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The movie winds toward a resolution that cannot possibly fulfill the needs of our young, young hero. As David, Ted, and Joe descend through their increasingly dark journey, we can feel it. The only door at the end of this path they stumble down is a fate akin to death — depressing, resolute, yet somehow worse, as even though we all die and that’s sad, we understand death. The end that slow approaches isn’t something David can understand.

Spielberg is responsible for some of the best science-fiction adventure films of all time. Jurassic Park is thematically dark — as a cautionary tale about man’s futility against powerful and ancient forces — but it’s infused by an inspiring sense of adventure that sees its heroes bound from set piece to set piece. There’s a great wonder in its world and its creatures; it brims with ideas as it does imagination. AI on the other hand is related on the surface to this earlier film, but is unremittingly bleak. I don’t understand how a filmmaker with such a filmography could make a movie without hope or any shred of light — I don’t understand why anyone would make a movie like this.

It tells the story of David, a robot programmed to love and designed to replace the son of a grieving mother. After the son comes back and David’s kicked to the curb at the one hour mark, the unblinking affection-droid stalks gloomily through an increasingly hostile and apocalyptic world on a quest to find the Blue Fairy. As the audience and everyone flesh-and-blood understands, David is chasing a delusion.

The sadness that drenches the film is a product of AI being pulled in two directions. Not Spielberg and Kubrick, but traditional drama and something… alien. Joe also believes David might find the Blue Fairy and turn into a real boy. Why would he think anything else? He’s a robot. They’re all robots, and that means that they’re damned to experience only a few things, think limited thoughts, and suffer the emotional toll. They themselves are being pulled in two directions: human and inhuman.

The movie required an eXistenZ moment, that brief flash that completely unsettles you — remember when Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason-Leigh) repeats dialogue in the same intonation to Jude Law’s character, as if trapped by the rules of the video-game and rendered momentarily inhuman? It throws your perception of reality off and that’s what Jude Law in this movie should have done. We should have been reminded that Joe and David are robots for the sake of compelling drama, but it seems that the writer is more interested in the generic.

Interest in the generic isn’t the issue here, but the cost of what generic requires — the weight on the story that keeps the characters from going anywhere. Or at least, going to a place that is, once again, a delusion. The movie wouldn’t be so bad if it was more of a cerebral story about robots searching for meaning, but it is instead a story about humans who are told they aren’t humans who can’t be humans but want desperately to be human.

AI operates on a broken premise of human drama with a question pervading every step of its narrative — the layers of unreality in this case add up to a disconcerting ending. The question dogs an audience sympathizing in David: Is he going to realize that his journey is futile? And if he does, is his face gonna fucking melt again? Here’s a fake person struggling against an impossible enemy, one manifesting as fake, artificial nothing.

The so-called aliens, as so many are enthusiastic to point out, give David a happy ending. His mother is alive for one day the last human on planet Earth after two thousand years. His mother is essentially programmed to love him, and he is programmed to love her, so it works out — a exercise in flailing. The aliens (the robots that constitute a generally very cool idea in SF, evolving into pure shapes after generations of human absence) don’t understand because they’re so removed from humanity. Here it is again — that as a science-fiction idea follow internal logic, but because the aliens conform to the lines of human drama, the whole thing is ridiculous. They may be executing correctly, but they operate on a confused premise.

The audience watches these fake things spinning out in their predetermined paths — this is what robots will do without humans. They’re like computers playing out computer business, but because this is an important drama by Steven Spielberg, it’s a clusterfuck.

Believe me, I hate the term clusterfuck. I don’t use it lightly. But AI is a horribly depressing movie that’s nearly offensive. It reaches but is constrained by its mainstream potential. It needed to commit to a style or genre, but didn’t. A good analogue in the film is the Flesh Fair. Good concept, but held back by cliches: the evil Christian shit, the Tron-reject motorcycles with neon dogheads mounted on the front, and the improperly motivated scene’s end. A movie likes this didn’t deserve to be another common denominator throwaway.

Man, I really missed science-fiction. The last few posts have been pretty Movie-centric in terms of the Movie/Science-fiction split on this website, so this should be a nice return to form. I guess the posts here do happen to reflect my movie-watching habits – lately I’ve been watching a lot of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – and I’ve seen some cool non-SF movies like Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans and Mulholland Drive, it was nice to finally sit down with a movie about cops in the future.

It was also nice to see a movie I knew I was going to like – and liked! I assumed I would like End of Days, but it didn’t have the one liners or the action of other Schwarzenegger classics, but Minority Report certainly worked out. It’s a good movie.

