Re: My view of AI with spoilers

From: Greg Burch (
Date: Sun Jul 01 2001 - 08:58:32 MDT

My initial impression of "AI" depends on which standard by which I judge it.
By the standards of typical Hollywood "Sci-Fi" movies, it was in the first
rank, in my book just below "2001", "Blade Runner" and the few such films I
can (and do) watch repeatedly. "AI" is relatively self-consistent, which
puts it above the vast majority of what gets called "science fiction" in
Hollywood. It also at least tries to set out moral issues that derive from
the "science" in a complex fashion, again something that only a very, very
few cinematic treatments of science fiction have ever done.

Of course the criticisms of the scientific, technological and social
extrapolations that have already been made here are quite valid. The
extremely uneven impact of the technology depicted is a prime example: Here
we have a society capable of creating real artificial intelligence (and I
think the generation of robots before David would definitely have to count
as such) but, other than the climactic change that provides the backdrop for
the story, we have a society that seems largely unchanged by technological
advance. The comment that's been made about power sources is particularly
apt, as well: One of my favorite criticisms of the "science" of Star Wars is
to point out that in that world we see a society where every bankrupt
smuggler and marginal farmer can afford a hand-held weapon that can project
an endless series of energy streams sufficient to kill a person, but those
same people can apparently worry about where their next meal will come from.
The materials science inherent in Joe's morphing of his hair is enough in
itself to have transformed the world of "AI" - but apparently it is a trick
limited in application to sex bots.

On an artistic level, "AI" is a pastiche of the two very different styles of
the men who made it. During the movie I had to fight the impulse to play
the game of identifying which elements derived from the influence of Kubrick
and which from Spielberg. As has been pointed out, the most obvious of
these is the contrast between the cool objective tone of the first third of
the film and the sentimentalism of the last third. I was sorry to see that
Spielberg - who is a master of cinematic vocabulary (and made many obvious
quotations from other films) - seems to have missed entirely the chance to
pay homage to the power of Kubrick's signature symmetry of framing.
(Finding the evidence of that love of symmetry in Kubrick's work is one of
my favorite parts of enjoying his work.)

On first viewing, at least, the much-anticipated blending of the styles of
Kubrick and Spielberg isn't; instead, the film has the feel of collage,
rather than collaboration. Perhaps that is the metaphor of visual style
that should be employed to try to appreciate it. But, if so, then my
appreciation of it as a work of art will have to await a second or third
viewing, which I will almost certainly give it.

On a cultural level and with our recent discussions of the acceptance of
advancing science and technology in mind, I mark "AI" a success, if the
general movie-going audience will give it the attention it deserves. In
that regard, it belongs with "Blade Runner", "Aliens" and "Terminator 2" as
one of the few films in which the character of a sympathetic "synthetic
person" is offered up as the subject of a work of popular culture.
Unfortunately, Spielberg's somewhat heavy-handed sentimentality mars the
film. Unlike with the complexity of Roy's character in "Blade Runner" or
the implicit handling of Ripley's attitude toward the robot in "Aliens" or
the evolution of the Terminator's humanity in "T2", most of the moral
questions of humanity's relationship to synthetic people in "AI" is
heavy-handed and somewhat simplistic. For instance, the crowd's change of
heart regarding David at the flesh fair is too simply and quickly
accomplished. That whole sequence, which seems clearly to have been one of
the "key scenes" Kubrick used in his slow and methodical movie-making
technique, was treated in a much more superficial fashion than I believe the
master would have.

But David's "mommy's" attitude toward him does begin to address this complex
issue. That is enough to redeem the film, at least as a vehicle for
provoking a change in people's attitudes toward artificial life forms, I
think. Spielberg leaves us to wonder about the conflict within her,
avoiding the forced exposition that mars too much of the rest of the film.
He resolves the relationship in a way to which people can, I hope, relate in
a positive emotional fashion. If "AI" plants seeds with that one basic
element of its structure, then it will have been worth the attention of both
Kubrick and Spielberg.

Greg Burch

Vice-President, Extropy Institute

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