Back Comments (5) Share:
Facebook Button

Feature


Over the years Steven Spielberg has outputted some of the most wildly popular and beloved films of all time. His name is a brand, and his brand speaks deeply to perhaps the broadest audience possible. Stanley Kubrick basically did the same thing with his career, but with an emphasis on intellectualism over emotion, and a greater relationship with critics than audiences. Many consider the two artists’ most prominent sensibilities somehow diametrical opposed, but in reality they were friends that greatly appreciated each other’s work. The notoriously secretive and enigmatic Kubrick even shared a project with Spielberg called AI: Artificial Intelligence, and asked Spielberg to act as director after realizing the project matched his ET masterminded sensibilities. Based on Brian Aldiss' short story ‘Super-Toys Last All Summer Long’, AI is a reimagining of the Pinocchio story that takes place in a future where child rearing requires difficult to obtain licenses. In an effort to quell maternal instincts, a company called Cybertronics develops the first android capable of experiencing human love. In the Clockwork Orange and Jurassic Park tradition, the invention leads to all kinds of moral conundrums and subtext – the perfect vehicle for both filmmakers. After decades of development Kubrick died, and Spielberg decided to take the project on in honour of his friend, and went on to produce one of his most misunderstood, strange, and challenging motion pictures.

AI: Artificial Intelligence
AI is a deeply haunting film, and one I don’t enjoy revisiting on the same regular basis as Spielberg’s other successful work. Every frame oozes dark subtext, every character is wracked with longing, and every story beat ends in heartbreak. The moral implications alone are the stuff of nightmares. Some critics accuse Spielberg of watering down Kubrick’s intentions for the project, mostly because it’s easy to pick on Spielberg’s super-popular fantasy visions, but even without the oodles of behind the scenes information that proves Spielberg was pretty devoted to Kubrick’s notes, not to mention the fact that Kubrick himself picked Spielberg as his partner on the project (for the record: Spielberg’s inventions include the sex-fueled Rouge City, robo-whore Gigolo Joe and The Flesh Fair), I’ve never had any trouble considering AI a nearly perfect balance of both filmmaker’s greatest strengths. The legion of critics that claim Spielberg softened Kubrick’s intended blow confuse me to no end. I’m not sure how this vision could be any ‘darker’ without devolving into an impossibly nihilistic mess. I suppose Spielberg could’ve tossed in a few curse words to secure an R-rating, but I can’t imagine AI being any more violent or tragic. Keep in mind my personal favourite list of motion pictures includes Battle Royale, Taxi Driver, Oldboy, Straw Dogs and Cannibal Holocaust. I’m no shrinking violet.

In terms of pure visual artistry AI often matches the achievements of all the most highly regarded filmed science fiction. At the very least, the look is specific and distinguished, even when it liberally quotes the same comic books and pulp illustrations that inspired Star Wars and Blade Runner. Spielberg and his crew create a recognizably stylistic, yet conceptually believable future, swimming with texture and beautifully contrasting styles. Not surprisingly this heavy stylization helps the decade old special effects stand up even in high definition, and will likely keep them at least somewhat relevant for another ten years. The film balances a realistic sense of technological evolution, and a fantastical sense of fairy tale rationale in an emotionally logical manner that transcends notions of realism, blurring the line between ‘hard’ sci-fi and quixotic fable. I’d even hazard to conceptually compare AI more to Hayao Miyazaki’s animation than more obvious films like the previously mentioned George Lucas and Ridley Scott vehicles. It’s also a more interesting companion piece to Minority Report than I’d previously credited it as. I once thought of AI as Spielberg winding up for a more adult take on his beloved sci-fi, but now I see that it’s actually an entirely different brand of mature futurism. Minority Report (the film among the two I prefer) is a rather edgy neo-modern version of traditional film noir, with emphasis on character – all very Philip K. Dick. AI, on the other hand, adapts traditional parable into a more traditional adult arena, and is left open to greater conceptual interpretation. Both films are ultimately heavily rooted in a moralist sci-fi tradition, and both advocate healthy discussion, but the terms are wildly different, despite both carrying the clear stamp of the same general group of filmmakers.

AI: Artificial Intelligence
It wouldn’t be a Spielberg film discussion without an argument about the ending. For a man that could probably wear the badge of ‘Best Living Film Director’, Spielberg has rarely convincingly stuck a landing. Even his most universally celebrated pictures are not without their climatic controversies. In fact, I struggle to think of any ending the director got 100% right since ET, but unlike Minority Report or War of the Worlds, the ending of AI doesn’t require leaps of faith or assumptions to the director’s possible intensions. Unlike those films (or Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List or Munich) I don’t feel the need to defend or argue in favour of AI’s final 30 plus minutes. I agree with the naysayers that the film works quite well if it ends with David praying to the Blue Fairy until the end of time, but also think the bittersweet coda speaks for itself, adds something genuinely profound to the story, and is akin to the post ‘tunnel of light’ sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey (keep in mind that it was a part of Kubrick’s treatment). The only major misstep I’d say Spielberg takes is in the tone of the Flesh Fair. The rock and roll imagery is slightly embarrassing at times (not to mention the fact that it dates the otherwise believably futuristic film), and the attempts at levity rob the truly horrifying moments of some of their nightmare juice (the Chris Rock-bot is way out of place), which I assume was Spielberg’s traditionally Spielbergian intent.

