History will place an asterisk next to A.I. as the film Stanley Kubrick might have directed. But let the record also show that Kubrick--after developing this project for some 15 years--wanted Steven Spielberg to helm this astonishing sci-fi rendition of Pinocchio, claiming (with good reason) that it veered closer to Spielberg's kinder, gentler sensibilities. Spielberg inherited the project (based on the Brian Aldiss short story "Supertoys Last All Summer Long") after Kubrick's death in 1999, and the result is an astounding directorial hybrid. A flawed masterpiece of sorts, in which Spielberg's gift for wondrous enchantment often clashes (and sometimes melds) with Kubrick's harsher vision of humanity, the film spans near and distant futures with the fairy-tale adventures of an artificial boy named David (Haley Joel Osment), a marvel of cybernetic progress who wants only to be a real boy, loved by his mother in that happy place called home.
Echoes of Spielberg's Empire of the Sun are clearly heard as young David, shunned by his trial parents and tossed into an unfriendly world, is joined by fellow "mecha" Gigolo Joe (played with a dancer's agility by Jude Law) in his quest for a mother-and-child reunion. Parallels to Pinocchio intensify as David reaches "the end of the world" (a Manhattan flooded by melted polar ice caps), and a far-future epilogue propels A.I. into even deeper realms of wonder, even as it pulls Spielberg back to his comfort zone of sweetness and soothing sentiment. Some may lament the diffusion of Kubrick's original vision, but this is Spielberg's A.I. (complete with one of John Williams's finest scores), a film of astonishing technical wizardry that spans the spectrum of human emotions and offers just enough Kubrick to suggest that humanity's future is anything but guaranteed. --Jeff Shannon --This text refers to the Theatrical Release edition.