Several years ago, director Stanley Kubrick had several projects in development that he was considering. One, "A.I.", certainly had his interest, but he had decided that special effects were not quite to the point that could work for the kind of undertaking that would be required. While he waited, he filmed "Eyes Wide Shut", but unfortunately, passed away shortly after. It turned out though, that during that time, Kubrick was communicating with director Steven Spielberg about having him direct "A.I." instead.
The movie is sort of "Pinocchio" crossed with "E.T.", with touches of "Tron", "Blade Runner" and several other pictures. Taking place in the future, global warming has caused the ice caps to melt and oceans have swallowed up any seaside cities (New York, etc). The effects used to create the sunken Manhattan make those of "Deep Impact" look primitive by comparison. During this time, population growth is limited and robots are brought in to fill in the gaps. Professor Hobby (William Hurt), who leads Cybertronics, is able to come up with a prototype robot named David (Haley Joel Osment), a robot child who can actually feel and understand love. The company believes that employee Henry Swinton (Sam Robards) and his wife Monica (Frances O'Connor) are candidates to take care of David, since their only son Martin (Jake Thomas) is critically ill and frozen until a cure for his illness can be found. The company believes that David can be a "substitute" of sorts. Originally, it's Monica who is completely against any such idea and Henry who is positive about the introduction of the boy-bot.
As time goes by and Martin gradually makes a suprise recovery though, things slowly change. Monica has gotten used to David and even begun to love him while Henry has grown to distrust the boy. After a particular incident, Monica is forced to take David back - but rather than have him be destroyed by the company he came from, she sets him free in the woods, with only a super-toy stuffed bear called Teddy, who is a real scene-stealer. Anyways, this sequence bridges the gap from what would be considered the first part of the movie into act two. David falls in with a group of robots in the woods who are quickly caught by a group (lead by Brendan Gleeson) who run a "flesh fair" where real humans are entertained by watching robots be destroyed in horrifying ways. David latches onto one of the closest bots, Gigolo Joe (Jude Law, in one of his many terrific performances) and asks for protection. After the audience rises up, David and Joe are allowed to go. David is searching for a mystical creature that can "turn him into a real boy"; I won't give away the exact nature of it.
"A.I." does jump somewhat awkwardly between a light and dark tone, but the story keeps gaining increasing strength as the picture goes along, showing off impressive effects like Rouge City and the sunken Manhattan, as well as more energy simply behind the story itself - Law's fun, engaging performance also lends the movie a kick when he enters. Besides Law's superb performance, praise really must go to Haley Joel-Osment, who did a truly terrific job with "The Sixth Sense", but here, he really has to carry a much bigger picture almost completely on his shoulders.
The only piece of the film that stuck me as more than minimally flawed was the ending. There's a point late in "A.I" where many will likely get out of their seats and start packing up their belongings, which feels and seems like it's the end of the story - but it's not. That part alone would have been a dark, but satisfying ending. Yet, the movie abruptly goes on for another very unexpected 25 minute-or-so segment that doesn't work particularly well either - it feels a bit sappy and clipped on.
Still, with the nearly 145 minute running time, I never felt bored. I certainly wouldn't call "A.I." a classic or a masterpiece, but I think that it's definitely worth a look. While some of the advertisements made the film appear as if it was a kid-friendly picture, some younger children may be pretty scared by some scenes.
VIDEO: Dreamworks presents "AI" in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. While I have been slightly displeased with a couple of the studio's recent DVD presentations, "AI" is nearly a reference quality presentation. Given the picture's stunning visual appearance and the beautiful cinematography from Janusz Kaminski, the picture already has an extremely eye-catching appearance. Sharpness and detail on this presentation is generally pleasant, if not exceptional; the picture appears slightly on the soft side during several sequences, but they also appeared this way in the theater.
The picture appeared nearly free of flaws. Slight grain was visible in the theater and is visible again on this DVD release, but print flaws are absent. The picture remained free of even slight specks or marks for a crystal clear appearance. Adding to the presentation's natural, film-like appearance was the absence of edge enhancement and pixelation, which made for a smooth, crisp image throughout.
Due to the visual design of the picture, colors could vary from scene-to-scene, looking extremely subdued at times and vivid and bright at others. Either way, colors looked accurate and well-presented. Black level also remained very solid, while flesh tones were accurate and natural. This is quite excellent work.
