Monday, January 5, 2009

Revisting Artificial Intelligence: AI: RAI:AI

There is no controversy regarding what is wrong with Steven Spielberg's film, Artificial Intelligence: AI. If the title feels redundant, rest assured it is appropriate: every other scene in the movie feels as though you're re-watching the one before. There are very few films we truly consider "too long," but here the label certainly applies. The final twenty minutes are the very definition of superfluous. It is impossible to watch the end of the film without a sense of confusion and bewilderment settling in. We have never, in all our discussions of this movie, heard anyone argue that the final twist was needed or welcome.

It was a sense of curiosity that compelled us to gather in The Middle Room and view the film once more. None of us had seen it since it was originally released: indeed, we have heard of few people who felt the need to seek this out on DVD. Perhaps that is why we were able to find the 2-disk special edition marked down to five dollars.

And yet, not all our memories were negative. We have fond associations with aspects of the picture, and we wanted to see how it held up.

We should add that to discuss further is delve into details about the film and its story. Those who've yet to see this picture may wish to recluse themselves from further discussion. To put it crudely, there may be spoilers below. You are thus warned.

It should come as little surprise that the years have had little effect on the film. There were a few moments, though, when we found ourselves thinking of Wall-E, which may have been inspired in some ways by the picture. As anyone familiar with The Middle Room is no doubt already aware, this is high praise indeed.

What we find fascinating about Artificial Intelligence: AI (henceforth to be referred to as AI:AI for short) is that there is a great science fiction film contained within it, though the movie itself is mediocre at best. While this claim may seem appropriate to many films, its application is far more literal here than any other situation we can think of.

One could, we believe, edit AI: AI into a fantastic science fiction film lasting about an hour and a half. Further, this could be done using only the footage contained in the final product. The scenes themselves were beautifully imagined and shot, and the acting was good overall. There were some script problems, but nothing that couldn't have been fixed in the editing room.

As AI: AI now stands, it is a very dull movie with interesting moments. The ideas are intriguing; the execution tedious. It is, as we've said before, a good movie encased in a bad one. The movie itself is a dilemma, challenging these simple dichotomies with a complexity of quality far more fascinating than its own simplistic philosophical musings. Indeed, we posit that by virtue of existence it poses a greater challenge to the realist than a square circle ever could: AI: AI is truly contradiction incarnate.

Even with its problems, there is much to impress, much to enjoy. Visually, the movie is beautiful. Gigolo Joe and Teddy are fascinating characters, brilliant twists on the idea of servant robots. When David's quest evolves into a fairy tale the film begins to resonate, and it continues to do so until it randomly jumps ahead two thousand years.

Had they kept the first ending, with David beneath the sea praying to a statue for all eternity, the movie would have been truly poignant. As it is, the tension is shattered with as little care as the finale of The Village: what was intended as art comes off as bad comedy. But unlike in The Village, this is an error that can be amended with a remote control.

This is the true tragedy of the movie: the hard work was done. The movie was, for all intents and purposes, complete. Only in post-production was it effectively destroyed. That the same man created the picture as destroyed it is a great irony.

But, for all its flaws, there is enough in this film to justify five dollars. AI: AI has a great deal of replay value on DVD. Thanks to the fast forward button, this movie, we expect, will get better each time we watch it.

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