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Global warming has raised ocean levels, inundating coastal cities. The world’s populations have moved inland. In the US, population control requires couples to obtain a licence before having a baby. As a result, thousands of childless couples pine for a child. But the advance of robotics sees a possible solution. Professor Hobby (William Hurt) envisions and creates a perfect artificial child; one programmed to love, but who will never grow older. The robot is David (Haley Joel Osment), and he is given to Henry (Sam Robards) and Monica Swinton (Frances O’Connor), a couple whose lives have been touched by tragedy. Monica is reluctant at first, but soon becomes attached to David. She imprints David with a unique code which guarantees David’s love forever. But then a miracle cure sees the couple’s natural son, Martin (Jake Thomas), return home. That event launches David on a remarkable journey.

Review by David Edwards:
AI proves Steven Spielberg is one of the most interesting and acclaimed filmmakers of the era. Few directors working at the moment can match his extraordinary vision; a vision that attains a stunning life of its own in this film. That’s not to say the project is a complete success. Indeed, it’s probably best described as two-thirds of a brilliant movie, with deep flaws appearing in the third act. Still, I for one would much rather watch the work of a director takes risks and fails, than one who plays absolutely safe and does it perfectly. 

The film started life as a project for Stanley Kubrick, and it bears many of the late filmmaker’s hallmarks. But it’s also an unmistakably Spielberg work. It echoes themes he explored in films from E.T. through to Schindler’s List – in some cases taking them much further. 

Spielberg’s starting point is clearly Pinocchio, with numerous references to the story throughout the film; some more overt than others. But he infuses the tale with concerns ranging from environmental devastation to racism to the future of the human race itself. It’s a big ask for one movie to carry all that off, and in the end, it’s probably too big for this particular movie.

Its main drawback is that the third act simply doesn’t work on most levels. It pushes many of the right buttons, and the final scene is one of the most poignant you’re ever likely to see, but it contains too many difficult-to-swallow elements and requires far too great a leap from the audience to be considered a success. Still, those shortcomings can’t destroy the brilliance of what has gone before. 

Although I’ve never read Brian Aldiss’ short story on which the film is based, I suspect it ended at the end of the second act; with what comes after being the creation of screenwriter Ian Watson and Spielberg. Whether it would have been better ending at that point is debatable (it probably wouldn’t have been a commercially viable proposition). But the film is in the can now – or on the disc, as it were.

Visually, AI is a masterwork of both the writers’ imaginations and modern production design. From the serene interiors in the early parts, through the nightmare imagery in the middle stages to the pure fantasy at the end, it never fails to amaze. 

The heart of the film is three remarkable performances from three remarkable performers, led by Haley Joel Osment. This is quite an astounding achievement for someone so young; a tour-de-force for any actor, let alone someone who was 12 when the film was made. One of the amazing little snippets of information contained in a featurette on the disc is that Osment wasn’t allowed to blink while in character! 

Jude Law is also quite amazing as Gigolo Joe, a robot designed for pleasure who’s often on the wrong side of the law. His Gene Kelly/Fred Astaire of a cyborg is a constant delight. For both Osment and Law, their roles are all the more difficult as they not only have to convince us of their artificiality, but to introduce enough humanity to make us care. Frances O’Connor turns in an inspired, understated performance as Monica, managing to capture her character’s many internal conflicts as she struggles to come to terms with what’s happening around her.

Those familiar with DVD will be looking for the extras, and this double disc set offers an absolute surfeit. Apart from the usual extras, there is a quite amazing set of featurettes illustrating just about every aspect of the filmmaking process. If you’re a film buff, or even have a passing interest in how movies are made, these are worth the price of the disc alone. Not only do you gain an unparalleled insight into the process, but you get to do it some of the true masters in their fields. They cover everything from lighting to acting, set design to robotics and special effects.

Although AI isn’t Spielberg’s greatest work, it is a film that’s worthy of attention. A daring assemblage of images, sounds and themes, it’s never less than engaging; even at its lowest points. Spielberg achieves much more in this one movie than most directors could hope to in a whole career. On this immaculate DVD set, the film itself loses nothing – and gains a plethora of extras that will satisfy even the most ardent fan.

Published March 13, 2002

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You can buy it HERE - next day delivery within Australia


CAST: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor, Brendan Gleeson, William Hurt

DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg

RUNNING TIME: 139 minutes

SPECIAL FEATURES: Featurettes – “Creating A.I.”; “Acting A.I.: A Portrait Of David; A Portrait Of Gigolo Joe”; “Designing A.I.: From Drawings To Sets; Dressing A.I.”; “Lighting A.I.”; “Special Effects”; “Robots Of A.I.”; “Special Visual Effects and Animation: ILM”; “The Sound And Music Of A.I.: Sound Design; Score”; “Closing: Steven Spielberg: Our Responsibility To A.I.”; theatrical trailers; storyboards; photo gallery cast and crew filmographies; menu animation & audio

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: March 13, 2002

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