Movie reviews: “A.I.”

Steven Spielberg‘s A.I. (the movie was conceived by the late Stanley Kubrick) is inspiring praise from some critics and censure from others, probably the most polarized reaction ever to a Spielberg film. It has also inspired a masterfully crafted (positive) review by A.O. Scott in the New York Times. A couple of samples: “Mr. Spielberg seems to be attempting the improbable feat of melding Kubrick‘s chilly, analytical style with his own warmer, needier sensibility. He tells the story slowly and films it with lucid, mesmerizing objectivity, creating a mood as layered, dissonant and strange as John Williams’s unusually restrained, modernist score.” Scott concludes: “The final scenes are likely to provoke argument, confusion and a good deal of resistance. For the second time the movie swerves away from where it seemed to be going, and Mr. Spielberg, with breathtaking poise and heroic conviction, risks absurdity in the pursuit of sublimity. … [He] locates the unspoken moral of all our fairy tales. To be real is to be mortal; to be human is to love, to dream and to perish.” Across town, Jack Mathews, the New York Daily News critic, will have none of it. “The ill-conceived final section is a sentimental coda recalling the ‘awe’ moments of both E.T. and Close Encounters,” he writes, “But here is the real genius of Spielberg, whose Midas commercial touch fascinated Kubrick to the end: The very moment that will have viewers reaching for their hankies is the film’s most artificial, even on its own terms. The emotion you feel may be real. But nothing else is.” Compare that review to this one from Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribune: “Steven Spielberg‘s A.I. Artificial Intelligence is pure magic, a three-act movie fantasy that transports us — as the best films do — to a world of its own, a place of ambiguous joy and delirious terror.” Or consider the review by Peter Howell in the Toronto Star, who calls the film “a genuine collaboration between a fading mentor [Kubrick] and a brilliant student [Spielberg] and the smartest thing likely to hit the multiplexes this summer. A.I. represents a unique union of mind and heart that no machine could ever understand, but could one day learn to envy.” Just as enthusiastic about the film is Jay Carr in the Boston Globe: “In a season where most films seem devoted to artificial stupidity, the ambition and execution in A.I. make it a standout, quite apart from its guaranteed place in movie history.” On the other hand Joe Morgenstern, the Wall Street Journal film critic, regards A.I as “a grim disappointment for grown-ups and far too violent for young kinds … I found it to be clumsy, misanthropic and intractably lifeless.” Numerous reviews express ambivalent reactions to the movie. “A.I. is always engrossing,” writes Steve Murray in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “but it never fully comes to grips with its central subject, the ethical and emotional question of the responsibility men have toward the machines they make.” On a similar note, Roger Ebert writes in the Chicago Sun-Times: “A.I. is audacious, technically masterful, challenging, sometimes moving, ceaselessly watchable. What holds it back from greatness is a failure to really engage the ideas that it introduces. The movie’s conclusion is too facile and sentimental, given what has gone before. It has mastered the artificial, but not the intelligence.”