Completely artificial, and hardly representative of the intelligence behind it, Steven Spielberg's widely publicized return to science fiction is shot through with failings generated by the film's origins. Adapted from a story by Brian Aldiss, A.I. was a project developed for years by director Stanley Kubrick, who ended up bequeathing the incomplete work to Spielberg.
On the surface, the Pinocchio-like tale of an android boy developing a sense of self-awareness and exploring the differences between himself and the flawed humans around him seems a perfect match for Spielberg's touch for innocence and childhood. But propelling the story from one moment of wonder and discovery to another is a distinctly un-Spielbergian sense of futility and resignation so familiar in Kubrick's cinematic world. Consequently, while Spielberg should be applauded for trying to expand his range as a director, it's apparent that despite his unyielding efforts, he failed to connect the audience emotionally with the film's darker core.
Perhaps the worst misstep is the film's protracted closing. Instead of settling on one tone at the end, A.I. continues through several climaxes, as if piling more layers upon the already weakened story might yield a sense of profundity.
On the other hand, there are several things to like. As a technician, Spielberg is as accomplished as ever, generating a future world grounded fully in the possibilities of today. And Jude Law, as a capricious sex-bot, provides the audience with an emotional anchor absent in Haley Joel Osment's cipher of a central character.
The DVD edition is a perfect match for the film with its slick production and lack of useful content. Even though one full disk of the two-disk set is devoted to extra features, very few of them last longer than 10 minutes, and most of them come across as defending the film rather than illuminating it. What is most absent, however, is a director's commentary, because while Spielberg generally makes his intentions explicit in his films, with A.I. the most interesting question may be why he made the choices he did.