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Film Review for July 6th
A.I - Directed by Steven Speilberg
Reviewed by Dennis Morton

The phrase 'Artificial Intelligence' has a certain cachet. It makes a good title for Stephen Spielberg's latest movie, which opened recently in area theatres. A more accurate but less artful title would have been 'Artificial Love', because it suggests the biggest of the many questions this film asks. 

I remember the sensation I had, years ago, upon reading an op-ed piece by James Watson, the Nobel Laureate. He suggested that we humans ultimately boil down to a bag of elements, and that one day even the mystery of love would be reduced to a bio-chemical formula. The notion that there could be a physics of affection riled me. Even if it were so, love was the kind of mystery I could live with, the kind of mystery something inside me never wanted solved.

The first time I saw "A.I.", I left the theatre in a state of perplexity. There were sections of the movie I loved, and parts I felt ambiguous about. That's often not a good sign. But on the strength of what I found compelling, I knew I'd return for a second viewing. And now, four screenings later, I'm ready to see it again, and again. Art is inexhaustible. It becomes richer and more mysterious with every visitation. And such is the case with Spielberg's "Artificial Intelligence".
The major critics are all over the board on this one. Even those who loved the movie seem to feel that it's almost too big, that there's too much going on. I'll call that 'artificial satiety' and suggest that the cure is to see the movie again. "A.I." is packed, but it's not dense. Technically the movie is a marvel: understated, seamless editing; gorgeous photography; mesmerizing effects and fine acting, especially from Jude Law and Haley Joel Osment. 

"A.I." is set in the near future. Global warming has melted the polar ice-caps. Coastal cities around the world are inundated. The wealthiest nations have imposed sanctions on childbirth and robots have been developed to deliver services once provided by working men and women. There are even robots for sex. In one memorable scene, a character named Gigolo Joe says to his client Patricia, "once you've had a lover robot, you'll never want a real man again."
Into this world is born a child, a mechanical child, imbued by its creator with advanced circuitry designed to simulate emotions. The market is ripe for a surrogate child. This 'mecha' child is named David. We follow David's adventures over the years, more years than we at first imagine.
That's as much detail  as I want to reveal. But let me suggest what the movie is 'about'. It's a cautionary tale. It asks us to consider which are our essential values, the values that define our very humanity. And it asks us to consider the importance of 'story' in our evolutionary history. Using the fairy tale Pinocchio to illustrate his most important point, Spielberg is suggesting that we are in grave danger of losing our souls, the very spirit that differentiates us from the machines we've built to serve us. "A.I." asks us to think hard about what it means to love and to be alive.
Ignore the hubbub about "A.I."'s parentage. It's true that Stanley Kubrick conceived of it, but this is Stephen Spielberg's baby. He resurrected it and nursed it into being, for which I am grateful. It made me think and laugh and even cry. It's the best film I've seen this summer.
Pinch-hitting for the Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.

Copyright Dennis Morton 2001