to end there with David sitting and waiting, which would have been awesome too. And as someone else has mentioned here before, the part with the fake Mom at the end could be interpreted as being a very dark ending in that it’s sad that in the end David’s programming is satisfied with the illusion of a mother rather than a human mother. But then, maybe it also suggests that our perceptions of relatioships and selfhood are artificial in the sense that our consciousness limits our experience as well…etc. Good movie. And in the commentary I remember them talking about how Jude Law tried to move like Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly, which I thought was a cool way to approach a gigolo and make him not just sexual but sexy.

  6. I always liked this movie. A lot. It’s gorgeous to look at, has a strong sense of atmosphere, and somehow moves from incredibly creepy to kind of campy to really, really sad without breaking tone. It swung for the fucking fences, and I guess that pisses a lot of people off. “How dare this movie be ambitious? Who told it it was okay to try something different? What, does it think it’s better than me?”

    I initially thought the robots were aliens but I didn’t mind. It was just the kind of leftfield narrative fuckeroo that I can get behind.

  7. I think most of the criticism came from this is the type of movie that warrants analysis, so people wanted to join in and express theirs. The common criticism is that the third act was Spielberg imposing himself but I think it’s the most Kubrick part. The one uneven part I remember is that the dad was gung ho to get the mom to take this robot, then suddenly he was totally against the robot. That seemed poorly written/portrayed but not too distracting.

    I thought every fucking scene in the movie was disturbing in the best possible way. You can make beautiful spectacle that creeps us the fuck out. I’m totally into the question of our responsibility to our own technology, since we create it. The modern day application of the Frankenstein myth.

    But then I’m always curious what makes people take arms against Sucker Punch but defend Tree of Life to death. And why they give Unknown a pass but shit all over A.I. because they wanted it to end underwater instead of in the robot future. I mean, if you really hate the third act, you can always turn off the DVD and make your own cut of A.I. Spielberg only has final cut with the studios, not in your own home. I went off topic here, didn’t I?

  8. I liked this one way more when I watched it again more recently then when I first saw it in theaters. I think I was just to young to pick up on some of the themes the first time I saw it, but older and I would like to think slightly wiser it registered much more so then before. I hate to say it but the problem is the average movie goer does not want to be faced with questions that touch on uncomfortable ideas, or challenge them to have to think. AI suffered because audiences wanted more JURASSIC PARK style popcorn fair. JP is not a bad movie, but it is void of the more heavy themes found in AI.

  9. I hear some people like JP2 better than JP1.


  10. Majestyk, I think in many ways JP2 is a better film, but there are aspects of it I hate. For example I hated Malcolm’s (Jeff Goldblum) daughter. her presence in the film seemed forced and then there is the ridiculous scene where she uses gymkata against the raptors. That scene alone ruined the whole film for me.

  11. That’s a good point, Charles, although I will always treasure Vince Vaughn’s surprisingly un-PC for a Spielberg movie reaction to seeing her.

    However, my comment was just am inside joke between me and Fred. Seems that me and him get to talking about the underratedness of JP2 in the most unlikely of places. It just seemed inevitable that it would come up here so I figured I’d jump the gun.

  12. I need to watch this again. Havent seen it in about 10 years and like Charles, i have a feeling i’ll appreciate it more, now that I’m somewhat a veteran of life. Should be interesting.

  13. Majestyk, I hope I have contributed to the ongoing debate.

  14. Majestyk, well-played.

    Also I will defend TREE OF LIFE to the death. And then in the afterlife. And also pre-life.

  15. Just to clarify, I love the hyper-future robots. It’s just the very, very end when we learn that he gets one night with mom because of some of the most preposterous mumbo jumbo ever put on film that I think just feels too contrived to work.

    And as unique and amazing as the film is, I think you guys are wrong that people criticized it because it’s a thinker. I think there are plenty of legitimate criticisms to be made about its wandering tone, its weird cameos, and its overly contrived plotline. That’s not to say I don’t love it, warts and all, because I do. But I think a lot of critics were reacting to the fact that Speilberg-covering-Kubrick is an uneasy mix, sometimes creating a crazy vibe which represents career pinnacles for both directors and sometimes outright contradictory, undermining both their strengths. It does, however, make it harder to forgive the parts that don’t work when the rest is hovering so close to classic. It’s painful to have a film which ALMOST takes you there, but can’t quite seal the deal, and I think audiences may have been reacting to that frustration.

  16. Mr. Subtlety, I don’t disagree with you, but I still think even if you fixed some of the issues the film has audiences would not have embraced it more. Critics might have been kinder to it, but look no further then the box office returns for TRANSFORMERS 2 for an illustration of what the average movie goer wants from a film.

  17. I love this movie so much, but my least favorite part by far is the Flesh Fair, it seemed so in-congruent with the flow of the movie. And while I do get that the ending could be ruin the movie to a lot of viewers, I don’t really think that it could have ended any other way. Great review Vern, I’ll have to dig this one out and watch it now.

  18. This is one of my favorite movies. I remember showing it to my family on movie night eight years ago, the opening segment (grieving couple buys a child robot) made everybody so upset they couldn’t get over it for the whole movie. I think that may play a part in AI’s unpopularity. It asks questions (what is a person?) we don’t really want to hear the answer to.

  19. I was disappointed in this movie too until fairly recently when the ending was spelled out to me (I think on this site). It’s kind of like the spiritual brother to Blade Runner, how in that one the replicants/”bad guys” are more human than human, more alive than the lame-ass Deckard etc… And in this one, David “became” human (in the metaphorical sense) because a) he outlived humanity and he’s the only thing left for those alien/robots to study, and b) his wants/desires/feelings/longing make him human, and who is around to argue?

    So yeah, I kinda think this movie is genius now. It’s kinda like how I hated The Village until someone explained it was about the Bush Administration.

  20. So glad you reviewed this again Vern, and a really great review at that. Remember positively salivating at the prospect of this coming out at the time, and really liked it. I didn’t have any problem with the ending at all at the time, and having re-watched it recently, nothing had changed. As has been mentioned above, it has a great atmosphere, the whole movie, and I’m a huge fan of the 3 story – story structure that it has….you really get a sense of time passing, which is essential, especially when you’re trying to cross 2 millennia.

    I think a lot of the problem audiences might have had with the movie at the time was how it was being sold. I’m not saying they mis-sold it, but I do recall a lot of (as it turns out, completely untrue and wrong) comparisons being made to E.T. by some mainstream media… “It’s a big summer movie…it’s Spielberg…it stars a young boy….it’s sci-fi…it has 2 letters in the title..” Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I remember a lot of that kind of thing, which would obviously throw people quite a bit when they saw the film, as the 2 movies could not be more at further ends of the sci-fi spectrum.

    Also, Haley Joel Osment (who was fantastic in this) was coming off Sixth Sense……a massive audience pleaser, and a very human and touching role. With the expectations I mentioned above being bandied about, you couldn’t blame people for being a bit surprised at such an…’odd’ performance. He was really great in AI, I’d say better than in 6th Sense.

    Anyway, great review Vern.

  21. I think audiences hated the ending not only because it introduced the robots they thought were aliens but also because it’s an unusual structure for a film. Technically, I think it would be the fourth act of the film (the third act would probably when he finally meets his maker). When just about every film you have every seen has three acts, it can be jarring to see a fourth act tacked on there. I heard people make the same complaints about Casino Royal’s fourth act, but that had more action so they let it slide (and it’s also a more coherent, controlled film than A.I., which probably also helped). In general, I pretty much agree wholeheartedly with Vern. A.I. is a great experiment that mostly works. People need to stop complaining that Spielberg isn’t making the same movies he was in the eighties and learn to appreciate that decades into his career he’s still experimenting. The man does not rest on his laurels.