It’s definitely a Spielberg thriller; elements of drama, elements of action, elements of genuine science fiction, but none of these are more pronounced than the others. Combined, it’s an entertaining film, but right in the center of Dick adaptations to the right of A Scanner Darkly and to the left of Paycheck. It’s a great premise, and throwing in this convulted murder mystery seemed to be the right way to go, but everything non-Philip K. Dick and not pertaining to the look and feel of the film was formulaic. The tortured backstory for Tom Cruise, the twists and turns, the one dimensional secondary cast – those didn’t add up to much in the movie’s favor.

In the original short story, “The Minority Report,” John Anderton is a middle-aged bald fat man, but in the film adaptation he’s Tom Cruise. That should begin to illustrate the level of adaptation we’re working with here: not quite as faithful as Linklater’s rather strict constructionist take, but then again not as overtly “Philip K. What?” as John Woo’s extremely embarassing outting, just another in his line of extremely embarassing American movies.

It is perhaps more Spielberg than Dick, but that is never a bad thing. Spielberg is ace at nearly everything when it comes to that little thing we call filmmaking, so Minority Report may not be one of his better science-fiction blockbusters, but this is really only due to of the weakness of the script.

A wonderful irony here is that the screenwriters didn’t take any risks. My guess is that they had only the gall for one risk, and that was adapting something by this author whose popularity was only beginning to show, and was kind of weird. The script isn’t wholly reflective of ‘weird,’ for example the PreCogs are just psychics rather than deformed and mentally challenged mutants, but this I believe actually works in the movie’s favor. In the end it’s really just bland dialogue that doesn’t allow the movie to get deep with either emotion or judicial philosophy and morals.

To go back to the PreCog thing – I remember hearing one complaint about Inception, and at first I took it as a legitimate criticism, but quickly realized why the movie was the way it was. Essentially the moviegoer was hoping to see more dream stuff, as assumedly inside someone’s dream anything is possible, so why is it that the craziest thing to happen was the buildings folded over? We could’ve had robot unicorns eating the sun but instead we had some pretty cool gun fights – what gives?

That’s an issue that comes to production and art design. Christopher Nolan was going for a specific look as he did with the very Blade Runner-inspired Batman Begins and the period piece The Prestige. Inception was meant to be something of a neo-noir, and it was science-fiction but not embarassingly so. It had to have consistent art design, and therefore couldn’t have superfluous robot unicorns.

This is analogous somewhat to the world of Minority Report, which is one originally created by Philip K. Dick. The author made a habit of writing stories where time travel and space travel often co-exist, where off-world colonies hide ESPers and where androids see the future.

Because of the limited scope of the screen, filmmakers like Spielberg and like Nolan need to streamline. Some elements that some viewers may find distracting of what’s most important in the narrative (like deformed mutants) need to be altered, or adapted, to fit with the Minority Report look and feel. It’s a movie about cops in the future, and it works pretty well, looks really cool, moves forward most of the time.

In this case and in the case of Blade Runner, we actually benefitted by less Dick. Odd, but certainly not every filmmaker is capable of such a thing.

 

A look back on the various movies that recall why I like movies any. This week, it’s the Steven Spielberg sci-fi blockbuster, Jurassic Park

Above Robocop, above Terminator 2, above even The Matrix, Jurassic Park is the biggest nostalgia movie for me. Most kids grow up watching Star Wars or Indiana Jones, no matter what generation. I might have seen Raiders at a young age, possibly Temple of Doom (very scary), but I had Jurassic Park. No movie made a more indelible impression on me than Steven Spielberg’s ultimate blockbuster.

My dinosaur phase assuredly lasted longer than most kids’, and I owe that to this film. I wanted to be a paleontogist like Dr. Alan Grant (perhaps so that one day I’d be invited to Jurassic Park) for many, many years until I read Time Traveler and Dinosaurs of the Flaming Cliffs by Michael Novacek in junior high. I realized that I didn’t have the stuff to do it. So I chose filmmaking to be the path of mine, which requires the opposite amount of academic education.

So no, Jurassic Park doesn’t have the exact same effect on me over a decade since I first saw it (feels longer, trust me), but I do appreciate it still as not only my favorite movie of all time, but one that I’m not embarrased to admit to, not like I used to be because it isn’t an obscure hard-R-rated SF movie with a difference (Ghost in the Shell). It’s not highly intelligent, but I will no longer be apologetic for it. Indeed, despite being an adventure film blockbuster, the screenplay is actually quite effective at alternatively building a sense of wonder and great suspense that contribute equally to its thesis. The landmark visual effects aren’t exactly a detriment in that department of course.

