AI was not well received by critics in much the same way that a grenade is not welcome in a detachment. The attitude seemed to be run, run away from this before it explodes chaotically.
Well, that wasn’t how I saw it, and it had damn little to do with how cute Haley Joel was back then — it was much more personal. Any kid could have been in the part. I can think of several I know now who mean a hell of a lot more to me than any robot boy ever would, kids I’d love to take home and feed and clothe, provided they scooped their own poo out of the litter tray and didn’t start too many fires.
It was the story that hit my personal buttons.
The tension brought about by the weight of “real” kid against “adopted” kid was sharp enough; but when Mom left David in the woods — even though he was just a machine — all my protective instincts were on full power.
Which, if you’re a man who treasures his independence above all, is a bit weird.
I really had to think about that. I had to wonder, as I watched that tortured boy weeping and begging not to be left alone, why I felt so goddmaned sympathetic to him. It wasn’t just the performance; it was the idea of abandoning a child all alone in the woods to fend for himself … or die. Isn’t that how a lot of Grimm stories begin?
But hell, that was part of the magic, for me, in this film. It connected to me — or I to it — in ways it’s very hard for me to entirely understand, even now. That wasn’t the beginning of my wish to adopt. It was when I realized it was more like something I needed than merely wanted. I wanted to scoop up that poor robot kid and take him home.
Well, why not? I don’t have a Roomba.
But that is one critcism I have of AI. I cannot believe that Mom would stay by one boy for years as he struggled in cryosleep against a disease — and abandon another so easily. It seems more than a little emotionally dishonest. Sure, I understand that she had begun to mistrust the machine, believing it to be malfunctioning, but her response — leave it alone in the woods rather than have it shut down at the factory — was simply improbable.
That’s not the only problem this movie has. For one thing it’s a little schizophrenic; it can’t decide if it’s Pinocchio, a coming-of-age yarn, a morality tale or a boys’ adventure story. Added to the weirdness in developing a robot kid who can lie submerged in a pool for hours and not break down — yet somehow ceases to function on ingesting a little spinach — is the outrageous amphibicopter, a flying submarine that violates at least fifty-seven major laws of physics. And, of course, we have the inventor, who for some reason decided to make a mechanical copy of his dead son rather than, oh I don’t know, adopt a living and needy human child.
That’s part of a recurrent theme in AI, though; all of the humans involved in the story are insanely, selifishy solipsistic. They’re the future equivalents of fuckwits who tool around in SUVs today, not caring a shit for anyone else on the entire goddamn planet as long as they can truck their fat asses around in oversized hyperluxury. In this regard the robot David is actually one of the most human characters in the story, as is Gigolo Joe (Jude Law).
The other major issue with the movie is that it has three quite separate and distinct endings. It’s a little like the embarrassing senile uncle that comes over during the holidays and drones on enddlessly while everyone around him wears fixed, frozen and slightly terrified smiles, wishing to Christ the old man would simply shut the fuck up and die already. Any one of the endings would have sufficed, but somehow Steven Spielberg just didn’t know how to terminate the film when and where he needed to.
AI is an imperfect movie, which is not at all surprising. It was an idea that Stanley Kubrick had been noodling with off and on for a couple decades before he died, and Spielberg tried to pull it into light as a kind of ill-begotten tribute. It could have been worse; on the other hand it’s arguable that the world wouldn’t have been worse off for the film never having been made.
I can see, though, why he didn’t let it go. It’s a compelling story, one that both pisses you off mightily (for its imperfections) and tugs at your feelings (well, it is a Spielberg film, after all, and he’s a masterful manipulator) as you watch it. The video’s tolerable and worth a look if you get tired of WWE or something over the weekend. Better AI than, say, Napoleon Dipwad.
EDIT: Reality check — the conclusion did leave me blubbering helplessly. Just sobbing like a schoolgirl. So there is that, for what it’s worth. It’s sweet, and if you’re open to it, it’ll tug away at those famous heartstrings.
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