Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A,I,: Artificial Intelligence


I had a meeting this morning with the producers of Flying Down to Reno , the new musical version of Airport '75 . They've winnowed the contenders for the starring role of the stewardess down to two, myself and Linda Granger (hoping, to capitalize on her V.I.P. Lounge image, no doubt.) I should have no trouble winning the role as Linda, despite being a nice person, has a teeny-tiny substance problem. I've already alerted Madame Rose and advised her to plant a few items in the National Intruder about Linda and how she was found under the table at Spago, completely blotto, in the arms of Ashton Kuchner.

My next stop was the editing studio where I had a chance to look at a rough cut of Virtually Vicki, my new infomercial. I'm quite pleased with the results. The big Lesterene brand cosmetics tap number, despite the inexperience of the Falcon Studio choristers, was particularly dynamic. The hoofing on the oversize compacts and the use of lipstick cases and mascara wands, instead of the traditional top hats and canes, is all quite festive. The collector dolls were a bit less successful. I knew we shouldn't have gone with Barbie rejects with new heads (although they were cheap). Their costumes, however, are stylish and tasteful, especially Vatican Vicki , dressed as my character from Pope Joan . My little intro as a living doll in the oversized sewing basket is just divine.

As I had living dolls on the brain and an afternoon free, I called Nurse Lynn, and we trotted off to a matinee of A.I. - Artificial Intelligence, the new film from the combined minds of Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg. Kubrick and Spielberg are both geniuses of film, but their visions of life and humanity are nearly polar opposites. The resulting film, prepped for years by Kubrick and taken over by Spielberg after his death, is an uneasy hybrid of nightmare and wonder - taking utopian and dystopian future visions and forming an interspecies mule.

Sometime, in the not to distant future, the polar icecaps have melted and the great cities of the coasts have been lost. The population is shrinking, and, in the developed world, childbearing is limited and licensed. As food is less available, synthetic robot humans, or mechas, who do not require such basics as eating or sleeping, do many of the menial jobs with the usual 'us' versus 'them' mentality starting between the real humans and the mechanized variety. In this uneasy world, a corporate wizard, Dr. Hobby (William Hurt), invents a mecha child that is as natural as possible and imbues it with the ability to imprint on and love a parent figure. Mr. & Mrs. Swinton (Sam Robards & Frances O'Connor), whose own son is in a coma from unspecified, but plot necessary disease, become the test parents of little David (Haley Joel Osment in a stunning performance). David is the prototype child who is brought home to the Ikea showroom in which the Swintons live a luxurious, but childless lifestyle; there he supplants their natural son. Mama's maternal instincts are aroused, and she decides to turn on the imprinting program one day and David loves her. This is the cue for the natural son to recover from his mysterious malady and for super sibling rivalry to begin.

Rather than learning how to parent more than one child, or returning David to sender (and certain destruction), Mama thinks it's a good idea to pull a Hansel and Gretel and abandon David in the woods with only a mechanical teddy bear for company. The story then forges on into a remake of Pinocchio , not the original Collodi story, but rather the famous Disney cartoon version. Set pieces that parallel the puppet show, Pleasure Island, and the belly of the whale come and go. We've even got a Jiminy Cricket counterpart, only it's a dancing gigolo mecha (Jude Law) named Joe who wears more eye make-up than Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra . I kept expecting the sappy John Williams score to break into 'Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee'. But wait, the movie isn't finished yet. There's still a somewhat ludicrous third act that has more false climaxes than a weekend at the Mustang Ranch. I'm not going to reveal them but the result is stupefied disbelief rather than the stunned admiration and feeling of redemption that I think Spielberg was going for.

The first act is an interesting set up for a film on the nature of humanity and love. Unfortunately, this isn't that film. In fact, I'm not sure what it's supposed to be. Nurse Lynn and I left the theater not certain what messages we were supposed to carry away. There are also all kinds of unanswered questions in the initial premises. Why, when ingesting spinach shorts out David's circuits, can he spend an inordinate amount of time underwater with no ill effect? Why does father bring David home without even consulting mother? Why does father not have David imprint on him? If David is a test prototype, why does no one seem concerned that the family tosses him out with the garbage after a few months? What happens when a 'brain' matures in an unchanging child’s body? (Shades of Claudia in Interview with the Vampire ). What kind of power sources do the mechas have? They seem to last pretty much indefinitely; that must be some battery pack.

The second act, the Pinocchio journey, is pretty entertaining and full of Kubrickian touches in the visuals. A sin city entered by bridges that look like fellating females, a 'Flesh Fair' in which older mechas are destroyed in various grizzly medieval tortures staged as a monster truck pull, a dreamy vision of an underwater Manhattan (that plays fast and loose with New York geography). Jude Law keeps things moving with his nonchalant hipster attitude and the Dick Powell crooning radio in his shoulder. The fact that a male sex robot, given human nature, would most likely be made use of by other men is conveniently side stepped. It's the third act, after the return of William Hurt's Geppetto figure, which falls completely to pieces; it starts with Hurt's inexplicable disappearance from the scene. He arrives, gives some exposition, steps out to go to the bathroom or something and is never seen again. It’s completely non-sensical but necessary for what happens next.

What doesn't work can be laid squarely at Spielberg's door. Kubrick abandoned the project prior to his death due to the inability of creating a workable screenplay. Spielberg is his own writer this time around and I think he let his own thoughts on the nature of parenthood, and his wish to remake Pinocchio without paying a fortune to Michael Eisner, get in the way of his usual good storytelling skills. Spielberg finds it necessary to bring David 'to life' to complete the parallels, but this story doesn't call for it. When he feels he has to do it, and do it in a scientifically sound way without relying on wonder or magic, he makes a major mess. Perhaps magic is what's needed sometimes. It shouldn't always have to be science.

Jude Law makes the most of his scenes as the suave gigolo Joe. With his plastic face and hair and supple body language, he creates a stylish and stylized android that hints at an unusual and savage eroticism. One of the odd things about the film is the intrusion of the Kubrickian sexuality on the Spielbergian boy’s adventure story. They really come together in some perverse ways making me wonder just who the film was made for. Twelve-year-old dirty old men, I suspect.

The film is worth seeing for its splendid visuals and there are images that I'm going to carry with me for days. Haley Joel Osment, is also eerily good as the robotic, but humanesque David. It's worth seeing this film - to see how good film making can transport you places you've never been before and how bad film making can destroy everything a talented film crew has worked to create.

Symbolic lock of hair. Chanel perfume. Backyard pool party. Rising moon cage. Gratuitous dead adulteress. Gene Kelly imitations. Gratuitous Fred Astaire vocal. Holographic lips. Underwater Radio City Music Hall. Multiple blue fairies. Walking Giacometti sculptures.

No comments:

Post a Comment