Consider the situation: you are parents incapable of having further children and your solitary offspring has got himself banged up in hospital with slim chances of recovery. What do you do? Wrong! You get a prototype robo-kid, activate his “genuine love” module to let him pour out feelings and then dump him like a piece of trash when real boy recovers, leaving the distraught robo-boy to wander around creepy forests, get tied up in the seedy underworld of android prostitution and develop an obsessive Pinocchio complex to compensate for maternal rejection. Parents: one. Robo-brat: nil. Armed only with a walking teddy-bear the love-filled simulacrum sets about on his quest to become a real boy without ever realising (big sniffy Kleenex time) that he is more human than humanity itself.
Roll up! Roll up! Once again the “last great hope” for Hollywood cinema spectacularly pulls off another class A irritant of a film. Before the vitriol and disbelief flies it should be made clear that AI is by far the best film Spielberg has directed since Empire of the Sun. The opening act is designed in line with 1970’s sf films and photographed to match with particularly impressive use of focussing. After the dubious exposition at the beginning, things really settle down into family drama mould – the “when shall we switch him on” dilemmas, the adjustments to family living and finally the reintroduction of their “real” son. The last event triggers one of the film’s most memorable images as the misunderstood android stares wide-eyed from the bottom of his parents’ swimming pool. Rejected by the mother, he is befriended by bot-on-the-run Gigolo Joe, complete with his Jiminy Cricket heel clicking and queasy listening in-built stereo. The two descend into a world half Wizard of Oz and half Hell. This middle section is a visual delight running from the neon excesses of Total Recall’s Mars to post-Apocalyptic Mad Max arenas. In this later segment we are treated to one pointless bit of air-punching as a crowd of violence seekers are convinced not to axe a child robot but it’s a minor point – there’s a teddy-bear robot that (wait for it!) is not a saccharine companion, magical quests, demolished cities and a fabulous end that is both sad and strangely uplifting as only the best fairy tales can be. The acting is superb (especially from Jude Law), the music is spot on and the whole piece is filmed with an air of assured maturity that has been lacking in sf cinema for far too long. A triumph for Spielberg up to the very last frame?
Ah, but there’s a rub. The “fabulous end that is both sad and strangely uplifting as only the best fairy tales can be” unfortunately does not come at the end of the film. Oh no. And if you were one of the many people incensed at the lacklustre conclusion of this year’s Planet of the Apes, this one will have you enraged. Close on two hours of quality film-making are thrown away on an ill-advised, over-long, feel-good piece of extra-terrestrial nonsense that seems to exist only to provide a happy conclusion of monumental crassness and to showcase some whizzy special effects for no good purpose. Up until this point the effects had been dictated by the story and relatively underplayed despite their complexity but suddenly we have Close Encounters of the Third Kind tacked on and the whole thing gets flushed down the pan.