Jul 5, 2001


One of the main screenwriting strategies since Star Wars is to grab from a number of story forms and weave them together. Unfortunately this technique is much harder than it looks.

AI shows the episodic and bloated script that results when you don't know how to connect all the story pieces in an organic whole. Writer Steven Spielberg combines elements of Pinocchio, Cain and Abel, The Wizard of Oz, Hansel and Gretel, Joan of Arc, the Holocaust, Christian sacrifice in the Roman Collosseum, fairy tale, science fiction, horror, and drama. But the center does not hold.

This script, and film, is like a suspension bridge that is so long it collapses the line. AI pulls most heavily from Pinocchio, but Pinocchio is a simple fairy tale. Both its structure and theme are too slight to sustain anything longer or more important than a short story.

But Spielberg has tried to turn Pinocchio into an epic. Collapse was inevitable. First because a puppet or robot boy cannot generate enough audience empathy for an epic. Sure, the boy is cute, and I'd prefer he get back with his "mother." But he is a robot, and I know he is programmed to want her. After about an hour, I need to move on to bigger stakes.

This hole where a powerful main character should be also limits the structure. You can't drive an epic structure, especially one made up of so many distinct story units, without a great hero at the wheel.

Third, an epic requires an epic theme, in both scope and moral complexity. This has neither. If you remember the original definition of an epic - the fate of a nation rests on the actions of a single individual - you can see how this tale of a machine boy trying to find mom is bound to grow tiresome long before it is over.

There are some wonderful scenes and visuals in the film, especially hollowed-out, flooded New York City.

But a movie built of pieces can only give momentary pleasure. And when the writer keeps adding pieces with no regard to the audience, the odor of self-indulgence starts to overwhelm. When Spielberg brings in the advanced intellect aliens, followed by the boy's creepy, all-day reunion with mom, the audience with whom I saw the film had clearly had enough.

All the critical commentary about uniting the sensibilities of Kubrick and Spielberg is a bunch of auteur nonsense. This film's structure is a bunch of pieces looking for a whole, and no amount of arresting images can make up for it.