  22. Ahead of its time. Maybe even moreso now than it was then, if that’s possible. Thanks a lot for this review.

  23. I watched this movie a number of years after it came out. I had actually avoided it (shame on me) due to some dodgy reviews. Hell, I was an idiot.
    Look, I want to stand up for the Flesh Fair section. I think the movie benefits a lot from it. A.I. needs that section for us to truly feel sympathy for Haley Joel Tossbot. He’s a little bit smug and whiny before that section despite, yes, his brother being hideous.
    The Flesh Fair section veers into surprising amounts of vicious horror. Poor old nanny robot’s face melting still makes me wince. It’s the section that made me like the Teddy Ruxpin robot. And the sheer level of the violence makes you truly plug for David.
    Of course it’s somewhat manipulative. It’s a blockbuster, for crying out loud. But I’d rather be (non-sexually) manipulated by Spielberg than anyone else. A.I. has so much going for it. Beautifully shot, imaginative, affecting and – as you said, Vern – genuinely thought provoking.
    I don’t think the final section is nearly as cheesy as people make out. At least David’s fate remains negative, going against Spielberg’s usual protection of kids. If this is a result of Kubrick’s influence, I’m all for it. “Kuberg” would have made some great movies. More punch with the cinematography and editing, more guts with the tone.
    I urge people to watch this movie. I honestly think they’ll like it more now than people in space year 2001. Oh, and the tits who average out at 7.0 on imdb. Don’t get me started on the ratings for KING OF THE ANTS, EDMOND and FEAR X.

  24. Really liked this movie. Saw it with a dozen friends who really didn’t, and didn’t just step outside while I watched the credits but left and inadvertently (hmm…) abandoned me. Traumatic.

    One common criticism I never got was that David’s final day with his simulated mom was supposed to be heartwarming, Spielbergian uplift. To me it’s a final punch in the gut – at best you’re glad the kid is in his own happy place as they euthanize him.

  25. another awesome thing about A.I. is I was pleasantly surprised by Brendan Gleeson’s cameo, which I had forgot about, as the anti robot leader of the Flesh Fair

    “any old Iron? any old Iron?”

  26. caruso_stalker217

    June 29th, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    Reading this review it sounds like the movie is more depressing than I remember. I think I might have to pick this up on Blu-Ray.

    And I think I kinda prefer THE LOST WORLD to JURASSIC PARK, despite the gymnastics and T. Rex vs. San Diego.

  27. Majestyk, I was going to come up with some clever meta response but you gave it away so early in the thread! Still, thanks for the shout out.

    Here’s a good example of how I think and totally not the point of the movie. When the final robots said they could bring someone back but only for one day, I thought, “Well there’s lots of hairs in that lock. Can’t they just make him a new copy of mom each day for a while? Hell, cut those hairs in halves or thirds and make ’em last longer. You’ve got plenty of DNA samples there.” So my ending would have had a slowly building pile of mom corpses.

    By the way, I love when I think a movie’s over and then there’s a whole other section. Casino Royale is a good example. Not so fond of it in Lord of the Rings or Bad Boys II.

    Oh, can someone explain the father (Sam Robards)’ character to me? Am I wrong that he was gung ho on the fake kid, basically talked mom into it? Then as soon as sshe liked it, he said, “No, this is sick, he’s not real.” That was all before their real kid woke up.

  28. I really liked this movie when it came out. It made me think about what it really meant to be human. A lot of other people still don’t like it unfortunately, but that means nothing, since a lot of people are stupid.

    Incidentally, I thought the future robots were aliens or alien robots too, but on later viewing decided they were the next step of life on earth. But I never understood why it mattered where they were from…they were advanced life from far, far in the future when humans no longer ruled.

  29. If Kubrick had made the film we would understand damn well how depressing the fantasy ending is. Spielberg however, has gone on record that it is a “happy” ending.

  30. Just because the director meant it to be happy doesn’t mean it’s happy. Also, just because a director means to make a downer ending doesn’t mean it can’t be uplifting. Did I just blow your mind?

  31. I had many impassioned discussions with friends & classmates when A.I. was released. Many of us are aware of the account of how Kubrick informed Spielberg that this story matched the latter’s sensibility. Oh, what could have been, that EYES WIDE SHUT not be the last work of a great artist. My views have not changed. This is a good to great movie, and I was pleased to see it gain new critical approval during some “best of the decade” discussions 18 months ago.

    The neologistic mashing of auteurs’ names is a useful & humorous practice and is well employed in this look back at the most talent-laden film of summer 2001. However, Kubrick is God. Spielberg is at best His pale prophet.

  32. Great review, Vern. My favourite scene from A.I. is actually the ‘imprinting scene’; in fact, it’s one of my favorite scenes ever, with fantastic acting by Osment. Just look at how his facial expression changes after the imprinting. I’d really like to know if this is something they needed a hundred takes for or if he just nailed it on the spot (of course, in asking this I think the latter, but still I’d like to know).

  33. And there some nice Chinese(?) person has posted it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0M1e8zt6DCw

    Man, that’s a great scene. I really can’t get over it how great it is, including the soundtrack.

  34. whatever happened to Haley Joel Osment anyway? last movie I remember seeing him was Second Hand Lions

    plus he voiced Sora in Kingdom Hearts

  35. I recently read a book called “The Age of Spiritual Machines” in which the author postulates that man will eventually merge completely with the technology he creates, to the point where the two are indistinguishable from each other. So maybe the robots at the end were actually highly evolved human beings, which would mean that David kind of got what he wanted – it’s just that instead of becoming more human, the humans eventually became more like him.

  36. Jareth Cutestory

    June 30th, 2011 at 7:32 am

    Griff: Last I heard, Haley Joel Osment was having substance abuse problems. Which means that he should be going through the post-rehab, Letterman-flashing BOYS ON THE SIDE phase of his career any time now.

    IMDB says he has a film called SASSY PANTS in pre-production. That seems about right.

  37. This is a very darn good movie, borderline great. Nicely ambitious with that big budget, not just another mindless toy commercial. I think I basically agree with Vern’s review to a T.

    I think what fucked AI back then is simply this: Reputation. Spielberg making a movie Kubrick wanted to make? Uh oh, you can’t get over that mental gap.

    “but if it was I think only Kubrick could have done it right”

    Mr. S – as much as I love Kubrick, I think we’re buying the myth that he was infallable a tad too much. The fact he spent how many years on AI, and never apparently as close to filming it as he did that it-came-THIS-close-to-getting-made project ARYAN PAPERS. (Which ironically died after SCHINDLER’S LIST came out, and Kubrick facepalmed for getting beat to the punch, and surely by an inferior picture.)

    I still think the greatest Kubrick movie we never got was his NAPOLEON. Read the script on-line sometime, it woulda been fascinating.

  38. Jareth Cutestory

    June 30th, 2011 at 8:41 am

    Historical epics are such low-hanging fruit. A real test of Kubrick’s filmatism mojo would have been to let him loose on the WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S saga.

