By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Kubrick didn‘t need happy endings, as his work could brutally prove. That’s one reason why he was so often criticized for being cold, a meaningless judgment that also misses what Kubrick himself understood full well -- that human beings, even filmmakers, are complex and ambivalent. It‘s something that Spielberg has never grasped, and probably never will. His movies are filled with heroes and monsters, but rarely characters who, by their faults, their weaknesses, and not just their heroics, show themselves as all too human. (The Nazi played by Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List is as human as the mechanical shark in Jaws.) In the original story, Aldiss doesn‘t reveal that David is a robot until the very end; in contrast, Spielberg seems determined to remind us of his artificiality in scene after scene. It’s a curious gambit, and seems to work at cross-purposes with our burgeoning sympathy for David; there are moments when we can‘t see the boy for the circuitry. But there’s a point to this: Even as Spielberg is busy turning David into a hero, he is doing all he can to sidestep the dark moral of Aldiss‘ story, in which the robot is more real, more human, than his flesh-and-blood keepers.
Spielberg’s infidelity to Aldiss (and perhaps to Kubrick, who knows?) would be pardonable if it didn‘t ruin his movie. In the end, he has failed to make a persuasive, smart movie about robots and people because he can’t bear the idea that human beings are imperfect, that they abandon their children, that they break minds and bodies, sometimes for sport. There‘s an excruciating scene in A.I., in which Monica leaves David in the woods, that gets at everything great and terrible about this movie. The scene is important on a number of counts -- it shifts the film’s look from its dreamy naturalism to a nightmarish surrealism, and combines Kubrick‘s aesthetic of cruelty and Spielberg’s aesthetic of bathos into a single devastating encounter. At that moment, as David screams out that primal, defining fear -- Mommy, don‘t leave me! -- Spielberg doesn’t just terrify us, he peels back our skin. Few other directors have the power to move us so effectively, so viciously, and it‘s a good guess that if Kubrick thought Spielberg could take on his project, it was because he saw the total control with which the younger man could not just manipulate our emotions, but force us to weep. Time and again with Spielberg, sentimentality is nothing other than a polite form of sadism.
Kubrick put A.I. on hold to make The Shining, but he rehired Aldiss after he saw (and admired) E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. According to John Baxter’s biography of Kubrick, while the director originally envisioned A.I. as a science-fiction story in the vein of Star Wars, E.T. set him on a different path. “Then, gradually, I realized,” Aldiss told Baxter, “this time it wasn‘t Star Wars, it wasn’t E.T. It was fucking Pinocchio! The Blue Fairy! I worked with him for about six weeks, and I couldn‘t get rid of that Blue Fairy.” Spielberg couldn’t get rid of the Blue Fairy, either. After proving himself a master of mean on the level of Kubrick and Hitchcock, he takes David out of the woods and straight into a live-action, faithful retread of Disney‘s Pinocchio. He spices it up with some sexual innuendo and a few tremors of violence, including a badly staged coliseum scene that’s derivative of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, but without the frenzied erotic energy. Then he brings in Robin Williams. If you think it couldn‘t get worse, think again. The last half-hour is such unadulterated kitsch -- space aliens with British accents, lots of gauzy white light, John Williams’ merciless score -- that it puts the film‘s meta-story into savage relief: If Spielberg hoped to turn into a real artist with this film, in Kubrick he found the wrong Gepetto.
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