While many films stand the test of time, others fade into obscurity. Whether this happens over a period of years or almost instantly upon a film’s release, each of these titles have slipped through the cracks of our collective memory to join the ranks of the Films That Time Forgot.
In the strictest sense, A.I. isn’t a film that’s been entirely forgotten. However, for a film of its scope and ambition, it’s rarely talked about two decades after its release. For some films, this wouldn’t be surprising, but for a big-budget epic sci-fi fairytale from the minds of Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg, its lack of longevity becomes interesting.
A.I.‘s production was notoriously plagued by behind-the-scenes difficulties. Kubrick first started adapting Brian Aldiss’ short story “Super Toys Last All Summer Long” with the author himself writing the film treatment. However, Kubrick wasn’t happy, and cycled through a few writers before the production of the film was delayed while Kubrick worked on Eyes Wide Shut. Kubrick then died in 1999, and A.I. passed to Steven Spielberg.
The very different styles of the two directors make for an interesting end result. On the one hand, Kubrick’s influence is still present, but it’s pasted over with Spielberg’s magical touch. Oddly the dissonance actually works quite well in A.I.‘s favor, as it sets it apart from similar films, making A.I. feel like a genuine mixture of Pinocchio and Blade Runner.
One of the film’s biggest strengths is its actors. Haley Joel Osment and Jude Law are both thoroughly excellent as their Mecha characters. Osment perfectly captures the slightly unnerving but decidedly sweet nature of David, while Law is able to bring a sense of clockwork to Gigolo Joe with just a touch of softness. The strange relationship the pair strike up does actually feel something like two incompatible machines attempting to work together, and it’s a testament to the pair’s acting ability.
Visually, A.I. hits the mark in almost every scene. While there are a few instances in which its CGI has begun to look dated, its eye-catching design makes for a number of memorable scenes.
However, in spite of its many strengths, A.I. simply doesn’t deliver anything particularly satisfying. It’s mostly a rehash of Pinocchio with a glossy sci-fi sheen and an unsatisfying ending tacked on. One or two jarring moments in which narrative leaps are made are glossed over with expository narration which does very little to mask the anticlimactic nature of the film’s conclusion.
It’s undoubtedly a film with an awful lot of charm, but it simply doesn’t capture the imagination the way it should. With Spielberg directing (and Kubrick’s mark on the film left very much intact), A.I. should be something far more substantial, but instead echoes about as hollow as one of its robotic Mechas. It’s all there, but it just doesn’t quite feel right, and that’s where A.I. falls apart.
Summary: A film with so much potential that feels all too forced. By dazzling with the glossiest visuals of the day, A.I. dates itself, but it’s not sound enough in the way it tells its story to get away with it two decades later. Great performances from its leads can’t save the issues in the adaptation of the story, leaving A.I. an impressive yet ultimately disappointing experience.
Highlights: Haley Joel Osment’s performance is pitch perfect, and there’s not a single scene in which he doesn’t steal the show.