A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

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 (DVD Release, Dream Works Home Entertainment)

In Steven Spielberg's cinematic masterpiece, Schindler's List, a man searches desperately for his own humanity amid the nightmarish turmoil of Nazi Germany, a culture in which his fellow humans have been transformed into unfeeling automatons devoted to Hitler's "final solution" to destroy the Jewish race. In A.I., an orphaned robot boy searches for his humanity in an apocalyptic future world where humans have again become cold and emotionless-as steely as their supposedly unfeeling mechanical servants. Some have even contrived their own final solution to destroy the hapless race of robots.

Visually, A.I. is very slick, and Spielberg's technical mastery of the art of filmmaking is evident throughout. He has succeeded in crafting a skillful and dazzling homage to his collaborator, the late Stanley Kubrick. The film's plot, however, is an homage only to writer's block. Compare it to Blade Runner, Ridley Scott's 1982 film adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Both films depict so-called future dystopias, in which artificial humans have apparently run amok, and both take the ironic slant that it is the human masters, themselves, who have actually run amok. But the similarities end there; where Blade Runner is high art, A.I. is merely high budget; where Blade Runner is poignant and powerful, A.I. is unemotional and unpersuasive. We are never convinced that the robots are anything more than futuristic animatronics. They come across as adroit masters of mimicry, devoid of actual consciousness or feelings. How can we muster empathy for any of the film's characters, human or otherwise? All are equally lifeless.

Alas, it is Spielberg, himself, who ends up searching for his humanity-some remnant of the feeling and inspiration that he poured into Schindler's List. Unfortunately for us, he never finds it. After spending most of the film in the philosophical shallows, we desperately-if drowsily-tag along near the end, as the director and his robot protagonist dive among the ruins of a sunken metropolis, literally scouring the seabed for answers and meaning, but our only discovery is that Spielberg is out of his depth. We are forced to return to the surface, empty-handed and gasping for air-or perhaps just sighing in frustration, "O Schindler, where art thou?"

For a topic as profound as this one should be, the film is surprisingly lacking in insight or interest. A.I. is Blade Runner for Dummies. If you want to know what it means to be a sentient android in a world of unfeeling humans, see Blade Runner. If you want to know what it means to be a sentient human in a world of unfeeling robots, see Schindler's List. Or, if you just want to know how Spielberg will handle the film adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story, save your money and go back to the future at the June opening of Spielberg's latest sci-fi venture, Minority Report.

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