Rating and Review:
Directed by: Steven Speilberg
Cast: Harley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor, Sam Robards and William Hurt
"Artificial Intelligence" could have been a great film, but it fails because it skips the more interesting questions and goes straight to stirring up our emotions.
The story is set in the future, when the polar ice cap has melted and drowned countless coastal cities around the world. Yet, a few number of developed countries remain powerful due to the use of mechanical robots, or "mecha", that do not consume energy once manufactured. The film begins in a laboratory, where scientists, led by Dr. Hobby (William Hurt), discuss their latest project - a boy mecha who can "love". We cut to twenty months later, the prototype mecha - David (Haley Joel Osment) - is ready for testing. Hobby chooses his employee Henry (Sam Robards), whose young son is gravely ill and is frozen until a cure is found. The big day comes when Henry brings David home to see his wife, Monica (Frances O'Connor). She is not pleased though, she does not want a replacement for his son.
Yet, as expected, a bond soon grows between Monica and David. David does not need to sleep or eat, but he has learnt to pretend. He writes little letters to Monica to tell her how much he "loves" her. But does he really love? Or does he only act like he loves? How do his makers programme love? Or does he learn by himself? The film doesn't tell. David knows how to say "I love you, Mom", and gets happy whenever he sees Monica. But are these what love is all about? Speilberg wants us to believe David can truly love, but does not bother to tell us how he comes to be. This is not an easy subject to make, showing us how a robot knows to love, maybe that's why Stanley Kubrick needed help in the first place.
David's fate changes after a few incidents and when Monica's real son recovers from his illness. Knowing that David will be destroyed by the factory if she returns him, she abandons him in the forest. I am not sure how her wirings work, but what she does is equally cruel. David knows why he is not wanted - he is not real. He remembers the story of Pinnochio Monica once told him and not knowing the difference between fact and fairy tale, he begins his journey to find the Blue Fairy, in hopes that she can turn him into a real person, so he can be loved again.
David begins his adventure with great determination, but I think what motivates him is command instead of some human spirit within. A computer programmer can probably work out the algorithm behind David's actions - he wants Monica's love, and as it can only be achieved if he is human, he must locate Blue Fairy. Speilberg wants us to believe David's objective is a product of his transformation into something human, but does not bother to bring out the evidence. David is programmed by his makers to love in a superficial way, and so he is not becoming anything human unless he starts behaving beyond or defying his programme capacity. Speilberg achieves this in a few occasions - David stuffs spinach into his mouth even though he knows he is programmed not to do so; near the end he feels threatened when he finds out he is not unique. Such personalities demonstrate David's change / growth, but there are simply not enough of them in the film.
David finds Blue Fairy in the end, in a Manhattan amusement park that is now miles underwater. A chain of events then occur, which lead to a scene I think will make a great and beautiful ending. But the film lifts off again and moves on to a whole other level, which involves some remarkable concepts that may prove too risky to the Speilberg I know. I admire the attempt, but the film will be much neater had it ended earlier. The final ending seems a little redundant, though the final shot showing the lights in the house fading is remarkable.
Haley Joel Osment continues to deliver impressive performances, which might very well earn him a nomination this year. The talented Jude Law plays a love mecha - a gigolo droid - that becomes a friend of David. His character is interesting and at times hilarious, but is only weakly related to the main plot. The most appealing character of the film, I think, is the cute-looking super toy Teddy, which seems to be the most intelligent and human mecha of the whole film. It does not surprise me nowadays that the best performance in a film is delivered by something born in an ILM lab.
The special effects of this film is awesome. But what can't computers do these days? John Williams' score is impressive, so are many of the sets, especially those that come in the latter part of the film (but I don't like the junkyard where mechas are tortured and destroyed by humans, those riding on the bikes look more than just silly).
This film reminds me of "Blade Runner", which is also about robots who love. "Blade Runner" is successful because it relies on mood and avoids questions it cannot answer - questions that remains unanswered by Speilberg twenty years later.
© Marcus Chan 2001