  39. RRA- It’s not that Kubrick is infallible, it’s just that compared to Spielberg, he is. But hey, I read Kubrick wanted Spielberg to make this movie, because he thought that the kid actor would grow up too quickly for him to film it himself. And because he thought that it was more in Spielberg’s wheelhouse. But it still seems kind of dickish to me that Spielberg talked so much about being Kubrick’s pal after Kubrick’s death, considering how many people Kubrick ostracized for doing similar things while he was alive.
    The bit in A.I. that was more distracting for me than the flesh fair was the animated Robin Williams as Dr. Know sequence. It’s short, and it was a cool way to move the plot, but it looked and sounded so un-Kubrickian to me that I was confused as to the what the film’s tone was at that point. But it also should be mentioned that the special effects in this movie are amazing, and hold up very well. When lots of movies were completely committed to questionable to poor CGI (as we have seen in previous Vern installments of this 10 year series), this movie did a good job of mixing the strengths of CGI with practical effects.
    Also I think Teddy is one of the best characters in cinema in the last ten years.

  40. I think the “imprinting” scene is the very definition of Spielberg, and it shows why he was the right director for this. The whole movie hinges on the fact that David loves his mother, and does so without questioning and without any regard as to how he is treated by her. I couldn’t think of a better director to visualize this than him; it’s not so much that Kubrick “couldn’t have done it” – of course he could have directed that scene, technically. But it takes a humanist and philanthropist like Spielberg to make it believable for *us*. Kubrick would probably have done 150 takes until Osmend was cyring in a corner and Frances O’Connor was having a nervous breakdown (ask Shelley Duvall), and we would still watch that scene wondering where the irony comes from.

  41. Kubrick ascended to sainthood so quickly that people tend to apologize for some of his shortcomings. I absolutely love many of his films, and think that just about everything he has made carries some value, but I do think that like every director, he also had his share of chinks in his armor. At times his detachment could flatten his stories as much as it could complicate them. I usually trot out the movie Barry Lyndon as an example of some of Kubrick’s problems. The son character, for example, is such a shrill, obnoxious villain that he appears to come out of a different story altogether. The son is so unlikeable that his mere presence makes parts of the film difficult to watch. This may have been part of Kubrick’s plan. The real problem with the son character is that his hatred of his father is understandable, even if his actions during the duel are inexcusable. It is as if Kubrick, so detached from humanity, couldn’t understand why a son might not like the fact that his father is cheating on his mother. Instead of getting these complex emotions, the character becomes a one note villain.

    So, perhaps Kubrick would have been up to the task of portraying the complex emotions the characters must go through in A.I.–he certainly has been able to do so in other films. But, i don’t think he would automatically have made a better movie than Spielberg. Kubrick could have just as easily flattened the movie with his weird insect-like view of humanity as Spielberg could have killed it with his sentimentality.

  42. Jek Porkins – To be fair, if Spielberg gave off the idea that he simply was “finishing” Kubrick’s movie, thats his fault for painting a target on his back.

    Its less a Kubrick movie and more a Beard picture, just with obvious Kubrickian influences/overtones. He had the blueprints, Spielberg just built the house his own way to his own quirks.

    RBatty024 – Personally I thought BARRY LYNDON was brilliant, but whatever. I’ll defend that climax as maybe that hustler protagonist doing a decent thing when really he didn’t need to…and he didn’t get get the equalvency that he thought he would get.

    First half, all the luck in the world gets him from a schmuck nobody to respected wealthy gentlemen. Second, half he goes back to being a nobody by the end.

  43. caruso_stalker217

    June 30th, 2011 at 11:45 am

    BARRY LYNDON had a climax!?

  44. Neal2zod — You were right to hate THE VILLAGE. Just because it’s a metaphor doesn’t mean its a good movie.

    RRA and RBatty — dont worry, I’m mostly joking about Kubrick being infallible. It just seems like this structure and story are so obviously Kubrickian in character that I feel like only he would have known what to do with them, for better or worse. There are parts of the film that Speilberg elevates, and probably makes even better than Kubrick could have (I’m not sure Kubrick could have made the Flesh Fair or the motorcycle chase and whatnot feel so visceral and fluidly exciting, nor would he have made the visuals of the city as exhilerating). But he would have known better what to do with the structure, and how to make the heartbreaker ending a little less mawkish (I have a feeling he wouldn’t have felt it necessary to spell it out with that frustrating mess of preposterous exposition and narration that Speilberg foists on us right as he’s about to close the deal).

  45. I agree with the ‘overly-detailed robots’ comment. I saw the first one, and I could barely make heads or tails of what was actually occuring on the screen. This is from a mid-20s dude with perfect eyesight who plays tons of video games, so I can only imagine what the average viewer might think.

  46. Haley Joel Osment is just JUST FINE. He has no substance abuse problems. He’s not an ego-maniac. He’s not a creep, or a lurp, or anything. He’s a friend of a friend and I’ve had drinks with him once or twice. He was eloquent, intelligent, and carried no whiff of ego, whatsoever. His girlfriend is also a sweetheart.

    He’s put on some weight, but doesn’t look “awkward” like so many former child stars. He’s currently attending NYU and studying experimental theater.

  47. I remember this movie having the biggest reaction that summer at the movie theatre. A lot, and I mean a lot, of people would come out at the end visibly angry or upset at the movie. I thought it was a good film and remember enjoying it but it is something I definitely need to revisit.

    I remember seeing the preview for The Village and thinking it looked so cool. I remember making up how the movie could have went. Like, maybe the monsters would demand a sacrifice and the hero and his lady were trying to escape so that she would not be the sacrifice but when the monsters did not get the victim they demanded that they would then go and destroy the village and kill everyone. I had a lot of ideas of what it could be. Instead we get a really on the nose allegory about the Bush Administration. Don’t get me wrong, I really hated those bastards but it just felt crass and cheap. It was after that movie that I wrote off M Night.

    I like Kubrick a lot. I want to critique him because I don’t love his films, outside of Dr Strangelove, as much as I would like to. Still, I looked at his IMDB list as Director and it’s hard to really say he did anything that was bad. I just get left cold by a lot of his movies. I wish I could get more excited by him than I do but I just can’t.

    I think Kubrick would have been unable to bring a certain level of sweetness and emotion that Spielberg brought. I think tonally it would have been a totally different movie and I’m honestly unsure it would have been as good. I don’t think Kubrick was very emotional or cared very much about humanity and the only time movies involving robots interest me is when they are used to comment on humanity at large and I don’t think Kubrick would have done as well at that as Spielberg.

  48. Jareth Cutestory

    June 30th, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    Tawdry: I’m glad to hear that Osment has bounced back from that 2006 DUI business, rather than take the Dark Path to Feldman (which, correct me if I’m wrong, Majestyk, is also the path taken by Batman’s voice). Osment was a talented kid.

  49. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    June 30th, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    If anything, I probably like The Lost World best out of all the JP’s.

  50. Woody Tobias Jr

    June 30th, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    Looking at AI in relation to the Kubrick cannon, the final scene gains interest in contrast and comparison to the dynamics of Danny and Wendy Torrance, and Lord Bullingdon and Lady Lyndon. Kubrick’s sons usually have pretty blatant Oedipal complexes.

  51. I disliked the ending because I thought that David being underwater with the Blue Fairy forever was a perfect Kubrickian ending. Sad and heartbreaking and yet still a payoff for the epic I’d just seen. I was satisfied. Then it felt like Spielberg came in and imposed his Close Encounters whimsy on my chilly 2001 ending.

