A.I. Artificial Intelligence: Special Edition

Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor, Brendan Gleeson, William Hurt. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 (anamorphic). Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, Dolby Surround (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French). Two DVDs. 145 minutes. 2001. DreamWorks Home Entertainment 89567. PG-13. $29.99.

Director Stanley Kubrick was never known for his speed in bringing a story to the screen. A.I. Artificial Intelligence is an extreme case of that deliberate development. An adaptation of writer Brian W. Aldiss' short story "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long," it percolated for 20 years before finally making its way to theaters. Some of the delay was due to Kubrick's determination to wait until special effects had advanced to the point that he could fully realize his vision. At some point in the process he brought Steven Spielberg on board, eventually convincing him to direct the project; he, Kubrick, would produce.

When Kubrick's death interrupted the process, Spielberg was determined to see his friend's final project through to completion. The result of this unusual collaboration is a brilliant film—one of the best of 2001, in my opinion—but a controversial one. Despite its thought-provoking story, too many critics insisted on micro-analyzing the movie. (Was this part Kubrick or Spielberg? Was that development a Spielberg touch that Kubrick would have shunned?) They couldn't divorce A.I.'s genesis, involving two directors with markedly different styles, from the film itself. Audiences had a similar reaction, though for a different reason. A.I. is not the usual Spielberg fare. While it has faint echoes of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial mixed with a lot of Pinocchio, this is heavier going than either of those essentially upbeat tales.

A.I. is the story of the first robot—or mecha, as they're called here—programmed to love. In this case, the robot is a young boy, David, bought to soften the grief of his "adoptive" mother, who has recently experienced a tragedy involving her own biological son. When that son recovers, David becomes dispensable. But David's love is unconditional and irrevocable; the remainder of the film involves his quest to become a real boy and regain his "mother's" love.

With the wrong child actor in the lead role, the film would not have worked at all, but Spielberg made the right—perhaps the only possible—choice: Haley Joel Osment is David. The rest of the cast is top-drawer as well, notably Jude Law as the mecha Gigolo Joe, who accompanies David on much of his journey.

A.I. is long, and if it can be criticized at all, it might be because of its ending. It could have ended in any number of ways—when I first saw the film in the theater, it didn't end when I thought it would—but it's doubtful if any of them would have satisfied everyone. It's the kind of story that just can't be tied up neatly. After multiple viewings, I now appreciate the ending Spielberg (who also wrote the script) chose, even though it does seem to run on a bit too long.

In addition to this two-disc widescreen edition, A.I. is also available in a separate full-frame release, so be sure to get the one you want. The sound, whether in Dolby Digital or DTS, is superb, though it's generally low-key with a few significant exceptions. The surrounds are rarely prominent (though used very effectively for ambience), and the bass, while extended, only occasionally draws attention to itself. In particular, John Williams' subtle, evocative score is superbly recorded and adds hugely to the film's impact. It's easily his best work in years.

The widescreen anamorphic transfer is a solid effort, though it's often a little grainy. I'm tempted to credit this to the original photography, but the premiere print of this film that I saw in a first-run theater in Los Angeles looked crisp and smooth; I recall no significant grain. It was, in fact, a gorgeous-looking movie, with a heavy emphasis on cinematographer Janusz Kaminski's signature use of backlighting and unusual exposures. But these very features, combined with the fact that most of A.I. is dimly lit, must have made it a bear to transfer to video. Nevertheless, the result is largely successful.

The set's second disc is full of interviews with various members of the cast and crew (including Spielberg) talking about different aspects of the production, a short "making of" documentary (on disc 1), trailers, storyboards, and more. Notably missing is any sort of commentary track. Fans have yet to hear a commentary track from Spielberg for any of his films. Perhaps it's due to lack of time, but perhaps there's another reason. Much as most of us enjoy them, commentary tracks deconstruct a film in a way that for some might take away a bit of the magic.

There's plenty of movie magic here. I can't guarantee that you'll like A.I. Artificial Intelligence, but it's unlikely you'll find it easy to forget.