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review added: 7/30/02



A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Special Edition - 2001 (2002) - DreamWorks/Warner Bros. (DreamWorks)

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

A.I. Artificial Intelligence Film Rating: D+

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A/A-

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A-/A

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
145 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, Amaray keep case packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:15:52 in chapter 17), Creating A.I. featurette, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (32 chapters), languages: English (DD & DTS 5.1 & DD 2.0) and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Spanish and French

Disc Two: Supplemental Materials
NR, full frame (1.33:1), Amaray keep case packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch not in content), Acting A.I. featurettes (A Portrait of David and A Portrait of Gigolo Joe), Designing A.I. featurettes (A.I.: From Drawings to Sets and Dressing A.I.), Lighting A.I. featurette, Special Effects featurette, Robots of A.I. featurette, Special Visual Effects and Animation: ILM featurettes (An Overview, The Robots, The Miniatures, The New York City Sequence: Shot Progression and Animating A.I.), The Sound and Music of A.I. featurettes (Sound Design and The Music), Closing: Steven Spielberg - Our Responsibility to Artificial Intelligence featurette, A.I. Archives (2 trailers, 3 storyboard sequences, Chris Baker's portfolio, production design portfolio, ILM portfolio, portrait gallery photos by David James, Steven Spielberg "behind the scenes" photos by David James), cast and filmmaker biographies and filmographies, production notes, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: Spanish and French

In the ten years or so leading up to its release in the summer of 2001, A.I. Artificial Intelligence developed a reputation as one of the greatest movies never made. The brainchild of Stanley Kubrick (who left behind a number of intriguing concepts in varying stages of development with his death in 1999), A.I. was, like most Kubrick films, shrouded in mystery. It was known that it was based on the Brian Aldiss short story Supertoys Last All Summer Long, but that fact was virtually useless. After all, 2001: A Space Odyssey sprang from the Arthur C. Clarke story The Sentinel, but reading that story doesn't begin to prepare you for what Kubrick eventually created. During its development, Kubrick tossed ideas back and forth with Steven Spielberg and eventually realized that perhaps Spielberg would be better suited for the director's chair on this project. Spielberg initially demurred but, following Kubrick's death, Kubrick's widow Christiane asked him to reconsider. As a tribute to his friend, Spielberg accepted the challenge and crafted one of the most divisive movies of his career. Audiences fell into two camps over A.I.. People either loved it, claiming it was one of Spielberg's finest moments, or despised it with equal passion. I fall into the latter category.

A.I. depicts a future world in which robots (or "Mechas" as they're annoyingly and pointlessly referred to) have become commonplace. Professor Allen Hobby (William Hurt) proposes that the time has come to develop a robot child with the capacity to love its human "parents". The result is David (played by Haley Joel Osment), a prototype who faces some stiff competition for his mother's love when her real son recovers from a coma. After David's love causes a couple near fatal accidents, his "mother" Monica (Frances O'Connor) decides to return the kid. But she can't bring herself to have him destroyed and instead abandons him like an unwanted cat in the middle of the forest. David seizes upon the idea that if he tracks down the fabled Blue Fairy, she can turn him into a real boy (a la Pinocchio) and he can return to his mother, who will now love him unconditionally. And so teamed up with Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a robo-whore on the run from the law, David embarks on a quest to find the Blue Fairy.

It may seem that anti-A.I.-ers like myself hate the movie out of all proportion to its actual offenses. After all, it's not the worst movie ever made. It's not even the worst movie Steven Spielberg has ever made. The reason, I think, that many of us can't stand this movie, is that we feel that a movie that involved so many talented people and took so long to bring to fruition should have flaws a lot more minor than these. First of all, this is a long, lead-paced movie. Even the movie's defenders admit that the final sequence drags on and on, but even the first hour of the movie seems twice that length.

For me, the movie's biggest problem is that the premise itself is inherently incorrect. For one thing, I can't figure out why Monica would ever imprint David's love program in the first place. As played by Osment, David is a freaky little tyke, following Monica around constantly, staring at her with big doe eyes and a placid smile, barking out inhuman laughter at the dinner table. The kids in Village of the Damned are more normal than this thing. And although it's maintained that the robo-boy is developed for childless couples, it doesn't seem to occur to anybody that the main demographic who would be interested in purchasing a kid that never grows up, never needs taking care of, and loves you no matter what... would be pedophiles. As for David's odyssey, it's a lengthy series of non-events, punctuated by the eye candy of Rouge City and the submerged New York City.

