Spielberg’s latest project is a bizarre recycling of the Pinocchio story
A Steven Spielberg film of a Stanley Kubrick script might sound like an ideal match at first, but the onscreen results in Artificial Intelligence suggest otherwise. While many aspects of Spielberg’s A.I. work as homages to the director of A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey, too much of the finished product looks like an anthology of set pieces done alternately, and somewhat haphazardly, in the styles of the two directors.
And that’s being charitable about a film that is closer to tabloid kitsch than its solemn high-gloss style is ready to acknowledge. This, after all, is a story in which grieving adults embrace robotic replicants of children as replacements for their own lost or ailing children. The resulting melodramas are less concerned with pertinent moral and philosophical issues than with the more-human-than-thou emotional travails of individual robots.
This long, meandering movie has two very striking performances in it—young Haley Joel Osment as the child robot taken into a family and then sent away, and Jude Law as a sexual-service robot who teams up with the kid when both have become outcasts in the luridly muddled society of the near future.
Osment seems to be the Spielberg part of the movie, another lost kid trying to find his way home, while Law is the Kubrick part, an energetic rogue trying to survive in a corrupt world.
A futuristic Roman circus called the Flesh Fair, a heavy-metal concert with surrogate human sacrifices, seems the clearest indication of misanthropic satire in the Kubrickian mode. But Spielberg is clearly more interested in sentimental salvation, and so the story’s most provocative themes, and its most Faustian character (a scientist played by William Hurt), get muffled in Spielberg’s bizarre recycling of the Pinocchio story.
Finally, it’s hard to say which is scarier—Kubrick’s notion that we are less human than the things we’ve invented to take our places or Spielberg’s implication that if there is a God, he speaks to us only through Disneyfied children’s stories. Worse yet, the film leaves us indifferent on both counts.