When Machines Think

A brilliant, apocalyptic view of the future.

The final vision of Stanley Kubrick is brought to fruition in a epic vista of emotion and imagination, by none other than Steven Spielberg. But a word of warning - this isn't a flitty blockbuster like "Independence Day", but more of a saga like "The Abyss".

The film is set in the world of the future, where flooding due to global warming has pushed humanity further inwards. This is a society in which robots have been devised to fulfill all functions, from being super-toys to love-machines to normal children. This is also a society where the birth of children is regulated, and the human dislike of robots is astoundingly vicious. This is a society in which the parents of a terminally ill, cryogenically-frozen child will turn to a robot who's been programmed to love, in the hope for parental satisfaction.

That robot is David (Haley Joel Osment). David is a prototype adopted by the Swintons, whose son Martin is frozen till a cure for his terminal illness can be found. At first, Monica Swinton (O'Connor) is repelled by David's eerie human-like resemblance, which is offset by his un-childlike behaviour. But slowly, she is drawn into admitting him into her life and she "imprints" his mind with the feeling of love for her. And life continues. Till Martin recuperates, and returns home.

Slowly, the jealousy builds up till Martin gets David into trouble through a series of minor incidents, and David is deemed unreliable and dangerous. But, instead of returning him to Cybertronics (the company that made him) to be destroyed, Monica Swinton leaves him in the wild.

Accompanying the lonely David is Teddy, a supertoy teddy bear who is both clever and versatile, and Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a lover-robot who's wanted by the police. David's quest: to find the Blue Fairy (whom he remembers from the story of Pinnochio) and be "turned into a real boy".

Not to put too fine a point on it, but "A.I." is brilliant. True, the editing could have been little more crisp, especially in the beginning, where certain scenes seem superflous and a trifle overdone. Spielberg weaves his legendary magic and creates scenes of startling clarity and believability...and as for his apocalyptic view of Manhattan, you just have to see it to be stunned. The plot is quite easy to follow, but it could have been slightly more fast-paced. And the climax pushes the viewer's credulity a little.

The film simply belongs to young Osment. He has already shown his class by being nominated for an Oscar, and he just keeps getting better. This is a class act, where he goes from playing the slightly sub-human, inquisitve robot to the bewildered, affectionate child who only wants to love his Mommy. He plays his character with admirable restraint, depending on minimal facial expressions to convey a planetful of emotions.

The others are equally good - Jude Law, who played the drug-filled Renton in "Trainspotting", shows up as the consummate love-machine, full of confidence and sass (with a built-in music system to boot), and Frances O'Connor is great as the confused mother, who wants to love but doesn't know how much. But, for my money, the best character is that of Teddy, who mixes humour with concern and innovativeness.

The movie is a slow-moving saga and should be viewed as such, allowing it to build at its own pace. Do that, and you'll come away with a feeling of being witness to a brilliant vision.

This article was first published on 10 Dec 2001.