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A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” (2001) – The 20th Anniversary

The story of 2001’s “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” is an interesting one. If you look at it, it’s no surprise that “A.I.” is a masterpiece of science fiction cinema within the last two decades. But it’s such a masterpiece and flawless film, because of it’s collaboration between two of our greatest filmmaking minds: Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick. 

“A.I. Artificial Intelligence” is based off “Supertoys Last All Summer Long”, a short story by Brian Aldiss that was first published in the UK edition of Harper’s Bazaar, in its December 1969 issue. Development of “A.I.” began when producer and director Stanley Kubrick acquired the rights to Aldiss’ story in the early 1970s. 

Kubrick’s films are mostly adaptations of novels or short stories. His films are noted for their realism, dark humor, unique cinematography, extensive set designs and evocative use of music. Known to be a demanding perfectionist, Kubrick assumed control over most aspects of the filmmaking process in his films from direction and writing to editing. He also took painstaking care with researching his films and staging scenes, working in close coordination with his actors and other collaborators. For “A.I.”, Kubrick hired a series of writers to write a film treatment that included the story’s author Brian Aldiss and writers Bob Shaw, Ian Watson and Sara Maitland.

Kubrick was known to ask for several dozen retakes of the same shot in a movie, which resulted in many conflicts with his casts. Despite the resulting notoriety among actors, many of Kubrick’s films broke new ground and he became a game changer for his cinematography and becoming one of the first directors to make use of a Steadicam for stabilized and fluid tracking shots. 

In 1985, Kubrick asked Steven Spielberg to direct the film, with Kubrick staying on as a producer. Warner Bros. had agreed to co-finance “A.I.” and cover it’s distribution. The film was labored in development hell and author Brian Aldiss was fired by Stanley Kubrick over creative differences in 1989. Bob Shaw who was also a writer, left after six weeks due to Kubrick’s demanding work schedule and Ian Watson was hired as the new writer in March of 1990. Aldiss later remarked, “Not only did the bastard fire me, he hired my enemy instead”. Kubrick handed writer Ian Watson “The Adventures of Pinocchio” for inspiration, calling “‘A.I.’, a robot version of Pinocchio”. 

Three weeks after being hired, Ian Watson gave Kubrick his first story treatment and concluded his work on “A.I.” in May 1991, with another treatment of 90 pages. The Jude Law character of Gigolo Joe was originally conceived as a G.I. Mecha, but Watson is the one who suggested changing him to a male prostitute. Which Kubrick replied jokingly, “I guess we lost the kiddie market”. Meanwhile, Kubrick dropped “A.I.” to work on other film projects, feeling that computer animation was not advanced enough at the time to create the David character. 

However, after the release of Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” and it’s innovative computer-generated imagery, it was announced in November 1993 that production of “A.I.” would officially begin in 1994. Dennis Muren and Ned Gorman, who worked on “Jurassic Park”, became the visual effects supervisors on “A.I.”, but Kubrick was displeased with their previsualization and with the expense of hiring the George Lucas owned Industrial Light & Magic.

In early 1994, the film began pre-production with Kubrick having actor Joseph Mazzello (Tim from “Jurassic Park”) do a screen test for the lead role of the young robot David. Visual Effects supervisor Chris Cunningham helped assemble a series of “little robot-type humans” for the David character. “We tried to construct a little boy with a movable rubber face to see whether we could make it look appealing,” producer Jan Harlan reflected. “But it was a total failure, it looked awful”. 

Meanwhile, throughout pre-production, Kubrick couldn’t help but think that “A.I.” would be closer to Steven Spielberg’s sensibilities as a director. That’s when Kubrick handed the position to Spielberg in 1995, but Spielberg chose to direct other projects and convinced Kubrick to remain as the director. Kubrick and Spielberg shopped the film around and approached studio executives with the script for “A.I.” by pitching it as “Blade Runner” meets “Field of Dreams”. The film was then put on hold due to Kubrick’s commitment to “Eyes Wide Shut” in 1999, which would be the filmmakers final movie. 

After Kubrick’s death in March of 1999, after dying in his sleep at the age of 70, from a heart attack. “A.I.” producer Jan Harlan and Christiane Kubrick (Stanley’s wife) approached Spielberg to take over the director’s chair. By November 1999, Spielberg was writing the screenplay, that was based on Watson’s 90-page story treatment. It was Spielberg’s first solo screenplay credit since 1977’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. 

Spielberg remained close to Ian Watson’s treatment, but removed various sex scenes with Jude Law’s Gigolo Joe. Pre-production was briefly halted during February 2000, when Spielberg pondered directing other projects like: “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, “Minority Report” and “Memoirs of a Geisha” (which Spielberg produced). 

