Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A.I.: 10 Years Later

Ten years ago almost to the day (I'm a bit late, the exact day was June 29), Steven Spielberg unveiled A.I. Artificial Intelligence.  I remember frantically rushing off to theater that early Friday morning, I was the first show of the day.  The nervous tension of a long awaited idea, first concocted by the great Stanley Kubrick realized by Spielberg opening in the year 2001, was unbearable.  I remember my first reaction was a gentle awe, only to be stymied when exiting the theater hearing my fellow moviegoers ripping it to shreds.  This, of course, would be the reaction I was going to have to get used to.  Come to think of it, few big summer blockbusters in waiting since have had such a popularizing reaction; many have been out-and-out panned, but few have been as heavily analyzed, with a sense of judgment looming on both sides of the love-it or hate-it line.  I only saw the film once, and don't think I could bear to watch it again...for I was instantly smitten with the story of a robotic boy and his search for love and purpose in such a beautifully textured cruel, dark universe.  The melding of Spielbergian hopefulness and Kubrickian dystopia created an unusual and soaring hybrid.  It's perhaps not the masterwork anybody was expecting, but I have always felt A.I. Artificial Intelligence was all the stronger because of it's flaws, because for the first time in a long while it felt that Spielberg was almost unafraid of going somewhere new and dark and unexpected.  There was, and still is, a mysticism and danger in thinking back.

The first part of the film is quiet and serene in and definitely more infused with Spielberg's instincts with familial pleasures.  The middle section is nearly all Kubrick-infused-- violent, aggressive, but soulfully beautiful in its ambivalence (it's also, I believe the strongest section of the movie.  The ending, which probably killed it for many and is and will always be the troubling area, where the darkness is coalesced into that of a fairy tale, and the mixture of the two cinematic giants looming generated an awkward undercurrent of diminished returns.  But in a film so complicated, not just in origin, but in design, it's forgivable that the destination isn't nearly satisfying as the journey itself.  And even if a great sense of hero worship was on display in every shot, the hero is Stanley Kubrick...there's a full circle effect this summer with the love adorned on Spielberg with J.J. Abrams' Super 8.

What's best remembered and hopefully enshrined are the amazing production values, inventive effects, and two of the best performances a Spielberg film have ever provided.  Haley Joel Osment, two years after The Sixth Sense, and a few years away from becoming unnoticed gave David, the artificial child robot who learned to love, the perfect blend of innocence and creepiness and made the story credible right from the start.  The second performance I'm personally more fond of, and feel that it should the classic character of the piece: Jude Law as Gigolo Joe, another artificial being made to love.  Law's bravado and unabashed sexuality is the separator from Spielberg yin and Kubrick yang; Gigolo Joe springs A.I. from youthful innocence to adulthood depravity, and either serving as comic relief or surrogate father (both to David and the audience, unfamiliar to the rules of the game), Law's presence grounds the movie with spectacular depth and unyielding charm.  He deserved an Oscar nomination-- the film received two pity nominations that year for Best Visual Effects and for Best Score, a token slot reserved for John Williams-- I kid, I'm sure it was a great score.

While ten years ago, movie patrons may have laughed or been taken off guard but what they just saw, I have faith in the cinematic universe that a film so singular and scary will have a lasting legacy.  If not now, then later on because it deserves it, and ambitious think-pieces, even those that are wrapped with familiar genre flourishes nearly always take time to be properly admired.  That was a staple throughout Kubrick's career; none of his films were out and out celebrated upon arrival-- many of them are still heavily contested in the most aggressive of film battles, but they were notable, as A.I., easily the most ambitious sci\fi story made since Blade Runner with few to rival on terms of scale or heart.

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