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Roy M. Anker


Artificial Creation: A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

Ending a three-year hiatus with a much-hyped new sci-fi film, Steven Spielberg is back, and better still, he is back in familiar territory. After years of "stretching" to heavy-duty subject matter—the Holocaust, slave ships, and Normandy Beach—seemingly to prove he has grown up after all, Spielberg is telling another "lost boy" story.

Given the high profile of his recent films, it's easy to forget that Spielberg's fame and considerable fortune were built in the first instance on tales of boys in danger, boys threatened with the loss of innocence, family, and joy. So enamored of the notion of lost boyhood was Spielberg that in very successful mid-career he actually went so far as to make Hook, a frenetic, overstuffed sprawl about Peter Pan that starred, appropriately, the eternal pubescent cut up Robin Williams. But that misfire came after a string of momentous, inventive films, most of them completed before he turned forty: Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (featuring men who would like to be kids again), E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and the much neglected Empire of the Sun—not to mention the three ultimate boy-adventure movies featuring the exploits of archaeologist Indiana Jones.

With A.I., we run again into a "young" Spielberg, though now in his mid-50s. While it is good to see that he still has his youth about him, it is also clear from A.I. that the young fellow is now a good deal wiser, braver, and darker. And Spielberg knows it, freely admitting that he would not have made such a film 20 years ago. Even in comparison to Schindler's List (1993), Amistad (1997), and Saving Private Ryan (1998), where he set out to grapple with darkness, A.I. is grim. Gone, or at least greatly modulated, is Spielberg's bent for what one prominent critic recently called "ruthless sentimentality."

Special effects don't overwhelm the story; more important, the cinematography is muted, Spielberg containing his penchant for the visual pyrotechnics that make so ...

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