The following month Spielberg announced that “A.I.”would be his next project after passing on “Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Jurassic Park 3”. Tom Cruise’s “Minority Report” would be his follow-up to “A.I. Artificial Intelligence”. The films producers have stated that the movie was originally to be titled just “A.I.”, but after a survey it was revealed that too many people thought it was A1. The title was changed to “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” to prevent people from thinking it was a biopic about the steak sauce. 

“A.I.” came at a time when Spielberg was on a career high from 1998’s “Saving Private Ryan” to “A.I.”, “Minority Report”, “Catch Me If You Can”, “The Terminal”, “War Of The Worlds” and “Munich”. Writer Ian Watson reported that the final script was very faithful to Kubrick’s vision, even the ending, which is often attributed to Spielberg. “The final 20 minutes are pretty close to what I wrote for Stanleyand what Stanley wanted, faithfully filmed by Spielberg without added schmaltz”. 

The original start date was July 2000, but filming was yet again delayed for a month. Aside from shooting a couple of weeks on location in Oxbow Regional Park in Oregon, the film was shot entirely using sound stages at Warner Bros. Studios and the Spruce Goose Dome in Long Beach, California. Spielberg used Kubrick’s secretive approach to filmmaking by refusing to give the complete script to cast and crew, banning press from the set and making the actors sign confidentiality agreements.

For production designer Rick Carter, he had three distinct segments that offered different complexities within the set building process. The first takes place in the subtly futuristic and circular Swinton home. The second phase involves David and Gigolo Joe’s odyssey that brings them through the dark forests and shantytowns to the brutal carnival atmosphere of Flesh Fair and finally ends in Rouge City. Among the many challenges faced by Carter and his crew, Rouge City was one of the most complex sets to design and build. Some of the City’s buildings were built to scale, while others were created digitally and filmed on a special virtual blue screen stage.

Production designer Rick Carter revealed in a past interview: “Originally, we had a bigger stage. We were going to spend a million dollars more to create Rouge City. But it became clear that this money would be better used by ILM to digitally create a more expansive city than we could ever build. We would re-dress the set often, so that you really never knew where you would be in it. ILM came up with a virtual digital space on a blue screen stage to further the illusion of a vast city, which was quite groundbreaking technically”. 

The blue screen set was unique because it was designed as a virtual digital environment in which the actors could walk through a set and be seen in a 360 degree angle on a monitor which housed all the surrounding scenery in sync. When a camera moved about the set, the monitor showed the entire “dressed” set on special software that integrated the actors with their programmed environment. This way, they could generate the buildings around the actors digitally, giving Spielberg more choices for shooting.

One of the biggest sets on “A.I.” was Rouge City that was constructed on a large soundstage under the direction of set designer Jim Teegarden, using many of set designer C. Scott Baker’s more erotic and outlandish designs for the buildings. A few references to Stanley Kubrick’s films were woven into the set, including a milk bar like the one found in Kubrick’s 1971 film “A Clockwork Orange”. Also located in Rouge City is Dr. Know’s information boutique, a unique futuristic store in which a hologram resembling Albert Einstein appears to customers to distribute snippets of knowledge for the right price.

“The character of ‘Dr. Know’ I always saw as the information equivalent of ‘Ronald McDonald’ and you would find the franchise almost anywhere. Instead of fast food, you could get fast information and be entertained at the same time”. The character of Dr. Know is voiced by comedy legend Robin Williams. He recorded his dialogue for the movie with Stanley Kubrick directing the recording session, it was recorded a long time before Steven Spielberg was even attached to direct.

Another large set piece and their most dangerous set, was the Flesh Fair sequences that were shot and housed in an enormous Spruce Goose Dome facility in Long Beach. The Dome was 600 feet in diameter and 100 feet high, it provided the perfect atmosphere for all of the elaborate night sequences. There, the crew built a giant Moon, as well as the robot torture devices found at Flesh Fair. The moon weighed 19,000 pounds and was held and moved by a 300-ton crane, using nets and magnets to capture the robots in the film. Even more dangerous was mounting the elaborate robot torture devices found in the Flesh Fair arena. With 800 extras looking on, the crew had to find a way to shred, burn and rip apart robots in a way that wouldn’t jeopardize the cast or crew. 

Only 12 years-old during filming, Haley Joel Osment had already made his mark in a performance that earned the young actor an Oscar nomination in M. Night Shyamalan’s box-office phenomenon “The Sixth Sense” in 1999. In “A.I.”, he plays another kind of remarkable boy but this one is built from silicon and synthetics. “I talked with Steven about to what extent I would make David robotic”, Osment says. “We decided that, as we progressed and I learned more as a robot about the world, my experiences would make me more and more human and less mechanical. As David learns, many of the physical characteristics fade, but some of the subtler ones never go away”.

