Sunday, May 8, 2011

A.I. Artificial Intelligence: Kubrick vs Spielberg

I'm not sure if I'm supposed to like A.I. as much as I do but then again, I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to like The Chipmunk Adventure as much as I do either and nothing's stopping me from watching that at least 3 times a year. A.I was one of the first films I saw that made me appreciate film. Not in a "Dude, this movie is awesome!" way but more like in a "Wow look at that shot, that is a brilliant shot!" way. Some may refer to this day, as the day I received my license to be a pretentious snob about film but I like to refer to it as the day my eyes opened.

A.I. gets a lot of flack for some reason. In my opinion, the brunt of the flack comes from the idea that Spielberg ruined what was presumably Kubrick's vision. People seem to look at the film for what it could have been rather than what it is. But are they right? Did Spielberg really ruin the film or do we automatically make that assumption because of who Kubrick is? A filmmaker who thrives on the importance of perfection can not possibly be matched up with the man responsible for making Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull right? Wrong.

I love Steven Spielberg and I love Stanley Kubrick. Luckily, most of the people I associate with have a similar mindset and the world can go on turning peacefully. The thing about A.I. that people forget is that Kubrick wanted Spielberg to direct it. The film was born sometime in the 70s as Kubrick began his adaption of Brian Aldiss' short story, Super-Toys Last All Summer Long.

In 1985, Kubrick brought on board Steven Spielberg to be the film's producer. While the film cycled through various writer's it ultimately landed itself in nowhere-ville until finally having the story completed in 1991. In 1995, Kubrick ultimately decided that the film was closer to Spielberg's sensibilities and handed the project over to him. Spielberg however decided on directing other films and convinced Kubrick to stay on as director.

We know how the story goes from there, Kubrick chose to focus instead on Eyes Wide Shut and then died in 1999 before the film was released. This meant that the start of a very intriguing and intelligent film was left behind with no one left to direct it except the one man that could.

So with the colorful history of A.I. comes people's perceptions about this and that and how much of the film was really Kubrick's and how much of it was Spielberg's. The thing is though, most of the film is really still Kubrick--and you can tell that it is. After the film was released and people got all crotchedy about what they perceived to be a poor film due to "Spielberg taking over a Kubrick vision", everyone made assumptions. They assumed that Spielberg added in all this cheesy, emotional business. It's a fair call to make since we all know how Spielberg likes to mix in heartbreak and sadness with his Science Fiction. BUT listen to this: it was in fact Kubrick's vision to have the story go to places of emotional upheaval. The beginning, and the end--the most emotional bits in the film were all Kubrick.

Spielberg says himself, "it was Stanley who did the sweetest parts of A.I., not me. I'm the guy who did the dark center of the movie, with the Flesh Fair and everything else. That's why he wanted me to make the movie in the first place. He said, 'This is much closer to your sensibilities than my own."

So yes, Spielberg took the vision and made it his own, but there is still a strong sense of Kubrick emanating from much of A.I. Can't you feel it? It's in the simplistic way that the film is shot in its beginning and end. There is this amazingly pure feeling there, that isn't compromised by anything. There are so many shots that are just...nice. I can't even describe them.

We may not have an exact account of what was what, but there was a fair amount of concept art and storyboarding that happened before Kubrick's death which always makes me feel that Spielberg was in essence working off of a cheat sheet. A really awesome cheat sheet.

I enjoy the beginning of this film so much that sometimes it's hard to explain to people why I do. So far I've come up with this--there is so much love and sadness going on, but it still looks and feels so beautiful. I think this movie gave me one of my first girl crushes ever, Frances O'Connor, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?

Everything about these opening moments is so calculated in this almost effortless way. The idea of the entire film acting as a modern (futuristic) fairy tale. The ever apparent theme of Pinnocchio, the Blue Fairy and becoming a real boy.

The overarching idea or conundrum of a robot boy being capable of loving, and the problem that he may be the one that needs the loving.

Hayley Joel Osment gives one of his best performances here---he is at once inhuman and startlingly human. It makes my head hurt when I think about it.

This scene, is responsible for making me want to take up acting.

Which I have since stopped after realizing I was bad at it. Some may group it in the "overly emotional" side of things but I disagree. This gives me chills, why does it move me so much? I'm still trying to figure this out but I'm guessing it has something to do with my heart or something.

And then we arrive at what is probably my favorite scene of all time. Or shot I favorite shot of all time, is a steady shot of Jude Law's robot face, glowing against the backdrop.

Stop laughing alright. I don't love this because it's Jude Law mmmmk. There's just something about this that I find so unbelievably mystifying. He really looks like a fucking robot, I mean he doesn't blink.

And then of course get arrive at what is apparently Steven Spielberg kingdom. When you step into the Flesh Fair, you feel like you've taken a wrong turn--and you should feel that way.

