A.I. Artificial Intelligence
: (John Williams) A
complicated and convoluted concept in each of its numerous side stories,
A.I. Artificial Intelligence
is essentially a film about a boy's
love for his mother. In the time between Brian Aldiss' original story of
1969 and Steven Spielberg's realization of the adaptation in 2001, famed
director Stanley Kubrick continuously toiled with A.I.
several unsuccessful attempts to begin production on the film in
earnest, Kubrick eventually shelved the idea in the 1980's until such a
time that special effects technology could meet his extremely high
standards for the look of his vision. When he saw the stunning effects
of Jurassic Park
, he determined that the time had come to make
, but despite engaging Industrial Light & Magic and the
casual advice of Spielberg, he proceeded to make Eyes Wide Shut
first. That decision unfortunately meant that the director died before
being able to turn his attention squarely on A.I.
, and to honor
Kubrick's career, Spielberg went ahead and tackled the project himself.
While his involvement ensured topnotch technical qualities, the
conflicting world views of Kubrick and Spielberg led to several problems
in the script. Through the years, Kubrick had darkened the story by
several shades, eventually deciding on the basic premise of the
controversial epilogue that mostly survived intact. The challenge with
has always been the on-screen battle between Kubrick's
strikingly cold outlook on the human/robot relationship and Spielberg's
hopelessly optimistic alternative. Thus, the soft ending of A.I.
as well as several smaller plot points in between, is in conflict with
the chilly atmosphere of Kubrick's vision because Spielberg essentially
romanticized the concept to improve its appeal. Some have claimed that
the director also extended the "Pinocchio" connections (which Kubrick
nurtured all along) into an allegory about the historical fight between
the Romans and the Jews. So many divergent accounts of the "facts"
involving the circumstances behind the creation of A.I.
that it's pointless to belabor them much further. The film ultimately
earned its grosses through Spielberg's reputation rather than stellar
What does matter is that A.I.
, for all its efforts
to provoke thought, is both a beautifully enchanting and frightfully
offensive film at the same time. Since these two seemingly incongruous
descriptors are ultimately the downfall of the picture, they have to be
explored in order to understand the extreme contrasts in John Williams'
music for it. Many readers have disparaged the following statement
through the years, but A.I.
really does give listeners a hint as
to what a collaboration between Kubrick and the maestro would have
sounded like. The underlying social commentary of the concept,
hauntingly brutal in a way that few could create as well as Kubrick,
guides the basis of the story. The sappiness of the film is the
influence of Spielberg's usual attempt to infuse a sense of magic into
such fantasy topics, causing a variety of screaming fallacies of logic
and an ending that was destined to be classified as nothing short of
unsatisfying no matter how it was rewritten. Whatever interest that
could be maintained by the future conflict between orgas (people) and
mechas (robots) is restrained and diluted by the simple fact that the
concept of an unloving and incapable mother who abandons one who loves
her dearly is devastatingly depressing and disturbing to watch. In this
case, a young boy robot is programmed to unconditionally love a couple
whose biological child is ill and incapacitated. When the real child is
miraculously cured, the mother intentionally abandons the mecha child in
the woods. That boy (joined by his equally lovable, talking teddy bear,
whose fate at the end of the journey also remains sadly unresolved) is
the first model that can feel emotions, and to see him spend the rest of
the film in a fruitless attempt to find his mother is frankly the
offensive part of the story. Both Kubrick and Spielberg intended to
allow the robot to find her for one last fleeting moment, but that
conclusion, whether it had followed Kubrick's extremely depressing
variant of Spielberg's ultimately soft and fuzzy death scene (of sorts),
damns humanity in ways more vile than even concepts like Soylent
could suggest. This intense dissatisfaction with A.I.
as basically a glorified child abandonment picture, has a strong and
strangely distancing effect on the opinion of Williams' score.
