Every Thursday, I revisit a film that I have strong memories of watching, to see how well my memories of it hold up to scrutiny, and whether the film is as good (or as bad) as I remember.
Warning. This week’s review includes spoilers.
What I Remember…
One of things I remember most about the release of A.I. was most people thinking it was a bit of a dud and me really liking it. As for the film itself? A big moon. A bear. Some robots that look like those sculptures of people made out of massive nails that you don’t tend to see much of anymore. Erm… I want to say a quite fragmented but linear plot. Something something a modern fairy tale.
What I Expected…
The chance to say I told you so.
What I found…
Well, I’m not going to be able to say I told you so.
A.I. is an interesting film but there is no escaping the fact that huge chunks of it are dog shit. The first forty minutes are boring. The last forty minutes are stupid and boring. There is very little that happens that doesn’t fall apart under scrutiny. During the whole Brendan-Gleeson-and-his-neon-power-rangers-on-motorbikes-catch-robots-in-a-hot-air-balloon bit, the film never fully explains whether the robots they destroy at their ‘Flesh Fair’ are sentient or not (or rather, it’s implied they are but one of the fundamental plot points of the film is that they aren’t). And I know it doesn’t matter at all, but why is there a city the size of New York dedicated to the sex industry? If that many people want to pay for sex, wouldn’t it make more economical sense to just have brothels evenly spread across the country? We don’t have one massive Lidl metropolis, do we? No. We have many, small Lidl’s, one or two in each town.
But, despite its many faults, despite my already saying that eighty of its a hundred and forty six minutes are boring, it’s never actually boring. Not really. Not boring boring. There is a lot worth watching, especially in the middle. Jude Law is electric as Gigolo Joe. The teddy bear is great. That big moon/hot air balloon still inspires awe. The character of David is a brilliant realisation of an artificial device trying to make sense of its own sentience, and Haley Joel Osment perfectly captures the ambiguity of its personality, never fully sympathetic or threatening.
So, how Good was my memory?
Not great. I wasn’t even right about the reaction to it at the time. After watching the film I did a bit of research and found out my memories of the film getting a critical kicking were exaggerated. It got a mixed reception, not a rough one. It may be that my sources were more limited at the time and I didn’t see the full reaction to it. It does appear that its reputation has grown over time though. For example, ‘Mark Kermode apologized to Spielberg in an interview in January 2013 for “getting it wrong” on the film when he first viewed it in 2001. He now believes the film to be Spielberg’s “enduring masterpiece”.’* Realistically, I don’t think A.I. would even make a top ten of Spielberg’s work but it is an interesting
And how good is the film?
I’m not sure. It has aged weirdly. Bits of it look ridiculous through no fault of the makers (the scene where the robots share David’s memories by touching each other on the shoulder does imply a civilisation with a level of technology that allows them to suck the memories directly out of a robot’s face but that hasn’t discovered bluetooth). Other bits look ridiculous because they were terrible ideas at the time (even if you swallow everything the film throws at you over the first two hours, the idea that the robots can ‘bring humans back’ using their DNA but that they will only live for a day makes so little sense that it can’t help but make you angry). Other parts of the film really work. It’s the little things, like Teddy repeatedly asking for help to find David, wording it differently every time he asks, as he is carried to a lost-and-found, a machine trying to solve a problem, or Gigolo Joe’s last words, or the differences in the intentions and outcomes of the behaviour of David and his human ‘brother’ Martin, that stick with you rather than the broad strokes of the Flesh Fair or the overly sentimental ending.
In fact, while I started writing this review convinced that the film isn’t very good the process of writing it has made me doubt myself. I think the film is good. Not Spielberg’s enduring masterpiece, perhaps, but maybe his enduring flawed masterpiece.
*quote from Wikipedia, because I am really good at research