We finally got to watching A.i.: Artificial Intelligence. We’re probably the last people alive who haven’t seen it, so I trust you will allow me the indulgence of a few spoilers in the course of my criticism.
Let’s start with the big issue: the movie has the most egregious deus ex machina ending I have seen in years of movie-watching. It’s so hideous that it could be used as the canonical example when educating future generations of movie makers in what not to do. Apparently the ending was part of the Kubrick script for the movie, but Spielberg gave it that final saccharine twist. I’d like to think that Kubrick would have seen sense and removed the whole thing, like he did the original pie fight ending to Dr Strangelove.
A.i. is supposedly some kind of tribute or homage to Kubrick…but of course, the problem is it’s hard to pick two directors whose styles are as dissimilar as Kubrick and Spielberg, unless you start talking about (say) Errol Morris and John Waters.
Visually, there’s really nothing Kubrick to see. The fight with the bike gangs is a frenetic MTV cut-up, rather than a sequence of smooth menacing tracking shots. Even when David finds rows of boxed Davids, and Spielberg finally tries to use a Kubrick-style tracking shot for effect, he keeps the camera too high and the result is merely tedious. In fact, it brought to mind the groundbreaking camera work of Ed Wood, as lovingly recreated by Tim Burton.
Perhaps the worst thing, though, is that Spielberg just can’t seem to avoid the temptation to try and make every single story into a kid-friendly movie. Thus a male robot prostitute suddenly takes David to visit the cartoon head of Albert Einstein, voiced by Robin Williams, which we’re told is conveniently situated in the middle of the biggest red light district on earth. No, that’s not the noise of Stanley Kubrick spinning in his grave, it’s just the whirling pulleys as my suspended disbelief comes crashing to the ground.
In the original script, the mother’s an alcoholic, and the robot kid inadvertently feeds her problem when he keeps making her Bloody Marys just the way she likes them, in a futile attempt to get her to love him. Yeah, that would have worked. What doesn’t work is making mom a nice mug of coffee. Not even if you whirl the coffee containers around in an inexplicable fashion in the middle of the shot. But problem drinking is an Adult Situation, so we can’t have that in a Spielberg movie.
Yes, it’s a fairy tale, but I’m old enough to remember that fairy tales used to have wicked witches and evil monsters in. C’mon, Mr Spielberg, I know you can do better.