This film about a child robot's search for love deals with subject matter that is unique to famed director Steven Spielberg--science fiction, children, mind-blowing special effects--but the dark and sometimes hopeless tone of A.I. may be a bit of a departure for him.
In the 21st century, life is not all good on Earth. The polar ice caps are melting, submerging many of the world's coastal cities. To help cope with the situation, artificial intelligences, or robots, have been created, and are generally designed for specific purposes--housework, babysitting and even sex. A genius professor (William Hurt) builds an 11-year-old child robot named David (Haley Joel Osment) for a different purpose, a child android that, once "imprinted" by his human parents, can actually feel emotions. When a couple (Frances O'Connor and Sam Robards), despondent over the loss of their own son, takes on the role of David's "test" parents, they set in motion a personal journey for the young boy. Through a series of events, he is forced to seek out his own humanity and attain the one thing he wants most in the world--to be real and to be truly loved.
OK, if Spielberg had to sit down and find someone who could play a child robot who just wanted to be loved, his choice probably wasn't that hard. Osment is just one of those child actors who breaks your heart the minute he comes on the screen. He did it in The Sixth Sense and even in the melodramatic Pay It Forward. No actor out there has the soulful face that he does. But his performance in A.I. takes the cake. Osment is almost eerily perfect as David. Never once do you doubt he is artificial, as he watches with amazed curiosity, and sometimes horror, the world around him. And never once so you forget that he wants desperately to be real. There are some nice supporting turns, especially by Jude Law, playing the gigolo android who helps David in his quest, and by O'Connor as David's "mother." But it was without question Osment's film.
Spielberg took over the project, based on the short story Super-Toys Last All Summer Long by science fiction author Brian Aldiss, from the late Stanley Kubrick, who had been trying to get the film made for 20 years. And therein lies the film's main flaw: it's not really a Spielberg special. It did have a lot of elements he has made his own (he even expands on his Close Encounters alien), but this film was very dark, somewhat hopeless and pretty slow. That's definitely not Spielberg's usual direction for a movie, especially one based on original material. Kubrick excelled at bringing to life those slow, methodical story lines and didn't care if an audience liked it or not, but Spielberg is used to creating wide-eyed extravaganzas and historical epics that capture their audiences' hearts. Yes, Spielberg's war movies are somber, but that's because they are real--those events really happened. A.I. is a different kind of Spielberg film, and some audiences may not be ready for it.
All in all, Spielberg hasn't lost his magic touch--just make sure you have an entire box of tissues nearby.