I hardly know where to start to describe the richness of the experience of seeing A.I.: Artificial Intelligence on December 10, 2007 at the Michigan Theater. As the film drew to its end, I kept thinking how thankful I was to see such a beautiful film in such a beautiful setting.
This science fiction tale was the final film in a University of Michigan-sponsored series of movies that director Stanley Kubrick helped create. Kubrick directed all of the movies in the series except A.I., which he was working on before he died in 1999. Steven Spielberg took Kubrick’s idea and turned it into A.I., which was released in 2001.
As I watched the film, I saw each director’s style enhancing the other’s. Kubrick’s direct, remote, photographic style was made more human by the gentle wonder of Spielberg’s direction and composer John Williams’ subdued musical score. And the spirit of Kubrick seemed to also make Spielberg more restrained in his camera work, with fewer zooms and tracking shots than usual.
A.I. had echoes of famous movies by both of these men that I was lucky enough to see this year at the Michigan: Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), which I also saw at the Redford Theatre. A.I. had that sense of yearning for something better that I think is at the heart of 2001. And the advanced robots in A.I. were very similar to the alien visitors in Close Encounters.
I have seen A.I. several times on video since I first saw it on the big screen, and I was very familiar with it. As I watched it on the big screen again, I was impressed with the skillful way that Spielberg kept different threads of meaning running through the movie. You could see how he was gradually guiding the audience to the powerful conclusion of the film.
And I was amazed at the brilliance of Haley Joel Osment’s performance, as he made the themes of the movie come alive on the screen. Wanting to feel loved. Wanting to feel special and unique. Yearning for deeper emotional experiences. The mixture of sadness and hopefulness in his face spoke volumes.
A.I. stimulated my imagination like few other films. Random thoughts included: The ice age of the movie was almost like an afterlife for David and Teddy. When we watch a film, it’s almost like David’s wish to be made a real boy—we want the characters on screen to come alive in a way that stirs our minds and emotions.
How do parents shape their children? At what point does an object go from machine to a living being? What spirit, what spark of life separates a human being from a machine?
It seemed quite appropriate to see this movie during the Christmas holiday season, when many of us feel more childlike, with dreams of people caring enough about us to give us something special. After hearing the beautiful wordless solo of Barbara Bonney over the end credits of A.I., I walked into the Grand Foyer of the Michigan and stared up in wonder at the towering Christmas tree.
And a phrase from the movie perfectly described the role of the Michigan Theater, Redford Theatre, and Detroit Film Theatre—to be the “enduring memory” of movie palace experiences from years past.
Copyright © 2007 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.