As stated earlier, this is for me the ultimate nostalgia movie, and that makes it not only hold a very special place in my heart, but works in its favor in other departments. For example, I’ve seen the feature length behind the scenes documentary (narrated by James Earl Jones) and I’ve read a book or two about Stan Winston and his magical Stan Winston Studio. I know how they did all the dinosaurs, and can even tell when its a puppet and when its CGI. But for some reason when watching the movie, and its sequel, I don’t think about that. I just think, that’s a dinosaur, because that’s the dinosaur from my youth, the one I saw growing up and was fascinated with.

The production design in Jurassic Park always stands out for me. The industrial but very Animal Kingdom-esque resort design of the park is thrown into juxtaposition with the rainy jungles, and this creates such a cool place for dinosaurs to be running amok, but also draws attention to the unnaturalness of the situation. Metal gates interfere with ferns – this is not meant to be. And yet the movie progresses, our heroes descend further and further into the jungle, as nature is slowly taking over and pushing out the manmade. The sets also offer a foundation for which varied set pieces can take place, like the car falling from a tree or the death of Gennaro.

I think one of the main reasons why Jurassic Park holds up so well for me, and I’m not ashamed to say it’s my number one movie of all time despite being followed by more thought-provoking, more genre-legitimizing films, is because of its perfect sense of adventurism and escapism. Sure, being chased by dinosaurs fills the characters with a profound sense of terror as it would any sane person, but there’s that undying element of awe that so brilliantly marries ideas with effects. The characters appreciate the dinosaurs because they are dinosaurs, and so do we, but we know they’re effects. The effects just had to be that good in order for everything to work.

The escapism and high adventure is also shared by movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark and even more recently in The Mummy (1999). As a kid, I used to approximate my enjoyment of this type of movie by the diversity in character deaths. Sounds bad, but I guess it’s true even now. In Jurassic Park, all sorts of dinosaurs eat people, they don’t just get shot like most action films.

I think that a more naive version of myself (one from a couple of months ago) would have tried to write this post and talk about all the philosophical elements that stem from the book by Michael Crichton. That would of course been an effort to justify my fondness for the movie by subscribing to conventional means of criticism. Now I believe that Jurassic Park just isn’t that type of movie. It isn’t a clever mix of thinking man’s SF with adventure film, it’s definitely more so an adventure movie with obligatory cautionary themes. They’re interesting, but not all that deep. What’s important in Jurassic Park is they way it makes you feel, not the way it makes you think. This is far better than sci-fi movies that attempt making you think, and don’t reach it.

The themes of technology exacerbating our relationship with nature to the breaking point are as mentioned earlier, interesting, but do serve narrative purpose. When I was younger, I never could fully appreciate the scope of what was going on in the story, the progression that the film has. Nature is starting to take over because people are corrupt and that is just what it does; the velociraptors (who are actually better described as Deinonychus) invade the interior safe zone we toured and established at the beginning of the movie, where the Jurassic Park project was being viewed at a comfortable distance. In the buildup to the climax, Alan Grant pumps his shotty and says, “there’s only the two raptors, correct?” or something like that, and I’m in this day and age reminded of that zombie/monster movie mentality of defense and singular location. Good stuff. Shame he only shoots once, like the BFG in the Doom movie. Shame doubly because that shotgun is so cool looking.

Speaking of raptors, let’s talk raptors for a moment. The beginning of the movie sees Grant setting up the main villains, describing the velociraptors as vicious predators while also giving insight on his own character. Raptors are great movie monsters, like the xenomorphs or anything else created by Stan Winston. In a different kind of monster movie, like Aliens, or even in a movie like Carnosaur, we’d see people shooting at monsters and monsters killing people. Not so in Jurassic Park. We get only a taste of this towards the end, as aforementioned; there are elements of the monster movie, and its place in the movie is deliberate. Jurassic Park is an adventure movie with a subtle technophilosophical agenda; the monster movie elements are a narrative device of sorts, where if we are in tune with Aliens or Carnosaur, we know what to expect when things start going downhill for our heroes, and that’s where the cautionary elements are born: out of the familiar.

This is a movie that stands the test of time for me, where I think that other movies I used to like (Tremors 2: Aftershocks) probably will not. Alan Grant was the first screen hero, Ian Malcolm the first comic relief. Nowadays I can say that the dinosaurs were the first time something that I really enjoy seeing that was outlandish and spacey was displayed onscreen. It really spoiled all of film for me, where very few movies show me visual things that I really, really want to see. The streamlined design of the creatures, their movements, all great stuff.

Ellie: We can make it if we run.
Muldoon: No… we can’t.

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