Haley’s father, Eugene Osment (who makes an appearance in “A.I.” and Spielberg’s “Minority Report”) is also an actor, as is Haley’s younger sister Emily (“Hannah Montana”). Haley’s father accompanied him to set every day, preparing Haley for the day’s work and communicating what the day’s technical demands would be. Long time Spielberg producer Kathleen Kennedy commented: 

“I think Haley is the most extraordinary child actor to come along in a long, long time. And I hesitate to use the word ‘child’, as Haley is every bit the consummate professional trained actor that any adult would be. He’s quite amazing”.

The always great Jude Law, who received an Academy Award nominee for his work in 1999’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and 2004’s “Cold Mountain”, was cast to play the difficult role of Gigolo Joe or known as a “love mecha” or “mechanical”. Heavy, intricate makeup was utilized in realizing Gigolo Joe and Law studied mime and peacock movements to prepare to play a character who sings, dances and can transform himself physically at the drop of a hat. “Joe is a gigolo”, says Law. “He has various clients, some he just talks to, some he massages. Some he presumably takes a bit further. He is able to change the way in which he seduces”.

Jude Law also enjoyed his character because he got to do some unexpected dancing. “I had never done much dancing professionally, just classes and the like”, says Law. “But Steven decided that Gigolo Joe should move more elegantly than humans since he is designed to attract them, so he should also be able to dance as well”.

Choreographer Francesca Jaynes worked with Jude Law for three months, perfecting and creating his dancing style. “It started out a bit more Fred Astaire, then became a little more Gene Kelly”, Law says. “He should be able to move instantly, with elegance and grace. After all, he needs to catch the eye of prospective clients. This is what he is programmed to do. Luckily, through David, Gigolo Joe learns to care about someone other than himself along their journey together”. 

Rounding out the supporting cast is Australian actress Frances O’Conner (“Windtalkers”) wasn’t the first choice for the role of Monica Swinton. Oscar winners Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”) and Gwyneth Paltrow (“Shakespeare In Love”) were both considered for the role. American actor Sam Robards (“American Beauty”) as Henry Swinton, while young actor Jake Thomas (TV’s “Lizzie McGuire”) won the role of their flesh and blood son, Martin. Veteran actor Brendan Gleeson (“In Bruges”) portrays robot hunter Lord Johnson-Johnson and Academy Award winner William Hurt (“The Doctor”) plays the role of Professor Hobby.

With such a tight production schedule, the movie was shot in sixty seven days and being a movie of this scale and size that is remarkable thing to accomplish. Especially considering that each proposed day of shooting “A.I.” would be a challenge of technology meeting artistry with intricate makeups, elaborate mechanical special effects and a cutting edge “virtual set”.

“Steven was enormously helpful in articulating what he needed”, says Kennedy. “He spent from four to six hours a day with the art department going over storyboards and working with models. Everything, in a sense had to be designed, fabricated and invented by Steven. Then, communicating that to all departments is really what the challenge of producing is all about”.

Spielberg had the same sensibility as Kubrick visually and he wanted to carry through with his view of the future. Kubrick was so spot on in his concept of the future. Spielberg and Kubrick together was a wonderful marriage of ideas. Soon, ILM was constructing over 100 practical models as well as another 100 computer models to synchronize and bring the worlds of “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” to life.

As real sets were being planned and constructed, robotic and creature effects creator Stan Winston, Dennis Muren and Scott Farrar and their ILM team, along with special effects master Michael Lantieri huddled with Spielberg to brainstorm and create an all-new world of robots. Winston and Lantieri also collaborated this way on Spielberg’s groundbreaking film “Jurassic Park” in 1993). “A.I.” was probably the most confidential, under wraps project of my career”, says Stan Winston, who also kept the “Jurassic Park” creatures under top secret protection during production of that film. “We were designing the world of robots, and I knew very little about the script at the beginning. But I don’t need to know any more from Steven than that he wants me involved. I’m there with him”.

With Steven Spielberg all of the crew’s efforts go onto the screen and that is evident in “A.I.”, as there is not one effect that isn’t cutting edge. That’s why Spielberg is one of our greatest, groundbreaking and brave filmmakers because he believes he can make it all work on the screen”. 

“A.I.” is an enthralling piece of filmmaking that’s beautifully crafted, complex, visually dazzling, rich with metaphor and deeply affecting. Steven Spielberg is one of our finest filmmakers and a real game changer in filmmaking. “A.I.” doesn’t get enough credit in Spielberg’s impressive and legendary career. It is one of Spielberg’s finest and most fiercely misread, films. “A.I.” does what truly great science fiction does and gets you to think about what it really means to be human. Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.” is a brilliant, triumphant achievement in modern moviemaking and a brilliant collaboration of two filmmaking masters.

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros is the movie critic for Maui Watch. He lives on the beautiful island of Maui and is also a member of the elite Hawaii Film Critics Society and an active cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, where his Grandfather started his love for the movies.

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