  52. I think the first half hour of AI is brilliant (and the most Kubricky of the acts). Once David gets out into the “real world” I have a very hard time taking the movie seriously all the way until act 3. The Flesh Fair, the City, all of it seems like a sound stage to me. There are some fantastic special effects (nanny robot is especially shocking to the eye) and a few cool things here and there but I never got the sense that the world was real. Where are all the people? All we see are caricatures. The Flesh Fair is a monster truck rally type event but we never see where these people live, so it almost feels like they just hang out there at the event all day and all night. The City is like Vegas but populated mostly by robots? I wish David could have wandered through some real-looking places that built a world rather than set pieces.

    Act 3 is haunting with the advanced robots performing archaeology (!), and their crazy rectangle vehicle, it’s an amazing visual. I admit, on first viewing I thought they were aliens and was just confused. But as robots they are fantastic…. until they recreate mommy for one day. WTF? I never thought they created a real mommy for David, it was some kind of robot stand-in? But you guys are saying it really was a cloned mommy, but with memories somehow?? I don’t buy it. I think the robots made a fake mommy stand-in, and that would have been a great ending I think. Have David spend eternity staring at “mommy” who was a fake but a good enough fake that he thought it was real. Instead there’s this weird crap about her only lasting a day. I don’t get it and I think it ruins the ending.

  53. Brimstone, that’s exactly the age old argument I’ve always heard. Spielberg insists that the last section was always part of Kubrick’s script. I believe it. It seems totally Kubrick to me. I mean, “The Infinite” section of 2001, the sections of Full Metal Jacket and Clockwork Orange…

  54. I believe that the last part is Kubrick as well. Spielberg would not come up with that as the “ending” to this particular story, certainly not in the form of a very distinct epilogue-type act 3. It’s not his style. It strikes the perfect note of momentary happiness as you realize he only as her for just the day and that’s the end of it. The sadness is also in the fact that David is the sole reminder of what the human race was. It just hits you from all these directions.

    I am not ashamed to admit I sobbed uncontrollably at the end. This is the only movie that was able to get that big of a reaction from me.

  55. It was a little awkward as well since I was watching this in the cinema.

  56. Cassidy, have you seen The Notebook? Seriously, every dude has permission to cry in that.

  57. ThomasCrown442

    July 1st, 2011 at 1:26 am

    Anyone who’s ever had a girlfriend has seen The Notebook. Is it bad that I prefer Nick Cassevetes’ Alpha Dog to his Notebook?

  58. There’s an interesting article about the development of this movie here:


    Kubrick argued with a writer he hired about how the movie should end…


    “At the story’s conclusion, the robots that have inherited the Earth use David’s memories to reconstruct, in virtual form, the apartment where he had lived with his parents. Because his memories are subjective, the mother is much more vividly realized than the father, and his stepsister’s room is not there at all; it is just a hole in the wall.

    For [English novelist Sara Maitland], the film would end with David preparing a Bloody Mary for his mother, the juice a brighter red than in real life: ‘He hears her voice, and that’s it. We don’t see him turn to see her.’ Kubrick, however, wanted a coda in which the new race of robots, because of a technological limitation, cannot keep the the mother alive after reviving her. The movie would end with David in his mother’s bedroom, watching her slowly disappear.

    Ms. Maitland hated this, and was furious with Kubrick for insisting on it. ‘It must have been a very strong visual thing for him,’ she says, ‘because he wasn’t usually stupid about story. He hired me because I knew about fairy stories, but would not listen when I told him, You can have a failed quest, but you can’t have an achieved quest and no reward.'”

    End Quote

    I guess Spielberg decided to split the difference and have an ending where David kind-of gets his mother back and kind-of doesn’t.

    I like the sound of Kubrick’s ending. David watching as his mother slows fades away and disappears from existence? That would be a punch in the gut.

  59. Yes, very interesting read. Thank you for the link. The story issues aside, it seems one of the main stoppers for an Kubrick A.I. was his unwillingness to let David be played by a kid actor. I however cannot imagine the movie working well with a CGI- and puppet effects, even today. Kubrick couldn’t use a kid actor because of his overlong, meticulous filming schedules (even more problematic here because of legal issues regarding kid labor), and maybe also because he was afraid he couldn’t direct a kid as well as he needed to. I know, people will scream “Shining” and say Lloyd did just well there, but he is not as central a figure in Shining as David is in A.I. . Spielberg however is a master of both: swift schedules (just look at “War of the worlds”, which he did in an unbelievable short time), and he’s probably one of the best directors for kid actors.
    Also, I think making the mother an alcoholic was a profoundly bad idea.

  60. Good article, thanks for that. Interesting to see how something that was – in Kubrick’s own words, a variation of Pinocchio – could have developed into something so big. Sad that the difference of opinion over the ending (which almost certainly have been reworked to both their satisfaction) delayed the film until Kubrick’s death.

    I was never a big fan of A.I. at the time, but maybe it’s the time to re-watch it. I remember getting in massive arguments with people who insisted that the creatures at the end were alien creatures and not robots. I liked the jump to the near future, but Spielberg’s ending always seemed a bit fumbling.

    How many of those writers got credited on the final film, I wonder?

    (goes to check internet)

  61. Huh. Wikipedia credits just Spielberg and Kubrick with the screenplay.

    IMDB (and the WGA) gives it to Brian Aldiss (for the short story), Ian Watson (for the screen story) and Steven Spielberg for the screenplay.

    Kubrick is mentioned in Other Crew, for ‘Concept’. Anyone with the DVD to hand want to confirm that?

  62. Spielberg is the only credited writer on this film. His first since Close Encounters.

    I watched The Notebook without a girl present because I quite liked Alpha Dog. And you know what? The Notebook is a superb film for the genre and I can say that I am an unapologetic fan of the film and would gladly watch it again if/when I’m in the mood for a good romance. It really shouldn’t work, but it fires on all cylinders.

  63. Knox Harrington

    July 1st, 2011 at 7:38 am

    I would love to have seen Kubrick’s CG/puppet version of David. After watching Where The Wild Things Are, with its so-real-it’s-scary creature design, I’d love to see a puppet looking like a human that could have that same emotional effect on me that the Wild Things did.

  64. Knox Harrington

    July 1st, 2011 at 7:39 am

    Uhm… I’m not talking about the Denise Richards Wild Things. That one had a different emotional effect on me.

    Actually, it was more physical than emotional.

  65. Knox Harrington

    July 1st, 2011 at 7:40 am

    Okay, I had a boner.

    That’s the physical effect I was implying.

  66. THE NOTEBOOK is the most popular movie among my ODA mates. Time stops when one of us pops in that dvd, wherever, whenever. I’ve only ever watched it with other dudes, and I regret nothing.

  67. I don’t normally resort to memes, but…

    What is this I don’t even

  68. Grim Grinning Chris

    July 1st, 2011 at 11:26 am

    Wow… I have nothing to add to this discussion. I am a big fan of A.I. It hits so many philisophical and emotional notes for me. I remember a review (I believe it was Ebert’s) where it was said that ultimately it doesn’t totally work because in the end you are being asked to care for a machine, no different than a toaster… but that is the whole fucking point. Not only are you asked to care… but you (or rather, I) do!

    I had exactly zero problem with the ending at all. On first OR on any repeated (of which there’ve been many) viewings.

    No problem with the Flesh Fair either. Tonally, it may have been a shift from much of the rest of the film… but that sort of thing happening in this world is not just plausible, it’s pretty much a certainty. And I like Ministry and Chris Rock.

