Underrated classics: A.I. Artificial Intelligence 
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Re-examining a potential sci-fi classic that perhaps only Kubrick and Spielberg could have brought off...
A film by Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg you say? Two of history’s greatest directors working on a sci-fi film about robots? That sounds like the greatest film ever made!
This is what many people said upon hearing about AI: Artificial Intelligence in 2001. Yet such enthusiastic expectations were generally met with a resounding ‘oh...’ after seeing it. The film had, and really still has, many detractors. The story of David, the artificial boy who wants nothing more than to be a real boy so his mother will love him as much as she loves her real son, was considered by many to be sugary and overly-emotional, with cool but underused visuals and an ending with aliens in that didn’t make any sense. Spielberg had ruined Kubrick’s no-doubt glorious vision and should therefore be hated forever more.
"I think the issue many people had with AI was that they were unsure of what to make of it: was it a kids film handled in an adult manner? Or an adult, sci-fi version of Pinocchio?"
On the contrary: AI is quite possibly one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made, a film of such intelligence and heart that it’s rather like watching a Kubrick Disney movie with cool robots in, as directed by the one man who can always guarantee you are at least being hugely entertained by what you are watching.
I think the issue many people had with AI was that they were unsure of what to make of it: was it a kids film handled in an adult manner? Or an adult, sci-fi version of Pinocchio? Spielberg’s usual child-like glee and preoccupation with the child in us all are what lend the film this quality (it’s fair to say I think that if Kubrick had lived to direct the film himself, this wouldn’t be an issue), but it fits perfectly with the story. David is the central character, beautifully played with cold-eyed emotion by Hayley Joel Osment, and his story concerns a boy’s love for his mother and his acceptance in a world where artificial life is still hotly debated: surely the man who directed ET is the perfect man to take on the job?
The film also has a prevailing sense of wonder not seen in a Spielberg film since Jurassic Park. The future is a world not too far removed from our own, a future towards which we can all logically see ourselves heading. Artificial intelligence and its moral implications are becoming a reality, but what if we could ever artificially create love? Is it fake and therefore not important, or is it still love nonetheless? It’s a question to which there is no easy answer, but it seems impossible not to feel for both David and his outcast gigolo companion Joe (Jude Law) as they both search for love and acceptance.
"If Kubrick had lived to realise his vision of AI, it would no doubt be a different film"
Spielberg has never been one to disappoint on spectacle, and this is no exception. The design of the world is sublime, with art nouveau bridges and neon cities, not to mention the intricately natural-looking robots and the violently charged atmosphere of the Flesh Fair. Even the final 20 minutes, admittedly a little confusing, are exquisitely otherworldly and alien, but not in the sense that everyone assumes: the creatures at the end are not aliens who have taken over the world, but are rather unimaginably advanced robots, who have evolved beyond the need for and past the lifetimes of humans, and who are able to give David his one chance of happiness.
If Kubrick had lived to realise his vision of AI, it would no doubt be a different film. Kubrick was never one to focus on the prevailing of hope against all odds like Spielberg but would rather have accentuated David’s alienation and the futurism of the world (and, as an aside, those critics who lament AI’s slow pace should actually watch 2001: A Space Odyssey – genius? Yes, rip-roaring rollercoaster thrill ride? No). But there would have been no-one who would have been able to effectively realise Kubrick’s vision perfectly except Kubrick, as he would himself have admitted in light of his obsession over every detail of his films.
Spielberg’s adaptation of Kubrick’s idea then may not be exactly what he had in mind, but that should not detract from the merits of the film – a film should never be judged on what it could have been, but what it is, and what it is is a visionary and imaginative adult fairy tale that stays with you long after the end. What more can you ask for?
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