The only part of A.I. that truly comes alive, and conveys a sense of what might have been possible, is David's nighttime encounter with a band of decrepit robots scavenging for spare parts, and their subsequent trip to an outdoor carnival called the Flesh Fair. Part of the greatness of this sequence is due to the fact that this is really Stan Winston's show. Here we can just sit back and marvel in the variety of complex robot creatures Winston's studio created. But also, we finally get a taste of the robotic subculture. This, the idea that humans have abandoned their creations but the creations live on, is perhaps the strongest thematic concept Kubrick developed. Unfortunately, it's only in this sequence that we get a vivid and dramatic illustration of the theme. Every other time it's brought up, it's in the form of clunky dialogue scenes with Mechas talking long and saying nothing.

On disc, DreamWorks has given A.I. a deluxe treatment that is sure to please its supporters. Longtime Spielberg cinematographer Janusz Kaminski's varied palette of images receives a bright, solid, 16x9 enhanced transfer. This must have been a difficult picture to bring to DVD, employing glowing earth tones for the first part of the film, inky black shadows in the forest, dazzling, hyperreal Vegas-on-steroids colors in Rouge City and over saturated whites in the future. Making things more complex, the special effects are composites of every technique under the sun, from miniatures to CGI to puppetry. For all its challenges, the image is seamless, perfectly capturing what Kaminski and Spielberg intended. I saw no edge enhancement at all and, unlike many CGI-heavy films, the image was not overly, artificially sharp. Three audio tracks are provided (four if you count the French 5.1 track). The 5.1 Dolby Digital track is surprisingly subdued, employing bass and surround effects sparingly. I preferred the DTS track, which is able to convey the sonic subtleties with higher fidelity and greater warmth.

DVD guru Laurent Bourzeau was responsible for the extra features and they are up to his usual high standards. Well... for the most part. Feel free to skip the Creating A.I. featurette on Disc One. This might have been a studio-created EPK. Whether it is or not, it feels like a trailer for Disc Two. The bulk of the second disc is essentially a feature-length documentary broken up into multiple featurettes. The running time of the individual pieces adds up to somewhere north of 90 minutes. This isn't a bad way to present the information and it certainly enables you to go directly to what you're most interested in, although the presentation does result in the disc going a bit sub-menu crazy. Bourzeau speaks to virtually every key creative person involved with A.I., leaving no aspect of the movie uncovered. Unfortunately, we don't get much about Kubrick's vision, apart from how he related to Spielberg. Perhaps we never will, considering Kubrick's reputation, but I suspect Spielberg could have divulged more than he did.

The A.I. Archives is a trove of trailers, detailed storyboards, concept art and photo galleries. This is an impressive array, though I've never understood why so many DVDs will load up their galleries with sketches from every design aspect except for costumes. The A.I. Archives really can't be considered comprehensive without Bob Ringwood's costume design sketches. On the subject of overlooked goodies, it would have been nice to see some of the puzzling Internet ballyhoo concocted to drum up interest in the movie. A.I.'s confounding Internet campaign was the subject of much speculation at the time of its release. It's odd that there is no mention of it here. The package is rounded out with extensive production notes as well as biographies and filmographies for the cast and crew.

With its estimable pedigree and complex production history, A.I. Artificial Intelligence is certainly a movie that deserved the special edition treatment on DVD. But no amount of bells and whistles will convince me that this is a journey worth taking. I'm sure aspects of A.I. will be debated by film buffs for years to come. Did Spielberg do justice to the concept or did he unforgivably mar what would have been Kubrick's greatest work? Obviously, we'll never really know the answer to that. But as much as I dislike 99% of Steven Spielberg's recent work, I don't think he's entirely to blame for the debacle of A.I.. I believe he was working from a concept that was underdeveloped and half-baked to begin with. When Kubrick called Spielberg up and said, "I think you're better suited to direct this than me," maybe he didn't mean it as a compliment.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com




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