SOUND: "AI" is presented by Dreamworks in both DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's sound design by ace sound designer Gary Rydstrom is very interesting, with occasional agressive use of the surrounds. Still, while there are some fairly loud sequences, there are an equal amount of more subtle sequences that are almost equally enjoyable and enveloping. The "Flesh Fair" sequence is probably the best example of how agressive the soundtrack can become, while the first hour or so remains detailed, but rather quiet and forward-oriented.
Audio quality remained excellent throughout the film. As previously mentioned, the film has moments of agressive surround and strong bass as well as quiet pin-drop moments and both ends of the spectrum remained rich and crisp. The John Williams score sounded well-integrated and warm, while dialogue and effects came through clearly. Both the Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks were very enjoyable, but the DTS soundtrack provided a slightly crisper and richer soundtrack, although the differences were very minimal.
Note: Those looking for an isolated score should seek out the DVD-Audio release of the "AI" score, which offers both DVD-Audio 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 editions of the Williams score.
MENUS: Both discs offer quite beautifully animated main and sub-menus, complete with scenes from the movie in the background.
Creating AI: This is the only featurette that joins the movie itself on disc one. A 12-minute piece, this involves director Spielberg, as well as some of the other cast and crew and it gives a good general overview.
Acting AI: This section provides two featurettes, A Portrait Of David and A Portrait Of Gigolo Joe. Both of these featurettes provide good insight to the characters, as they follow the creation of the characters and how the actors originally got involved with the project. Interviews with Haley Joel Osment and Jude Law are featured and both provide insightful comments about their work on the film and what drew them to the feature. These could have been retellings of what happens to the characters in the movie, but thankfully, neither of these featurettes would fall into that catagory.
Designing AI: This section provides two featurettes, one that focuses on the set design and one that focuses on the costume design. Both run about eight minutes or so. The former is a bit more interesting than the latter, as it provides interviews with Chris Baker, who worked with Stanley Kubrick early on to realize the look of the picture that Kubrick had in mind.
AI Archives: Given that a major amount of pre-visualization was done on this movie and there probably was work done years earlier, given Stanley Kubrick's involvement, it's nice to see such a major archive of stills and other materials. This wealth of information is broken into: storyboards, Chris Baker's portfolio, Production Design portfolio, ILM portfolio, Portrait Gallery photographs by David James and Stephen Spielberg behind-the-scenes photographs by David James. Two trailers are also included in this section (Dolby Digital 5.1) and I honestly didn't like them very much. I never particularly liked "A.I."'s trailers and felt that they were partially responsible for the film's so-so box office.
Closing: This is a 3-minute closing discussion from director Steven Spielberg. While this could have been an interesting discussion of his feelings about working on such a major picture, it instead becomes a rather silly discussion of artificial intelligence mainly revolving around the question: "what if your electric toothbrush could talk to you?"
Visual Effects/ILM: This section is broken up into different featurettes, including, Overview, The Robots, The Miniatures, New York City Sequence Shot Progression and Animating AI. All of these featurettes offer interviews from ILM's effects artists and really provide a very good, very organized overview of the film's remarkable visual effects. The New York City sequence progression is particularly interesting, but all of the featurettes included are worth checking out.
Robots Of AI: Probably one of the coolest featurettes on the disc, this is a 13-minute documentary that takes the viewer on a tour of Stan Winston's effects studio, who worked to create the robotic characters of the film. It's fascinating to see Winston and crew, who have done unbelievable work on scores of previous films, to try and realize the look of these robots.
Lighting AI: This is a 6-minute featurette that revolves around interviews with longtime Spielberg cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, who discusses the film's lighting and general visual style.
The Sound And Music of AI This section includes two different featurettes, one focusing on the sound of "AI", which features an interview with sound designer Gary Rydstrom and the other on the score, revolving around the work of composer John Williams. The Rydstrom interview is very interesting, as he discusses the different sound atmospheres that were created for the different sections of the movie. Other topics covered include how Rydstrom became involved earlier than usual on this picture, as well as the process of creating a voice for some of the characters, such as the Teddy Bear. The Williams piece focuses on the concepts of creating score to match the tone and feel of the picture.
Also: Cast/filmmaker bios, production notes. No DVD-ROM features, suprisingly.
Final Thoughts: "AI" isn't without some minor flaws and an unnecessary last 25 minutes, but it's certainly a film with terrific visual effects and great performances. It's well worth seeing and Dreamworks has provided a very good 2-DVD edition, complete with a strong presentation of the film itself as well as some superb supplements. Recommended.
The Film *** 1/2