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ALDISS, BRIAN: A.I: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

AI – ABSENT INVITATION
After waiting more than 20 years to have his story turned into a movie, and parting company with Stanley Kubrick, author Brian Aldiss didn’t get invited to a screening of AI, but he’s too busy writing to care much, he explains to Jeff Goldsmith.

All the principals involved with Steven Spielberg's long-awaited Stanley Kubrick coproduction A.I. have seen the completed film - everyone, that is, except the author of the original story.

Brian Aldiss, the 75-year-old British sci-fi novelist whose 1969 short Story Supertoys Last All Summer, which is the basis for A.I., hasn't seen an inch of footage beyond the teaser-trailer. "I've seen the fingerprint on the frosted glass, and that looked kinda nice," Aldiss says, laughing. "But I guess I'll have to wait with everyone else...to see the rest of the picture."

“I'm just pleased that they've finally finished the film”

With three books coming out next year, his 50th as a writer, Aldiss isn't phased.
"Why invite the author?" Aldiss says, joking. "I'm just pleased that they've finally finished the film and that both Kubrick and Spielberg found my story interesting enough to grace the screen."

Waiting patiently on the sidelines is old news for the weathered sci-fi writer who has watched from a distance while Kubrick tried to make Supertoys for well over 20 years.

Kubrick first called Aldiss after reading the foreword to Aldiss’ book The Billion Year Spree, in which Aldiss cited Kubrick as being the greatest science fiction filmmaker of the age. After a few meetings, Kubrick decided to adapt Aldiss’ Supertoys. Aldiss remembers enjoying "many a laugh" with Kubrick during the early developmental stages of the script but was ultimately unable to see eye to eye with the director on the tonal aspects of the film.

"It was that fairytale element that I didn't really care for.... I wanted it to remain purely science-fictional”

Aldiss had been attracted to the chilly tone of Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, but world audiences gave the film a lukewarm reception. Kubrick had hoped that by adding an element of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio to A.I. the film might attract a larger audience than Lyndon had.

"I should have been warned," Aldiss says, "because when I first [met with Kubrick]
he gave me a beautifully illustrated copy of Pinocchio, so he'd got it in his mind before I'd arrived on the scene." Aldiss continues, "It was that fairytale element that I didn't really care for.... I wanted it to remain purely science-fictional."

Aldiss felt that the tonal qualities of both 2001 and Barry Lyndon were thematically in line with the way he wanted to explore the very adult theme of emotional machines found within his story.

“[Kubrick] said we were getting nowhere … I was given the push”

These disparaging views created an impasse that caused Kubrick and Aldiss to amicably part ways. "[Kubrick] said we were getting nowhere," Aldiss says. "I was given the push...but by that time I was pretty glad to go.... For 30 years I'd been doing very well as an independent writer, and to a certain extent it did go against the grain to be at someone else's beck and call - even Kubrick's."

Shortly after they parted, A.I. was put on hold and Kubrick moved on to other projects. He always drifted back to A.I. between the production of his last three films but became mired in technical research and story development. After failing to create a real robot for the title role and never being happy with the script’s second act, the project was passed off to Steven Spielberg before Kubrick’s sudden death in the summer of 1999.

“The thought of selling Spielberg one sentence was tremendously novel”

When Spielberg took over the film, he too turned to Aldiss. Spielberg was so intrigued by one idea in a mid-90s follow-up story (Supertoys in Other Seasons) that he bought it, along with another story, for a generous fee. "The thought of selling Spielberg one sentence was tremendously novel," Aldiss says. Their collaboration ended there; Spielberg set off to interpret Kubrick’s vision on his own.

Aldiss's differences with Kubrick didn't erode his respect for the director. "I recently watched a new print of 2001 and sat in the front row. I love watching serious science
fiction films," Aldiss says. One can only wonder if he'll still recognize his 11-page story in the lavish US$100 million production. "Spielberg, like Kubrick, is a very talented director, and I'm sure that once I do get to see the film, it will be a very satisfying experience."

Published September 20, 2001

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