    The only failing in the movie for me was the (animated) Robin Williams character. I understand its neccessity to move things along and provide needed info and exposition, I just did not like the execution. It reminded me too much of a cross between Williams’ Genie and his Timekeeper character from the old Disney attraction. And I understand that was exactly what it was SUPPOSED to do- I just didn’t like it. Better than a hologram of Orlando Jones though, I suppose.

  69. The Notebook is an action movie to me. It rips your heart out, stomps it on the floor and then puts it back in. You know where it’s going but every plot twist is an emotional thrill. SPOILER just in case but it should be common knowledge by now: When they confirm that yes that old lady is Ally, and Duke is really Noah and he’s accepted this life, and man he gets his five minutes and the inevitable brutal reality. Hell, even when they finally get back together in the flashback, if you think that’s the last cry you’re in for the biggest hurt yet coming up.

  70. Grim Grinning Chris

    July 1st, 2011 at 11:48 am

    I’ve never seen The Notebook, but what you are talking about happens to me in A.I. It’s been diluted some now after seeing it so many times (unlike E.T., I cry EVERY time… EVERY SINGLE TIME… even the theme on my John Williams boxset can set me off sometimes, which I think I have mentioned), but here is this pretty bleak- for the most part- science fiction movie… and on first viewing, I was in tears within the first 45 minute… and after that it just keeps coming back for more. Usually in any kind of tearjerker movie, the most emotional moments are saved for the finale, or at the very least for the end of the second act. Not A.I. They are all over the fucking place and just when you think you are through with clear, salty ocular discharge and mucus… HERE WE GO AGAIN!

  71. Notebook has some juicy stuff in the middle too. Noah’s screwing a war widow and then Annie comes back, and he forgets to cancel his sex date. So the war widow spends the day with him and his true love, and instead of being hurt, it reminds her of the true love that exists and could still happen for her again. Ugh, that’s some spiritual shit right there.

  72. I watched LETTERS TO JULIET recently; it has some super-emotional magic and similar themes going for it, but it’s not as good as THE NOTEBOOK.

    Then again, what is?

  73. wandering — thanks for the excellent link, I feel like that explains a lot. Yes, th ideas was Kubrick’s but the execution was all Speilberg. I feel like Kubrick probably knew what he wanted visually and would have made it work in a way only he could have known to.

    By the way, what difference in the world does it make if the things at the end are robots or aliens? Or alien robots? Or Robot monsters? Its slightly more interesting if they are themselves descended from the same genesis as David, but narratively it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference.

  74. Grim Grinning Chris

    July 1st, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    I think them being robots continues the already established themes of the movie, which makes the whole affair more palatable AND make more sense.
    If they were aliens that were simply introduced at that point in the story with no connection to any previous themes OR events, then they WOULD be be the (sort of) random deus ex machina’s that swoop in to provide a “happy” ending that so many accuse them of being.

  75. Just rewatched A.I. damn good movie. Did anyone else notice how the amphibicopter flies through the city in the same pattern as the DeLoreon in the Back to the Future Ride? It felt very similar.

    As for the ending, I got the distinct impression that it was a program booted up into David as the futurebots shut him down. The Film stock changes, the lighting changes, the cinematography changes, the palette changes, the editing style changes. The whole thing didn’t make any sense, unless it was the futurebots putting him out of his misery.

    But then maybe the whole film was just in Teddy’s mind as a way of coping with the loss of Jake. He imagined David and then imagined David’s fantasy while Gigolo Joe danced, or something.

  76. For the record, Leon Vitali told me recently that Kubrick never planned his scenes out until he got to set. They didn’t roll for their first 5 days while working on the rape scene in the “HOME” during Clockwork Orange. So I donno how detailed his instructions for Spielberg could have been.

  77. Yeah, it got a bum rap. It’s a great film and it’ll keep winning over fans. It’s fitting for a Kubrick type of film to “mature” into the audience’s consciousness. In a way, it was ahead of its time. People didn’t use CGI like Spielberg can.

    I think that for the most part, we’re taking him for granted because he has been prolific. It’s a shame because every damn one of his movies is something to look forward to. We get 2 this year, Adventures Of Tintin and War Horse. People should be dancing for joy, goddamnit.

  78. Grim Grinning Chris

    July 1st, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    The only Spielberg movies that I do not like are Munich (sue me) and Hook. Every other one of them is golden in my book. Some shinier than others, but all golden nonetheless. Catch Me If You Can, War Of The Worlds and A.I. being my favorites of the last decade.

  79. Grim Grinning Chris

    July 1st, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    And I am even back and forth on Hook. I hate to be one of those people that judges a movie more on what I WANT it to be than judging it on what it actually is… and I DO enjoy elements of it, but yeah… It is one of the only ones I’ve never felt compelled to own.

  80. I’ve only seen Hook as a child and I remember it fondly. I refuse to go back to see if that still holds.

    I’m glad someone else is giving War of the Worlds some love. I remember reading people complain about how much of a cop out the “happy” ending was. Maybe I was watching a different movie but I remember people violently car jacking one another over a van, a speeding train full of people on fire, and Tom Cruise violently murdering that tall dude from that one prison movie. Not to mention Tom Cruise running through a city as he gets coated in the ashes of vaporized people. For me it’s one of the most harrowing movies of the last decade and I think it’s a sadder ending that the son survived until the end because there’s no way people came through that psychologically unscathed.

    What thoughts do the Outlaw Nation have on Minority Report? I remember liking it when I saw it at the theatre but I’ve not given it much thought since. Is it worth a revisit?

  81. Brilliantly put, Vern.

  82. A puppet or CGI David would be interesting, but I can’t imagine anything or anyone being as good as Haley Joel Osment. He was perfect.

    It’s too bad Osment hasn’t been in more films. Apparently we might’ve gotten a Spielberg-directed Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, starring Osment in the title role. Man it’s a shame that didn’t happen. I mean I don’t know if it would’ve turned out good, but Osment is better than Radcliffe, and Spielberg is sure as heck better than Columbus.

    Back on topic, A.I. is one of my favorite movies (and great review as per usual, vern – haha Steveley Spielbrick) A.I. might actually be my favorite Spielberg movie. The imprinting scene is amazing. And then there’s the trippy imagery: the moon-balloon, the mouth tunnels….

    and I LOVED the flesh fair.

    but that darn ending is so schmaltzy. I remember watching the movie in the theater, age 13, thinking, ‘no spielberg! you’re bringing the mother back?! I don’t want a happy ending! Oh, she’s only going to live a day? Yes! Perfect! Oh, no, David gets to be with his mother for all eternity after all? Damn it!”

    I mean I am remembering the ending right, yes? The all-knowing Ben Kingsly-bot explicitly says David learns how to dream, and he dreams happily about his mother for ever and ever?

    I guess Teddy is left all alone, that’s sad. And it occurs to me that there’s another science fiction movie that ends with the main character living happily ever after, but only in his head, and that ending was devastating. (I don’t want to name the movie because I don’t want to spoil it!) So I dunno, I’ll have to watch A.I. again, maybe the ending isn’t that bad. (By bad I mean happy.)

    The one thing that bothered me about the movie, aside from the ending, was that the people said David was the only Robot capable of love or emotions. But Teddy clearly had emotions! Teddy clearly loved David (not as intensely as David loved his mother, but still!) And Teddy would probably pass the turing test.

    But maybe the filmmakers understood this, maybe they were trying to subtly point out how little the humans understood and cared about the robots, because let’s face it humans are pricks. I mean let’s look at today: it’s obvious that animals have emotions, that some animals love their kids, that some pets love their owners, that all animals are capable of feeling pain. And yet people will deny all of that!

