REVIEW: A.I. Artificial Intelligence: From Stanley Kubrick to Steven Spielberg The Vision Behind The Film
They were the odd couple, and together they produced an odd film. A.I. Artificial Intelligence, a frosty existential sci-fi born out of a collaboration between cinema’s most irrepressible optimist and its greatest curmudgeon, was always going to be an uncomfortable collision of styles, and its dark-hearted exploration of the selfish needs of man did indeed prove too much for most. Released in the autumn of 2001, A.I. confounded critics and put off punters. It limped in and out of cinemas with little fanfare, and remains one of Spielberg’s worst performing films.
The blame, of course, fell on Spielberg’s shoulders. Kubrick had bequeathed to his collaborator a tremendous responsibility that Spielberg simply wasn’t ready to shoulder. He filtered Kubrick’s dark story through his own sentimental urges and created a tonal mess that refused to end at Kubrick’s preferred finale (the haunting image of the robot boy David trapped beneath a Coney Island Ferris Wheel begging the Blue Fairy to turn him into a real boy) and instead staggered on to a messy and sacharine conclusion in which this modern day Pinocchio’s dreams come true and everybody lives happily ever after.
If A.I. Artificial Intelligence: From Stanley Kubrick to Steven Spielberg The Vision Behind The Film did nothing but dispel this damaging assumption it would still be an invaluable record of this beautiful and troubling film. That it includes smartly written essays by Kubrick producer Jan Harlan and film writer Jane Struthers and beautifully reproduced production art from Chris Baker makes it near-enough indispensable. It is pretty much the only book you’ll ever need to read on the production of A.I..
Harlan and Struthers waste little time in setting the record straight. It becomes clear from the outset that most of what is written about A.I. is false and that Spielberg did little to change Kubrick’s story after his death. David’s toy Teddy, the Close Encounters-esque SuperMechas, the closing 20 minutes may seem like Spielberg flourishes, but they were all conceived of by Kubrick in the 90s, long before Spielberg became a key part of the film. Indeed, even that most Spielbergian of images - the moon-shaped airship - was of Kubrick’s creation; Spielberg simply brought it into reality.
It’s easy to suggest that Harlan and Struthers are towing the party line here, but they back up their account of the production’s narrative with carefully researched archival material. Included are sections of writer Ian Watson’s original story treatment and beautifully reproduced pages of concept designer Chris Baker’s art, all of which are annotated by Watson and Baker respectively, and, of course, by Kubrick himself. Harlan has proven himself one of cinema’s most important historians since Kubrick’s death, and his work here forces a wholesale re-evaluation of A.I., and perhaps Kubrick himself.
Key to the book’s wider significance is Struthers, whose persuasive writing explores A.I. as a typically Kubrickian film. Predictably, she draws parallels between the film and Kubrick’s other sci-fi-tinged offerings 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange and Dr. Strangelove, but also goes deeper into the director’s lesser known work (Killer’s Kiss, for example) and the themes he explored throughout his career. Kubrick was always an enigmatic director, as compassionate as he was curmudgeonly, and Struthers successfully argues that A.I. is, like all Kubrick’s work, a deeply humanistic film laced with darkness and sorrow.
Coming from the Kubrick stable, A.I. Artificial Intelligence: From Stanley Kubrick to Steven Spielberg The Vision Behind The Film doesn’t offer a huge amount from the Spielberg camp (a couple of quotes from production designer Rick Carter and a brief Spielberg foreword are as much as we get), and those looking for a blow-by-blow account of the shooting of the film may be disappointed. That, however, is not really the intention of Harlan and Struthers’ work here. A.I. Artificial Intelligence: From Stanley Kubrick to Steven Spielberg The Vision Behind The Film is designed to force a rethink of this troubling and brilliant film, and it achieves that goal with great skill and elegance.
Shining a new light on a vital and misunderstood film, The Vision Behind The Film finally gives us the truth behind A.I. and in doing so shows a side of Stanley Kubrick (and Steven Spielberg) that is too often overlooked.