Up until now, all we've had to really look at it is the love and sadness of one family. Just as David is being pushed out into the world, so are we as viewers for the first time experiencing the outside. It is here that we get a first account of that "civil war" between robots and humans. The Flesh Fair is flashy yes, and it's very Spielberg with its flashy dog motorcycles and neon lights and fucking robot Chris Rock in a cannon.

This doesn't mean though that it destroys any part of A.I. So it's different, so what? I still find it to be moving in its own way. The scary treatment of robots, and the showmanship involved in tearing these machines apart is so trashy--yet is participated in by all these...normal people. It makes me feel bad for robots!

These broken and old robots. The robot in the doctor's coat, the robot stating that he still works fine he just needs a repair. Isn't it sad?

Maybe I'm just a softie, but if the whole concept behind Artificial Intelligence is the power of David and the power that he has to love--I can't help feeling like all these other robots have a certain amount of life too.

If we look at Gigolo Joe for example, a robot also created to "love" but in a very different way, we realize that aside from the fact that Joe does not have a mother--we still end up feeling an attachment to him. We still value Joe as we would value David don't we? The robots in A.I. in that way are people, and they are strong characters.

A.I. may be over 2 hours long, but it doesn't prevent me from becoming lost in the entire film and watching it all without stopping. I love the evolution of David's character, and the strange journey to find the "blue fairy".

Who by the way is voiced by Meryl Streep, who got top billing and spoke for maybe 3 minutes in the entire film. Forgive me, but yes the Flesh Fair may have been Spielberg's only real contribution, but there's no way in hell Stanley Kubrick would go for paying Meryl Streep all that money just to read a couple of lines. Just throwing that out there.

Anyways, I love how fucking sad everything is but how oddly happy everything becomes by the end. A.I. is actually one of those movies on my instant tear jerking list. I always try REALLY hard not to cry at the end but damn it. I can't help it if it's moving okay? I can't help it if I feel truly sad for David and what he has been through.

I never really understood the end of A.I. until watching again recently. The film, like most films I've seen between my youth and now has a much different meaning now.

It's one of those rare films that will affect you differently each year that you grow older and I love that. Sure, the bulk of what I was feeling there at the end had mostly to do with my cat, but one of these days I'll probably be a mother and then what? Niagara Falls my friends.

So yes. I love A.I., and I hope that some of you do too. It may have a few hiccups here and there, but I still feel like it is one of the most important films I have ever seen. Is that weird? Should I be saying that Citizen Kane or 12 Angry Men is the most important film I've seen? Probably. But I'm not, and therein lies the difference between them and me. There's something about A.I that truly and utterly moves me. The feeling like I'm watching something done right.

All in all, A.I. is one of the most unique films out there. Imagine a film that was conceptualized by one man up until his death and then taken over by one of his best friends. The results by all accounts should be sloppy. Here though, the results are inspiring. Kubrick's spirit still seems to survive in the world of A.I., with a few nods here and there to Spielberg's style. Ultimately though, A.I. smells very strongly of Kubrick, a haunting glance back into a man that we lost only years before. It's like those odd moments when you walk into a room and swear that someone who had died, was just there minutes before. A.I. captures that essence and proves that it is indeed a Stanley Kubrick film after all. Creepy, beautiful and sad: A.I. in a nutshell and I have a feeling I'll never be able to let it go.


Anonymous said...

Ever since he died, Kubrick's films have been subjected to a wealth of analysis, writers hitting upon hidden meanings everywhere. Just recently The Shining was discovered to be able to be played backwards and forwards, or mirrored in a way.

It seems AI was Kubrick's attack on Hollywood, Spielberg and the artificial intelligence of goofball human beings. Is there anything funnier and more bitterly ironic than Spielberg directing a film titled Artificial Intelligence? It's like Kubrick knows exactly how the Berg's brain works. The film's robot kid is your typical brain dead, naive Spielberg machine, whose dimwittedness is positively the norm in our society.

pzomb said...

I know many people don't rate this movie but I do love it. The whole idea that the "robot" boy was Pinocchio who just wanted to be loved for the family he was created for was such a simple but heart warming story. His journey in search of the blue fairy who would grant his wish is the perfect fairy tale really and whoever directed it in the end, they managed to sell that fact to the watcher. David is the little boy who just wants to be loved. He may be a robot but in the end he transcends that fact and as simple as any "artificial intelligence" may be, he just wants to be accepted in the role he was created for. In the end he gets that for himself, and that is the true beauty of the story really. He was just a robot created to help people through their grief but in the end he turned into the one person that was made truly happy. In the end, what do we want but to be truly happy? and yes...he got that.

deadlydolls said...

Firstly, thank you for defending Spielberg here. I get so tired of the 'Spielberg mushied up Kubrick's dark dystopia!" argument that I don't buy.