    One time my biology professor told the class that “humans are the only animals that are proven to have emotions. I’d like to believe that my dog loves me, but there’s just no way to know if she really does.”

  83. “Huh. Wikipedia credits just Spielberg and Kubrick with the screenplay.”

    I’d like to know how many uncredited writers work on the average script. I just learned yesterday that Aaron Sorkin did uncredited work on The Rock. And I think there are people whose job it is to touch up scripts who never get credit. It kind of blows my mind that all the writers aren’t credited, credits are like 10 minutes long. The key grip gets credit!

  84. Generally, you only get a writing credit if you have significantly contributed at least a third of the finished screenplay. If I remember the WGA rules correctly, a director must have done at least twice that to get a writing credit.

    Apparently, Robert Towne wrote the scene in THE GODFATHER where Al Pacino and Marlon Brando have their last dialogue together. He didn’t want a credit for such a small (but crucial, in the end) bit of work, and only asked to be thanked if the script won an Oscar.

  85. one guy from andromeda

    July 2nd, 2011 at 5:07 am

    The only Spielberg movie since 20 or so years i have nothing i don’t like about is Munich. There’s good stuff in all of them, but the thick layer of schmaltz and kitsch on them kills it for me, as does his weird compulsion to impose a feel good ending on everything (even the holocaust). There are a lot of interesting ideas in A.I., Minority Report, amazing action scenes in Saving Ryan’s Privates and War of the Worlds but in the end they never add up to brilliant movies – just mediocre ones that could have been more. In my opinion.

  86. I think that Spielberg’s sentimentality has been somewhat over exaggerated. This is especially true of his earlier films. E.T. is about a broken, single parent family, and it’s not like the alien gets to live with Eliot happily ever after. In Close Encounters Richard Dreyfuss abandons his family in order to go live with some aliens. And at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the object that Indiana Jones spent the entire film searching for is snatched away from him at the last moment by the U.S. government.

    True, Spielberg has become more sentimental over the years. I generally locate his dip into sentimentality at Hook. But even in his later films I don’t think it is always a problem. I wouldn’t call Saving Private Ryan an overly sentimental film. It actually has the balls to question military orders during “the good war.” It also revolutionized how war films were made. Every war film after Saving Private Ryan owes a good deal to Spielberg. I also never thought that A.I. had a happy ending. I thought the disconnect between what really happened and the fairy tale voiceover were supposed to make the ending even sadder. Of course, it has been a long time since I’ve watched that film. I would also say that Catch Me if You Can is arguably one of Spielberg’s best. Spielberg got a great performance out of Christopher Walken (it was really Walken’s only real character in years), and I felt like his perpetually down on his luck character was a great illustration of those who are crushed in a capitalist system. Walken’s speech about the mouse and the milk was heartbreaking because we knew he was likely never going to get out of his financial straits.

    What I truly love about latter day Spielberg is that he is continually experimenting. Even when I feel like those experiments are failures, like in the Capraesque Terminal, I still think he has made an interesting movie and a worthy addition to his long career.

  87. Knox Harrington

    July 2nd, 2011 at 8:36 am

    My biggest problem with Spielberg over the past 10-15 years is that his films simply aren’t rewatchable anymore. I enjoyed the hell outta Minority Report, Catch Me If You Can, War of the Worlds and Munich, but by the second or third viewing they do nothing for me anymore. Some even start to bore me.

    On the other hand, I can watch Jaws, Close Encounters, Schindler’s List, Raiders and even Always over and over again, and still find something fresh and exciting about them. Maybe it’s just me. At first I thought it was just nostalgia, but the more I look at the change in structure and style in his movies over the years, the more I think he’s desperately struggling to keep up with younger filmmakers (and he shouldn’t. He should just do his own thing). Can’t help thinking it bothers him that he’s not the undisputed King of the Blockbusters anymore. You can even see it in his casting over the past decade. He’s constantly casting the “next big thing”: Jude Law and Haley Joel Osment in A.I., Colin Farrell in Minority Report, Dakota Fanning in War of the Worlds, Bana in Munich, Shia in Crystal Skull. It’s like he’s just chasing the big box office. I thought Cruise was great in Minority Report and War of the Worlds, but now that he’s not “The Biggest Star in the World” anymore, would Spielberg even think of casting him again? Like I said, maybe it’s just me.

    Wouldn’t it be great if he could once again find an actor that just works perfectly for his kind of movie and just stick with him? He did it with Richard Dreyfuss, and from that relationship we got Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Always (I like Always, okay?).

    But hey, he’s still the one and only Spielberg. And I always look forward to the next Spielberg movie.

  88. But there are aspects of the Flesh Fair that do ring true to me. They have a sign that says “Celebration of Life” – it strikes me kind of like groups who say they’re “protecting marriage” by being against other people getting married. They think they’re celebrating humans by helping them to get off on the pain and mutilation of robots. But you keep seeing examples of why this is bullshit. Even the life-celebraters have a hard time knowing what’s “life” and what’s not.

    living in New York, that’s the best part of your review for me, to make this sort of connection

    i have to see the freakin’ movie now, i never saw it

  89. I know what you’re saying, Knox. When MINORITY REPORT came out on blu-ray I bought it instantly. I was excited because I hadn’t watched it in years. I had forgotten the huge, gaping plot holes and the shoehorned action sequences that unbalanced the movie. It had some really cool stuff, mind you, but the whole thing had not aged especially well. I haven’t rewatched that blu-ray since.

  90. People are not generous enough in praising DUEL, acknowledged as Spielberg’s first feature length film if we don’t count something called FIRELIGHT. DUEL is photographically and aurally perfect. In technical filmatistical terms, it’s about equal with JAWS.

    I love lots of Spielberg, but I appreciate a select few sequences of his oeuvre better than the rest, and often better than most all of the history of cinema. You’ve got the unmatched technical control on display in DUEL & JAWS, which are also ridiculously fun movies.
    You’ve got the unmatched raw emotion and catharsis of the opening of AMISTAD. As a whole, the movie suffers from dubious reductions of historical figures to their sentimental essences, but those opening shots of the slaves’ escape to freedom might be Spielberg’s best serious 5-10 minutes of his career.
    You’ve got the suspense & perfectly conveyed professionalism of the hit team creeping on their targets in MUNICH. I like to think I can relate a little bit to what those Mossad chaps went through, so that helps me get into the moment during the film, but in any case Spielberg films those kills even better than I expected (and I had high expectations).
    You’ve got Ralph Fiennes’s acting in SCHINDLER’S LIST, especially in the scene in which he “forgives” the woman. Not sure how much credit I should give specifically to Spielberg on this one, but that’s the best performance he’s ever had in one of his movies. With just his face, Ralph Fiennes tells a big part of the story of the troubled history & cultural psychology of the western world.

    So those are some examples that show the various, wide-ranging marks of excellence & omniscient cinematic prowess, flexibility, range, and scope that Spielberg possesses and conveys in his work. His films don’t always strike me as perfect. Nor do they strike me as flawed. Nor do they always strike me as “Spielbergian.” Overall, he’s a treasure of an artist, but, to me, he’s paradoxically even more rewarding when one examines some of his best work, like the individual scenes catalogued above, out of context.

  91. Grim Grinning Chris

    July 2nd, 2011 at 9:29 am

    Wow, Starship Troopers 3 has some especially weird looking boobs in it. It’s on Encore right not… had never seen this one. Stupid as hell, but it’s brought back a few of the actors from the original amd it has some killer practical effects (though the CGI is spotty). And yeah, weird boobs. I wonder if Amanda Whatshername from LAIR OG THE WHITE WORM is going to get her kit out. She’s looking kind of rough.

