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A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

Warner Bros./Warner Home Video . R4 . COLOR . 140 mins . M . PAL


Steven Spielberg would have been fully aware, as he launched into the complex process of bringing A.I. to the screen, that the resulting film would be scrutinised and critiqued more closely than anything he’d directed before. This was, after all, Stanley’s project.

Though he never really came close to actually making the film, Stanley Kubrick had been planning for A.I. since the mid ‘80s, after reading a Brian Aldiss short story called Super-Toys Last All Summer Long and seeing the raw material for a unique science fiction film within it. A story treatment was put together and conceptual drawings were done, but ultimately Kubrick’s perfectionism kept him away. Perhaps he simply didn’t feel that special effects technology was up to the challenge, or maybe he was looking for the right way to approach this now-expanded story, which was seeming less and less like a Kubrick film. Regardless, by the time Kubrick again considered A.I. in the mid-‘90s he had decided that there was a better choice of director than himself to helm the story - Steven Spielberg, who was asked to direct but eventually handed the project back to Kubrick. After Kubrick’s death, though, Spielberg was asked again to consider A.I., and this time he jumped at the chance. The resulting film, based in part on Kubrick’s early work on the concept and bearing Kubrick’s name rather than Spielberg’s in the opening credits, would be a tribute to the late auteur - but it would not attempt to emulate his work.

Even so, the influence of Kubrick is almost palpable throughout A.I. - make no mistake, this a very much a Steven Spielberg film - one which once again explores the director’s recent fondness for technical experimentation and an ever more visually-driven cinematic language. The structure is Kubrick’s, as is much of the basic visual style. But Spielberg has not been tempted to emulate Kubrick’s unique compositional style, his fluid camera moves and his uncompromisingly exacting editing. With A.I. it feels more like Spielberg has spent some time musing on what’s possible in cinematic storytelling, with Kubrick’s work firmly in mind. The resulting film is fascinating, not least because it is the first coupling between the “serious Spielberg” of Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan with the “fairytale Spielberg” that made E.T. It’s hard to say whether the spirit of Kubrick hangs over the whole thing simply because we knew that this was originally his project; there’s a lot of Kubrick influence in the final section, though, and throughout the film it’s possible to get too distracted trying to spot things that you know Kubrick would have done differently. Ultimately, it’s better just to judge A.I. on its own merits, and marvel once again at how Steven Spielberg has matured exponentially as a filmmaker in recent years.

It may have been inspired by an Aldiss short story, but A.I. bears little resemblance to it, taking a basic concept, a few character names and a couple of ideas and extrapolating from there. The Pinocchio elements and analogies in the film may seem like typical Spielberg fare, but in fact they were Kubrick’s idea and were part of Ian Watson’s original treatment (Spielberg himself wrote the final screenplay); in hindsight it seems quite logical that Kubrick should ask Spielberg to direct. (Brian Aldiss has been somewhat dismissive of this fairy-tale change to his character, and says as much in an article on his web site: “I could not or would not see the parallels between my five-year old android and the wooden creature who becomes human. It emerged that Stanley wanted David to become human, and wanted, too, to have the Blue Fairy materialise. Never consciously rewrite old fairy stories, I'd say.”)

It’s a fascinating story idea, though, and while it’s a long way from Aldiss’s original, A.I.’s tale is an intriguing and relevant one. It’s set in an undetermined time in the future, when the planet’s resources are so scarce that restrictions have been placed on childbirth, and where the essential but undemanding jobs are now done by life-like intelligent robots - something that humans still haven’t quite gotten used to, leading to no small amount of anti-robot prejudice. That isn’t going to stop Professor Hobby (William Hurt) developing a new generation of robot, though - one that has the capacity to feel love. Deciding the natural market for such technology is as a replacement for the children that adults are not allowed to have, he creates David (Haley Joel Osment), and Monica and Henry Swinton become the first parents to try the new model out. But while he’s capable of loving his new “parents”, he turns out to need to be loved in return - something Monica and Henry aren’t capable of feeling towards a robot. Thus begins a journey...

While the premise may sound almost cheesy, rest assured that the overall result is not; this is intelligent sci-fi drama that’s been brought to life by astonishing visual artistry, but importantly the eye-popping (and often revolutionary) special effects work and adventurous cinematography never relegates the story or the high-quality acting to the background. While the film does lose a little of its emotional momentum as it ventures on from the relationship between David and Monica (who is superbly played by Frances O’Connor) and dramatically shifts tone for a time (no, we didn’t expect a performance from Ministry either!) there’s more than enough that’s compelling about A.I. to render its relatively minor flaws unimportant. The sheer scope of what’s being attempted here is remarkable - and the majority of the time Spielberg pulls it off, managing to throw in plenty of the unexpected along the way. There is some comic relief (including a wonderfully animated and rather informative walking teddy bear who could easily be the offspring of an unholy union between 2001’s HAL and a soft toy) but this story is in essence a sad, dark one; had Kubrick lived to make A.I. it would undoubtedly have been darker still, but Spielberg has done a magnificent and adventurous job. Though it divided both critics and public upon its release last year, A.I. will undoubtedly grow in stature in the years to come.