I *like* A.I. and do agree heartily that it reads differently each time you see it. I think Jude Law is absolutely amazing and as you point out, some of those shots are truly unique and haunting. I'm still not sure how sold I am on that coda, but the film has definitely grown on me over the years.

Franco Macabro said...

One of my favorite Spielberg films, I like you am not afraid to express my love for it. Its equal parts Kubrick and equal parts Spielberg, its the marriage of these two directors that makes this one unique.

I also like the philosophical themes of the film, specially when it goes into David's search for his creator.

I love everything about this movie and cant understand why some people would not find it to be a masterpiece.

deaner said...

I think the main difference is that Kubrick's version (if he had directed it) would have been rated R & would have included nudity. The sex aspect would have been less sanitized and definitely darker.

I still like the movie though, but don't love it.

Andre Dumas said...

See, I'm not convinced there would have been sex deaner. The plan all along was to embrace the sweeter, lighter aspect of everything, and it was Spielberg after all who took care of the dark elements of the Flesh Fair and the Rouge City. Gigolo Joe was originally supposed to be a G.I and not a prostitute. But of course I suppose there could have been a few more boobs..

Anonymous said...

See, that's a mistake people often make. People too often mistake Spielberg's fondness for sadism as "darkness". The Flesh Fair, and fare like Saving Private Ryan, are actualy cosy and sentimental. It's reactionary violence. The cutesy ending of AI is the kind of soul crushing darkness only Kubrick knew how to find.

Anonymous said...

Awesome writing! That´s all:)

Anonymous said...

I have to say, this is one of my favourite films. It's truly heartbreaking, one of those films that leaves you breathless and just shatters you from the word go. Kubrick? Unethically gifted with a mind for storytelling that's as poetic as it is sharp. I can't stand that there'll never be another Kubrick film for my pleasure and pain. Despite his thoughts on Spielberg and the Hollywood machine, the film itself, Haley Joel's performance, and the story are just gorgeous.

Anonymous said...

Great write-up as always, Andre. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, despite its occasional pretentiousness. How can anyone NOT like Gigolo Joe?

Just wanted to let you know that I included a link to this article in the latest "issue" of Spatter Analysis.

Check it out!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your so concise, accurate and objective view about this truly wondrous and wonderful piece of film making. The world does indeed seem to littered with conflicting rubbish views about it - some of it hit, most miss; I've not seen anything written which nails it like you have. Just BTW, though I'm not the first to say it, I know, but why did the 'berg-meister bury the acknowledgement to Kubrick so deep into the credits - egad, the guy had been developing the film for decades! Francois.

Anonymous said...

The acting was decent and the directing was fantastic for the vast majority of the film, regardless of who was doing what, but what people aren't realizing is Spielberg isn't blamed for ruining the vast majority, but for ruining the ending, which ruined the vast majority. The aliens emerge in the story once the story seems to have already closed. They don't fit and they enter simply to make a good ending that's not so happy into a ridiculously absurd happy ending that's not so good. I refuse to believe that was Kubrick's wish. Being the perfectionist he was, he would have at least made the ending flow better with the rest of the film, even if he kept the damn aliens. The entire scenario in New York is also filled with implausible and unlikely situations in order to get to the blue fairy. This is Spielberg trying to make us smile, which he does successfully in E.T. and Close Encounters, but not here. Call the end Kubrick's, Mr. Spielberg, but you kept all this crap. Kubrick would have at least taken the time to polish it off and make the crap look nice. I loved the movie until the end and then couldn't forgive Spielberg for his lack of perfectionism. Kubrick would have directed a better film. Sure he may have put some words on paper and done some sketches, but he always did numerous rewrites. This is a Spielberg film because the Kubrickian perfection was not present.

no-aliens-here said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
no-aliens-here said...

Oh ALEX!!!

The reason the movie "fell apart" at the end is because the beings are NOT aliens!

They are the A.I. that had evolved into the future and OUTLIVED us. So our creations survive our extinction and then dig us up from the ice, looking for their "god" so to speak.

They are ROBOTS, not aliens, and because of that it makes PERFECT sense and the ending is brilliant.

Need I mention how much more civilized and compassionate they were than we? Perhaps the switch that was flipped that made robots capable of love (of which David was the first) is what allowed them to become so much better than we were.

PLEASE watch that movie again and leave aliens out of it. It astounds me that so many people make that mistake!

no-aliens-here said...

For those already in love with this movie, these short vids on its symbolism are very interesting.

And for those who still think there are aliens involved for some strange reason, the second vid CLEARLY states that the creatures at the end are robots.

This brings the movie around in an interesting way. Humans create robots who can love, then robots create humans who can love (Monica).

And the question is - which is real, or is any of it, etc. etc. etc.