Loosely based on the story, "Supertoys Last All Summer Long," by Brian Aldiss, and the late Stanley Kubrick's dream project up until his death in 1999, "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence" is as accomplished a motion picture as anything director Steven Spielberg has ever made. Following Kubrick's unfortunate passing, Spielberg, who had prior been collaborating ideas with him concerning "A.I.," decided to make it his next directorial effort, both as a movie that he was passionate and excited about, and as a loving tribute to one of the great masters of the cinema.
The end result of the long, arduous, 25-year journey of "A.I." is a science-fiction film filled with endless imagination and wonder; a mature, almost devastating fairy tale; and a thought-provoking rumination on the importance of love, and determined hope, in one's life. The movie is, indeed, a Spielberg production, although it does feature an icy, somehow bleak, emotional core that is certainly Kubrickian in spirit, and undoubtedly intentional. Using the approach of differing styles of moviemaking (with Spielberg more of a wide-eyed optimist) turns out to work extraordinarily well in this film's case, as the picture is deeply touching and effective without being maudlin, and occasionally sterile without coming off as cold-hearted.
Set in a futuristic setting, following the melting of the ice caps which has drowned entire U.S. cities (including Manhattan), Professor Hobby (William Hurt) has created a string of mechas--robots with the physical appearance of humans--to live in the world. With all mechas having been made into adults up until this point, Hobby introduces his most life-like creation yet: an 11-year-old boy named David (Haley Joel Osment). Programmed to be able to love (the first of his kind to be able to do such a thing), David is taken in by Monica Swinton (Frances O'Connor) and her husband, Henry (Sam Robards), as a child "substitute" for their own young son, Martin (Jake Thomas), who has been cryogenically frozen while they await a cure for the disease he has.
At first creeped out by David, Henry and Monica quickly warm up to him, and in Monica's case, falls in love with what is now her new son. Aside from not being able to eat or sleep, David is exactly like a regular boy, delighting in mimicking and picking up new information, as well as being able to play games. When Martin suddenly awakes from his comatose state and begins to get better, he rejoins his parents' lives, and in the process, David progressively loses the attention and, through a series of circumstances out of his control, made to look potentially dangerous. Forced to get rid of him, but not wanting him destroyed by the company for returning him, Monica drives David into the forest one day, and leaves him there alone, with only a mechanical, talking teddy bear as company.
Leading up to its release, "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence" was purposefully advertised in an obscure manner that didn't give away much of its premise, or hardly any scenes from the film itself. This was the wisest choice anyone could have made, as "A.I." is a gloriously creative film that prospers from its sheer unpredictability, and constant reminder that it is not just another "dumb sci-fi movie," but a motion picture overflowing with exciting ideas and relevant themes.
Believing that Monica will love him if only he becomes a real boy, David sets off to find the Blue Fairy from the fairy tale, "Pinocchio," whom he earnestly believes is the only one with the power to grant him his wish. On his journey, he meets a fellow mecha named Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), whose name reveals what he has been programmed to do. Joe is a cynic, but forms a bond with David, and consequently, helps him to accomplish his mission, even if it is a lost cause. It is never clear to the viewer if the Blue Fairy does genuinely exist, and this mystery is what fuels the entire second half of the film.
Haley Joel Osment (2000's "Pay It Forward") is a revelation as David, even more so than in 1999's box-office smash, "The Sixth Sense," which led him to an Oscar nomination. At only 13-years-old, Osment's ability to convey utter realism and subtlety in each of his performances is remarkable, to say the least. This has never been so apparent as right here, in a difficult and complex role as a sympathetic character who is, nonetheless, not real, but a machine. Osment must carry the whole movie solely on his shoulders, and he hits every note exactly right. Simply no other child actor could have done as refined and impressive of a job.
The cast that surrounds Osment is truly fine, as well. Jude Law (1999's "The Talented Mr. Ripley") is self-assured and appropriately cocky and cool as Gigolo Joe. Law plausibly paints Joe as a person (read: robot) who is suave, undeniably sexy, and devoted to pleasing women. As the increasingly distraught, yet caring, Monica, Frances O'Connor (2000's "Bedazzled") is heartbreaking, particularly in the bravura sequence in which she takes David on a trip that she knows will only have one of them returning home. Finally, William Hurt (1998's "One True Thing") is emphatically low-key and memorable as David's inventor, Professor Hobby, who may have an ulterior motive behind his creation of a mecha child.
The technical credits of "A.I." are awe-inspiring. Spielberg regular Janusz Kaminski's cinematography is both beautiful and understated, as is John Williams' unusually poetic music score. And the production design and visual effects, by Industrial Light & Magic, are a sight to behold. There are images throughout that will stick with you long after the lights in the theater have gone up, especially the depiction of New York City engulfed in an endless sea, as well as the haunting underwater creation of Coney Island.
A tragic, if inspiring, motion picture event, there are impassioned issues about humanity that are brought up which will resonate with every viewer. And the imagination and artistry which the film has been made with is second-to-none. To watch "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence" is to experience a visually astounding and emotionally rewarding triumph that, in time, is sure to go down as one of the all-time brilliant achievements in modern moviemaking. Stanley Kubrick sure would have been proud.