    And I love Minority Report. Plot holes, sure… But seeing past them, it really is a great story. While not the technical achievement of Blade Runner, it still does just as good a job if establishing the details of its own world. It is visually arresting (where the muted colors and blue filters actually enhance the look of the film instead of detracting from it like the Underworld movies or Battlefield Earth etc…) and it has a protagonist that I actually care about and empathize with.

  92. one guy from andromeda

    July 2nd, 2011 at 9:48 am

    The problem i have with Spielberg of late is exactly what Mouth praises about him – here’s a guy who can construct sequences like no one else: The Amistad opening, the opening battle in Ryan, the first alien attack and a few more in War of the Worlds and countless others. But the rest of his films fall off extremely compared to the high points. He seems to have lost his ability to make a coherent movie. Case in point Minority report – up to the scene in the Hotel room a flawed but nonetheless engaging movie – destroyed by a completely unnecessary third act whodunit. After Munich i had hopes, but then he reached a new career low with Indy IV. Some cool parts, the movie as a whole a tone deaf abortion.

  93. I never felt that it was a sentimental ending. David is a robot, he starts as a robot, and remains one throughout. He never goes beyond his programming (in my head anyhow), indeed his pursuit of his dream is a manifestation of the relentless/imprinted nature of his existence.

    The future robots essentially bring his existence to an end the way it would have happened had he stayed with Monica, that is by implementing and completing his programming in how would he have coped with his ‘mother’ dying in real life.

    He’s hers and incapable of being anyone else’s, so with her gone, he’s done. Perhaps he would not be able to function in a society without her, or the possibility of her, so it may be an execution (well, euthanasia) by the future robots.

    Just my take.

  94. Grim Grinning Chris

    July 2nd, 2011 at 9:58 am


    Not sure you are talking about in regards to an “unnecessary whodunit” in the third act. The mystery is the entire point of the plot and begins unfolding early in the first act.

  95. The WGA minimum basic agreement requires:

    Any second writer or team of writers must write at least 50% of the script, plus one word and make a significant contribution to the overall structure of the piece. For example, a writer could rewrite ALL of the dialogue in a movie and not get a credit because she did not alter the structure.

    For any third or later writer or writing team you must write at least 33% plus one word and make a significant contribution to the structure.

    A “Story By” credit is the result of a writer who contributed significantly to the structure of the film, but little of the final film. This is usually the first writer on a project with many, many rewrites.

  96. one guy from andromeda

    July 2nd, 2011 at 10:29 am

    I disagree, Chris. I think the thematic point of the movie is Anderton’s quest for the reason of his indictment and the fate of his son, its resolution happening in the hotel room. The evil boss conspiracy sub plot is just that – empty plot to shoe horn the movie into a blockbuster friendly formula that can have one of Spielberg’s many unsatisfying “feel good” endings (everyone is happy in a fairytale cottage, nevermind the implication that the world is full of murder again. A family happily reunited, nevermind that the whole world lies in ruins. The survivors frolick happily in a field, nevermind the fucking holocaust…)

  97. Grim Grinning Chris

    July 2nd, 2011 at 11:18 am

    I think you are talking about themes versus story. And the story (regardless of its themes and strongest emotional beats) does not work without presenting Pre-Crime as flawed and the plot to cover up its flaws. And as for the themes, many of them are dependent on the admonition of the idea of Pre-Crime itself. And simply showing it to be flawed really isn’t enough- there needs to be a compelling framework (which I think the mystery id perfect for) to hang all that on.
    His addictions and struggle with the fate of his son and the end of his marriage are part of his character, they are not the story. I wouldn’t be all that interested in the movie- as anything more than a dry character study- if there was not something grander at stake. I don’t think it’s being too low-brow to think that a summer movie needs a defined villain either. And I don’t think the Pre-Crime unit’s mere existence and fallability is enough to make it a “villain”.
    This is, after all, a big budget summer movie. It’s not Pi or experimental indie cinema. It needs certain beats and structures to even exist. I, for one, am glad that we got three really strong summer sci-fi movies out of Speilberg in the 2000s- all of which, while needing to hit certain beats and fill certain expectations for this type and scale of movie- had more brains in them than a dozen Mummies and Transformers and GI Joes combined.
    Summer movies, all… but all also fall (to me) under the umbrella of what Vern would consider the “high standard” of summer movies. Or maybe I just have low standards, so anything watchable that seems to have taken a little more thought than Tomb Raider or Van Helsing seems like gold.

  98. one guy from andromeda

    July 2nd, 2011 at 11:25 am


  99. Grim Grinning Chris

    July 2nd, 2011 at 11:33 am

    Just saying. That is my take. I’m not saying I think you’re wrong for yours. This isn’t AICN.

  100. Grim Grinning Chris

    July 2nd, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Admittedly, I did think your were wrong for finding the mystery to be pointless, but you presented a strong argument after that for why it didn’t need to be there.
    Hopefully I presented (at least a coherent one) for why I think it did.

  101. VERY fucking strange movie, but then what else would a Spielberg/Kubrick hybrid be? An immense chocolate chip cookie laced with arsenic. When I first saw it during its theatrical run, I knew enough going in to steel myself against Spielberg’s emotional manipulations as a filmmaker (he has no equals).

    What I did NOT expect was having my mind feel like it had been in a taffy pull, and lost. Let’s face it: there are some movies, you walk out of the theatre feeling exuberant, some you’re still laughing your ass off, some you feel like you learned something, and some where you want your hard-earned sheckels back. With “A.I.”, I felt none of the above. It was more like being beaten with a club made of cotton candy.

    Suffice to say, I did not seek it out on DVD. Giving it a second chance eight years later (on TV, and very late in the evening), I came around to thinking that it would have been much more powerful had it ended with David sitting in that airship at the bottom of the ocean, pleading to the Blue Fairy. Just leave it THERE, and surround the movie with a huge question mark.

  102. Grim Grinning Chris

    July 2nd, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Oh… and also, since this was (like Blade Runner) a futuristic/sci-fi throwback to film noir… it kinda HAD to have a mystery in it to justify its style and tone.
    Some may say the noir aspect itself was shoe-horned in, but again, another element that would cause me to be much less interested in the movie if it wasn’t present.

  103. one guy from andromeda

    July 2nd, 2011 at 11:39 am

    You did, Chris, and i can see your point. And thank god this isn’t AICN ; )

  104. @GGC and one guy: Amen, fellas. The ironic thing is that Vern showed up on AICN (where, I do believe, many of us discovered his unique take on filmatism) around 2002, just when it was entering its decline.

    We are all the more fortunate that he knew when to tune out, and create a safe haven for those of us who still care to opinionate with a degree of acuity.

    In Vern We Trust (shhhhhh!, keep it down… they might hear us).

  105. Grim Grinning Chris

    July 2nd, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    Yep, I’m definitely a migrant from AICN.

  106. Knox Harrington

    July 2nd, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    Speaking of AICN, does Vern still send them some of his reviews? I only check in on Aint It Cool maybe once every couple of weeks to see what new in the world of movie hype (but I’ve learned to stay the hell away from the talkbacks), and I haven’t seen anything from Vern on there in ages.

    Maybe that’s a good thing, though.