AI: Artificial Intelligence

Video


AI is a visual bridge between the rugged, high contrast warfare of Saving Private Ryan, and the grainy, monochromatic widescreen glory of Minority Report. This is likely because of the developing relationship between Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kamiński, who has worked exclusively with Spielberg’s since Schindler’s List (for a good laugh check out Kamiński’s pre-Spielberg fimography). In this regard AI is not the visual milestone Saving Private Ryan and Minority Report are, but it sits among the team’s most controlled visual environments. My memories of the film are super clean, almost sterile, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the reality is something grainy, smoky and blown out, and this transfer is close to the recent War of the Worlds release in terms of DVD to Blu-ray upgrade. There aren’t many superfine details to revel in, the frequency of grain is something some viewers will find oppressive, and the edges are all rather soft. This 1080p transfer is worth it for a lack of compression artefacts (specifically fuzzy edge enhancement and blocking effects), and the purity of colour elements. The early parts of the story are broken down into multiple colour chapters, each of which reflect David’s emotional state. The first chapter is plain and desaturated, the second chapter is warm and vibrant, and the third chapter is dark and cold. The HD transfer maintains the intended integrity of these elements. The more impressive scenes, however, follow this first act, and take place in Rouge City and the Flesh Fair. These scenes show the most colour diversity, and feature neon contrast that would make Tron blush with envy.

Audio


This new uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 soundtrack matches the new 1080p transfer in that it is a measurable upgrade over the DVD release, but is not such an extreme makeover as to require a Blu-ray double-dip for fans. The first really exuberant aural moment comes around the one hour point when the Flesh Fair attacks David, Joe, and the unlicensed mechas. The sound design is reminiscent of real life equivalents, but everything is slightly mechanized and artificial. The moon balloon vibrates overhead, the motorcycles buzz throughout the channels, and John Williams’ score kicks into a techno influenced overdrive. This is followed by the Flesh Fair itself – a celebration of violence against machinery set to a soundtrack by industrial pioneers Ministry. This sequence is brimming with screaming crowds, crunching machinery, and flaming explosions, all of which are featured largely throughout every channel. There’s plenty more to the track worth celebrating (David’s commandeering of a wet/dry helicopter, for example), but for the most part the music is a more telling aural element than the sound effects. And speaking of the music, I now realize this may be Williams’ most overlooked work with Spielberg. It’s not better than most of the composer’s most celebrated music, but AI’s music changes up styles in a manner Williams isn’t known for employing, but still couldn’t easily be mistaken for any other big name composer’s work.

AI: Artificial Intelligence

Extras


In keeping with Paramount’s other catalogue Spielberg releases AI: Artificial Intelligence features extras ported over from the previous DVD special edition release. These add up to basically one big behind the scenes documentary, but are broken down into a series of featuettes beginning with ‘Creating AI’ (12:00, SD), which covers the basic inception, Kubrick and Spielberg’s meetings, Spielberg’s screenplay, which was the director’s first solo credited script since Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and runs down the bulk of the collaborators by name. ‘Acting AI’ is divided into two subcategories – ‘A Portrait of David’ (9:10, SD) on casting Haley Joel Osment (Osment is creepily well-spoken in his interviews), and ‘A Portrait of Gigolo Joe’ (6:00, SD) on casting Jude Law. ‘Designing AI’ is broken into ‘ AI: From Drawings to Sets’ (7:30, SD), an exploration of production design, and ‘Dressing AI (5:30, SD), a look at the costume design. ‘Lighting AI’ (4:20, SD) covers Janusz Kamiński’s impressive cinematography with the man himself. ‘ AI/FX[/i]’ (7:40, SD) covers the more explosive and mechanically impressive practical effects. ‘The Robots of AI’ (13:40, SD) covers Stan Winston Studio’s puppet and make-up work on the film. ‘Special Visual Effects and Animation: ILM’ is broken into ‘An Overview’ (5:10, SD), ‘The Robots’ (2:30, SD), ‘The Miniatures’ (4:20, SD), ‘New York City Sequence’ (2:50, SD) and ‘Animated AI’ (8:10, SD). ‘The Sound and Music of AI’ is split into, shock, ‘The Sound of AI’ (4:30, SD) with Gary Rydstrom, and ‘The Music of AI’ (5:50, SD) with John Williams. The featurettes are completed with ‘Closing: Steven Spielberg: Our Responsibility to Artificial Intelligence’ (2:20, SD).

The extras are closed out with two trailers, both in HD, and the ‘ AI Archives’, a series of galleries including storyboards, designer Chris Baker’s portfolio, the production design portfolio, ILM concept art, portrait gallery photographs by David James and Steven Spielberg behind the scenes photographs by David James.

AI: Artificial Intelligence

Overall


The last ten years have been very kind to AI: Artificial Intelligence. I wasn’t always the film’s biggest fan, I’d even say I didn’t really like it the first time I saw it, but with every subsequent viewing I find myself developing a greater respect for it. At this point I’m even willing to compare it favorably to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Both films were too dark for audiences upon release, are largely driven by experimental visuals, and were largely criticized for reasons that seem inapplicable so many years after release. If you would’ve told me I’d be saying this 10 years ago I probably wouldn’t believe you, but that’s the power of taking chances with mainstream art. This Blu-ray release is the perfect time to revisit the film and perhaps reevaluate your own opinions.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


Links: