Friday, March 23, 2012

Movie Review: Artificial Intelligence

Imagine a very bad version of Blade Runner. Now imagine a very bad version of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Now imagine a slightly better version of Waterworld. Now imagine that random bits of these three awful movies are poured into a sausage grinder, which churns them up and extrudes an oozing mass of incomprehensible nonsense. You would then have something that resembles Artificial Intelligence.

Artificial Intelligence is not simply bad in the way that a SyFy original movie is bad. It is the special unique kind of bad that can only be made by famous and pretentious people who are trying to Send A Message. While watching the movie, I could never stop wondering 'What is Spielberg trying to say here?' and 'Where is he going with this?'. It was this train-wreck fascination that kept me watching.

To share my mental state while I watched Artificial Intelligence, imagine that you have been invited to a special ritual dance of a distant tribe that you have some academic knowledge of. This ritual is clearly important to the tribe; they have put a great deal of effort and expense into it, and many members of the tribe have talked to you about how wonderful, moving, and life-changing the dance is. You decide to share in the ritual, in an attempt to better understand the culture of the tribe.

The dance starts normally enough, and is about what you expected. It seems to be a kind of origin myth that is used to illustrate the tribe's beliefs about the world. But then odd bits of imagery start to show up for reasons that you cannot understand. Stereotyped cartoonish villains appear in a way that has nothing to do with the theme of the story. They seem to be thrown in as a way to mock and belittle the tribe's traditional enemies.

Things start to happen that are almost, but not quite, entirely random. You see vague connections to the other myths and stories of the tribe, but you are increasingly lost and bewildered. You are no longer sure what the message of the dance is supposed to be, even as it becomes increasingly clear that the dance exists for the sole purpose of telling you big important things.

You can tell that the tribal dancers truly believe in the deep meaning of their dance. It is clearly a religious experience for them, but to you it seems to be nothing more than a mash of chaotic imagery. It is no longer enjoyable in any way, but you keep watching out of a vague sense of obligation, and a distant hope that it will start to make sense if you keep watching.

Finally, you think it ends, but then the dance restarts again, and makes even less sense than before. The story loses any sense of coherence and dissolves into a series of random emotional appeals and references to other tribal dances. When it does finally end, you understand the tribe even less than before, you are mad at them for wasting your time, and want nothing more to do with them in the future.

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