Like most of Spielberg’s recent films, A.I. was photographed by Janusz Kaminski - and like Saving Private Ryan before it, Kaminski and Spielberg have opted for a radical approach to the cinematography here. Overexposure, extremely high contrast, desaturation, massive oversaturation, grainy high-speed film stock - there’s barely a frame that looks “conventional”. Combined with the often out-there production design and visual effects, this would have to be the most visually unconventional mainstream film in recent memory.

Of course, this all makes for a difficult video transfer. But of course, the transfer here is nothing less than first-class, presenting the film exactly as its director intended it to be seen. That may initially shock some who are used to sharp and pristine images on their DVDs, but it’s not long before it becomes perfectly obvious that the increased resolution and colour stability of DVD is essential to this film looking the way it should on home video. As usual for high-end transfers such as this, shadow detail is perfect and there’s not a visual flaw to be found anywhere.

Presented at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, filling the entire 16:9 anamorphic frame, A.I. has been given a lot of care and attention at the DVD authoring stage, and there are no compression problems to distract from the movie - remarkable, considering that a fairly unassuming bitrate has been used to encode the film.

Naturally A.I. is supplied on a dual-layered disc; the layer change, just past the half-way point, is a little jarring but quickly dealt with.


Gary Rydstrom. No more need be said.

Well, alright, we’ll elaborate. The immensely detailed and often very restrained soundtrack for A.I. was designed and co-mixed by the incomparable Gary Rydstrom, who once again delivers a sound mix that’s both natural (no mean feat given the storyline) and intensely involving without ever resorting to gimmickry. That means the subwoofer only kicks into action when there’s actually a point to it doing so, that the surrounds are used for their intended purpose of providing an immersive environment for the audience, and the balance between dialogue, effects and music is handled with a smooth dexterity that is as close to perfection as you’re likely to hear. That’s not to say that this soundtrack is averse to the occasional full-throttle workout - far from it, as the “Flesh Fair” sequence proves - but it’s never unnecessarily showy, a rare thing these days.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack here is EX-encoded for those of you with ludicrous budgets and decoders that support that format, but those who “only” have 5.1 (or even good old Dolby Surround, for that matter) are going to be plenty thrilled with this soundtrack, which is state-of-the-art.

The US version of the disc also offers a DTS-ES soundtrack, but we dare anyone to say they’re disappointed with the Dolby Digital track on offer here and actually mean it.


A.I. is supplied as a double-DVD set in a multi-fold “Digipak” style cardboard package inside a cardboard slip-case, a design very similar in concept to that used on Fox’s Moulin Rouge set. It looks great (though it won’t stand the rigours of use anywhere near as well as the plastic Amaray-style case which the US version is packaged in) but a word of warning for collectors - be very, very careful removing the “win an Aibo” competition sticker from the front of the box. It will leave behind an amount of adhesive material, but don’t panic - it can be removed by “dabbing” that material with the sticker you’ve just peeled off.

Packaging dramas out of the way, we can look at the collection of extra features provided here. Disc 1 contains, along with the movie itself, a 12-minute featurette titled Creating A.I.; it provides what’s basically a quick overview of the various elements that went into the creation of the film, and isn’t overly informative. It’s odd that this sole featurette is on disc 1; maybe a single-disc version is on the cards for the future. Regardless, if you’re after extras then it’s disc 2 you’ll want to load into your player (interestingly, there’s spare space aplenty here that could have been used for more - the data on disc 2 would have fit onto a single-layered disc, but is provided on a dual-layer one). There’s plenty here, divided up into bite-sized featurettes (but featurettes with substance, thankfully) totalling almost exactly 80 minutes all up. This is an excellent way of presenting this documentary material, allowing the viewer to get straight to the subject that interests them; each section is extensively supported by relevant clips from the film. All extra material is 4:3 full-screen unless otherwise noted.

Oh, and needless to say, do not watch this extras disc until you’ve seen the film!

Acting A.I.: The two items in this section offer some insight into the acting techniques of Haley Joel Osment (David) and Jude Law (Gigolo Joe), combining behind-the-scenes footage with a narrative from the actors themselves, culled from interviews. It would have been nice to have seen a similar featurette about Frances O’Connor’s portrayal of Monica, as that character is a great deal more essential to the story than the (admittedly fun) Gigolo Joe.