  107. @Knox: If memory serves me correct, Vern’s last contribution to AICN (masterful, as usual) was about 2 years ago; a review of the DVD release of “Stone Cold”, the film debut of former NFL player turned master thespian Brian Bosworth.

    I agree; it’s good that he left. He’s head and shoulders above the Cretin Fun Boy Three (Harry, Quint, and Capone) who hold dominion over that crumbling ruin of a website.

  108. Grim Grinning Chris

    July 3rd, 2011 at 6:46 am

    I still visit AICN a couple of times a week. Mainly for the BTSPOTT feature, the occasional interview (great recent ones with Spielberg and Carpenter) and now the retro-movie tie in game review column. I rarely even read the news articles or reviews past their headlines and even more rarely even look in on the TBs, much less participate in that fucking Thunderdome crap.

  109. Roger Ebert just published a “Great Movies” essay on A.I. that’s worth reading.


  110. Have you ever considered about including a little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is important and everything. However think about if you added some great pictures or video clips to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with pics and videos, this blog could undeniably be one of the most beneficial in its field. Excellent blog!

  111. This was on TCM last night and I caught a good portion of the three sections. What it speaks to human’s ability to create and destroy is something very powerful and prescient to this day. I think the Flesh Fair scene speaks to a lot of unease we as humans have towards both our own evolution and specifically the evolution of our technology. I personally find it more disturbing than something like THE RUNNING MAN because you kind of go in expecting blood and guts. In the context of a PG-13 Spielberg movie, it’s a sharp but necessary detour into a manifestation of ugly human behavior (in particular the woman on the speaker talking in a very desperate voice that this is a celebration of life).

    The first time I saw the movie, I was gutted by the ending. It’s the conclusion of a very stubborn, but human journey towards seeking the love only a mother can bring. It’s a very high concept brought down to earth by a basic human need, which makes it all the better I think.

  112. “would they make a movie like this today? No, this is pretty much a one-time-only type of movie”

    Vern – Unfortunately I might agree with you there.

  113. I agree with it, too. It was the best time possible to do it, as I don’t think it would be able to get off the ground now. Dreamworks was still going strong, having two of their films win major Oscars two years in a row. And WB was probably eager to share the burden because of their relationship with Kubrick, not to mention it being their property in the first place.

  114. yeah, A.I. is a fucking great movie, dare I say maybe even Spielberg’s most underrated?

  115. Griff – this is definitely Spielberg’s most underrated. I think everyone (including me) dismissed this as strangely shaped and uneven, with a “bad ending”, or “Spielberg trying to ape Kubrick but he can’t resist the schmaltz”, etc…. But time has been kind to this one – our brains are more accustomed to binge-watching entire seasons of shows which makes the episodic structure less jarring, and stuff like Blade Runner 2049, Black Mirror, and a bunch of “slow-burn” A24-ish art-house genre films have made this look less like a failed ET-style family blockbuster and more like the world’s most expensive art-house film about why humans suck. Right from the first scene, Spielberg portrays humanity as selfish and abusive, and it gets worse from there. Every single human in it is kind of a horrible person – I don’t think it’s a mistake that THE CRIPPLED KID is Spielberg’s most hissable villain in years (Ralph Fiennes got more dimensions in Schindler’s List than this little asshole, and I’m not exaggerating). Not only is this not usually Spielberg’s M.O., I don’t even think Kubrick is this cynical when it comes to humanity. No wonder people were turned off by this movie – can you imagine families bringing their kids to see this shit?? Anyway, it’s a good thing despite the oppressive nastiness, there’s crazily assured filmatism, knockout performances, and next-level special effects constantly wowing you (I STILL have no idea if Teddy is practical or CGI, that’s how good these effects are).

    Here’s my new take on the ending – 1) Yeah it doesn’t really matter if it’s aliens or advanced robots – sure, Jude Law has a line that says “we’ll be here long after the humans are gone” but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what happened. The point is it’s not the piece of shit humans in control which leads to 2) the ending with his clone mom is a neat reversal of the beginning, where David was used to (cynically? justifiably?) fill a hole in her heart left by her comatose asshole son. David full well knows the situation is unreal, like the Nexus in Star Trek Generations, but he doesn’t give a shit – he just wants her back (I think the admittedly arbitrary limited time-frame of “one day” is just there to hammer home the parallels – she knows he’s not “real” because he’ll be young permanently but she wants him anyway; he knows she’s not “real” because she’ll die after a day, but he wants her anyway.) The mom-clone is clearly not herself and acts more like a confused child – if Spielberg really wanted the sappy “happy ending” everyone thinks this is, wouldn’t she just come back permanently with all her memories intact instead of acting like a simpleton/amnesiac? She’s HIS toy, his plaything now; she only exists to serve his needs (even though his only needs are to serve her). So yeah, it’s technically a happy ending (“David waited forever and finally got what he wanted!”) but like everything else in this movie, it’s kinda perverse and totally fucked up. (You could argue David finally does become a real boy because he lets his wants and desires rule him, which makes him just as selfish and needy as the rest of the humans portrayed here. Not to mention he’s the only real boy left because all the actual real boys are fucking dead, thank God.)

  116. That’s a good take, Neal. I had never considered the fact that he gets a fake “mom” at the end parallels the way she gets a fake “kid” at the story’s beginning. That’s really interesting, but I think that point is kinda undermined by the weird arbitrary timeframe which seems to artificially ratchet up the tragedy instead of pointing out the cruel, circular nature of everything. The way it plays really pushes the idea that it’s a tearjerker, not a grim bit of hopeless cynicism.

    Then again, I haven’t seen it since I last commented on this page, back in… Jesus Christ, 2011?! (hyperventilates into bag)

  117. Mr. Subtlety – I think the movie’s final shot of Teddy mourning(?) over David and his mom kinda hints at the circular nature of the story but I’d be lying if I said I entirely understood his role in the story (I’m also not entirely sure I understand everything the Ana de Armas subplot of Blade Runner 2049 is trying to say either, which owes more than a little bit to this movie).

    And not to turn this too political like the Captain Marvel thread, but holy crap watching the “Flesh Fair” sequence after the invention of MAGA-rallies is truly something to behold. The Chris Rock cameo may seem tasteless to some (I’ve seen people screenshot it to hint that Spielberg is racist or something), but if you think this society of “hard working ‘Muricans” portrayed in this movie WOULDN’T have blackface-looking robots that speak in exaggerated Chris Rock voice, programmed to make one-liners right up until termination, then I don’t know what to say. It’s my favorite world-building detail in a movie chock-full of them.

  118. Mr. Subtlety – yeah, I haven’t seen A.I. since 2011 either and it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long ago, where the hell did the 2010s go?

    neal2zod – Yes, the Flesh Fair is one of the most brilliant sequences in the movie, it’s made even funnier to remember that A.I. is taking place in the 22nd century, pretty far into the future, but the more things change, the more they stay the same.

  119. I’d wager on this or CATCH ME IF YOU CAN as the most underrated Spielberg in terms of viably cracking into the bottom of a top 5 Spielberg list. I don’t have either there personally, but they aren’t far outside of it. I’ve been meaning to rewatch this one and EMPIRE OF THE SUN sometime in the next year. Off hand, I remember the massive exposition dump right before the movie’s ending as being a large factor in what held this one back.

  120. haha, just looking at the credits now and apparently Clark Gregg plays a “supernerd.” April Grace plays a character named “Female Colleague.”

    Interesting that Ministry would have made a comeback in the 22nd century. Apparently they were more ahead of their time than we knew back in 2001.

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