Designing A.I.: Two featurettes here as well; From Drawings To Sets spends seven and a half minutes with original concept illustrator Chris Baker (who helped develop the original visual style of the film with Kubrick) and production designer Rick Carter (who’s the spitting image of a 1977 Spielberg, big glasses and all!), while the five and a half minute Dressing A.I. focuses on Bob Ringwood’s costume designs.

Lighting A.I.: Some words from director of photography Janusz Kaminski and his very, very LOUD scarf; few will be surprised to learn that he’s seriously fond of using light-diffusing smoke effects in as many shots as possible.

Special Effects: An eight-minute overview with special effects supervisor Michael Lantieri of the large-scale practical special effects used in the film, also touching briefly on the optical effects.

Robots Of A.I.: The longest featurette here, this 14-minute effort focuses on Stan Winston’s challenging task of creating the various robots that populate the film, and specifically the prominent character of “Teddy”. Jude Law’s make-up design is also briefly touched on, a section that seems oddly out of place in this context (and which was covered in another featurette anyway). For some reason the disc jumps to copyright screens in 4,000 languages after this featurette finishes.

Special Visual Effects And Animation - ILM: After a historical overview from visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren, there is set of featurettes here covering ILM’s contribution to the robots, the miniature effects, the New York City flyover sequence and the various animated characters. It’s all fascinating stuff (as ILM’s particular brand of effects cleverness usually is) and none of these featurettes fall into the all-too-frequent trap of being dry and over-nerdy - this is user-friendly stuff. Total run time for this section is about 24 minutes.

The Sound And Music Of A.I.: Two items here, one focusing on Gary Rydstrom’s sound design and the unusually long development time he had for the audio in the film, and the other covering John Williams’ music score. The vital importance of both elements of the soundtrack is made abundantly clear here. Total running time is about 12 and a half minutes.

Closing - Steven Spielberg - Our Responsibility To Artificial Intelligence: Ignoring his own advice to be careful not to preach about the subject, Spielberg offers his thoughts on how humankind should deal with the introduction of artificial intelligence in the future. It’s a bit superfluous (the movie makes that statement perfectly well without having to spell it out) but it does provide a handy background for the scrolling DVD credits.

A.I. Archives: A bunch of stuff that didn’t get its own section; no deleted scenes are present here, though, in case you were wondering. First up is a pair of theatrical trailers, and unlike the R1 disc, they have titles - Kaleidoscope and Intralink. These titles may seem puzzling, but the explanation is simple - they’re the names of the trailer production companies that created each trailer. Both are letterboxed but not 16:9 enhanced, both only have Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, both are extremely unconventional, and both sport silly taglines (“his love is real… but he is not”). It would have been nice to have seen more of the film’s trailers and publicity materials here, by the way. This section also contains an extensive collection of still images organised into sections for storyboards, concept and production design art, ILM’s own concept art, portraits and behind-the-scenes photos.

Cast & Filmmakers: The usual bio/filmography sections, but in common with many recent R2/R4 Warner discs, not everything you see on these screens is selectable. The cast section only actually includes Haley Joel Osment and Jude Law, while the Filmmakers section lists many people but only provides info for Spielberg (giving him credit for literally everything his company Amblin has ever touched) and producer Kathleen Kennedy. Does the R1 version provide a more complete set of biographies? It appears so, going by overseas reports - and there are some minimal production notes on the R1 version as well. It’s strange that Warner keep dropping text screens from their PAL DVDs - you’d think these would be the most trivial to convert to PAL and the least space-dependent. Also strange is the fact that the “Cast” and “Filmmakers” menu items are the only ones on this disc that have animated transitions to their sub-menus, and the only ones that have those sub-menus animated with background audio. It would appear that the US version has full animation and audio on all disc 2 menus.


Stanley Kubrick put off making A.I. for many years, and as a result the very title of the film has taken on the status of near-legend - so of course for many, expectations are somewhat heightened by the sheer mystery and mystique of the whole thing. Ultimately, though - as Dennis Muren points out on the bonus disc - the best thing about Spielberg taking on the project was that the film actually got made instead of just talked about. It’s not a Kubrick film, and it’s not intended to replicate one. Rather, it’s an ambitious merging of Steven Spielberg’s love for simple fables and his ever-growing skill at serious cinema. It may not be for everyone, but for those that come along for the ride, A.I. is a fascinating story told with knockout visuals and first-class acting.

Warner’s double-DVD set replicates the US version almost exactly, and along with a superb PAL transfer of the film there’s a good (but not as extensive as hoped) collection of extra features that are not only informative, but also entertaining.

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      And I quote...
    "...a fascinating story told with knockout visuals and first-class acting."
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