The final incarnation of A.I.
creates the difficult
position of causing one to be utterly repulsed by the film while loving
the score despite its specific contributions to the worst parts of the
film's ultimate plot failures. In other words, Williams' music is an
extremely effective contributing factor to the offensive emotional
chains that the film throws around you, so you can either loathe it for
accentuating those traits in the film or love it for its individually
gorgeous parts. When you look back at the basic circumstances of this
production, it's hard not to get the impression that Williams was
confronted with the most problematic aspects of the script more than any
other crew member, forced to write a coherent score that satisfied both
the dark and light elements of the two directors' visions of the story.
Williams had scored the darker sides of humanity before, but never for a
film in which there is no redeeming quality for any human character.
is nothing short of a suspense and horror film for most of
its running time, and the heroes are an unlikely trio of robots (if you
include the teddy bear and "Gigolo Joe"). The closest Williams had
ventured to the same general sense of disturbed suburban lifestyles was
for Presumed Innocent
, which remains the most similar score to
in Williams' career in terms of grim tone. The quiet,
unnerving terror of the sickening domestic failure in A.I.
even more tragic than the spookier revelations of Presumed
, but Williams handles them similarly. His use of a piano to
represent the symbol of the mecha boy and his family is not a
revolutionary technique, but Williams has a particularly effective
method of combining it with the woodwind and string sections to create
optimistic harmony in theme while being offset by underlying disharmony
in other layers of the orchestra. The first half of A.I.
embroiled in the extremely distasteful and unpleasant inactions of the
family that has adopted the artificial boy, has very few optimistic
scenes to offer, and Williams lays on the suspense very well, continuing
the plucking uncertainty from Presumed Innocent
with much skill.
Just as unpleasant as the film is to digest in that first half,
Williams' music for those scenes is equally unnerving on album.
When the film suddenly transforms into the more expected
Kubrick mold of bizarre imagery and illogic, Williams' music becomes an
increasingly interesting listening experience (both in the film and on
album). A terrifying and urgent theme that mirrors some of the discord
heard when manipulating the innocence of Anakin's thematic material in
the first two Star Wars
prequels is applied to the uncertainty of
the mecha world from the viewpoint of the boy once he is abandoned.
Heard most extensively in "Abandoned in the Woods" and "Rouge City,"
this theme is accompanied by an underlying, tumultuous string motif,
rising and falling with almost a mechanical brutality that culminates
into a dissonant crescendo complete with seemingly random piano strikes.
This material had been used extensively in the trailers for the film,
and it accompanies the horrifying chase sequences quite well. It evokes
the same emotions as the most terrifying moments of E.T. The
's chase through the woods, and its boiling nature
can double in A.I.
to represent the massive, rising seas that
have engulfed much of the planet. The film's "Flesh Fair" scene, perhaps
raising the most intriguing overarching social issues of the story, is
accompanied by the "What About Us?" song by Ministry, and although it is
thankfully not included on the Williams score album, it was available
almost immediately on the group's "greatest hits" compilation. The
"Rouge City" cue contains the most impressive writing that Williams
applies to the outwardly Kubrick aspects of the story, though the
composer's unyielding, brassy fright in such cues as "Cybertronics" and
"The Moon Rising" offer a harsher electronic side of his writing that
Kubrick might even have appreciated in coordination with his traditional
classical styles. The latter cue is famous for its wicked electric
guitar contributions, ones that made the subsequent, brief use of the
instrument in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
seem mild. While
Williams' music is overshadowed by the power of the story for the first
hour or so of the film, it begins to assert itself after the mecha boy
is abandoned, and it predictably toggles over to the sappy, sentimental,
Spielberg side of the story's emotions for the controversial ending of
the film. It is this last half hour of material that is almost too
bittersweet to love, but too lovely to ignore.
The film's fatal inability to choose between a
concentration on the larger social issues of the plot or the dreams of
the mecha boy is what causes the ending of the film and score to be a
disappointment in construct, even if it is enticingly pretty in its
rendering. As Kubrick would have had it, there certainly wouldn't have
been a joyful fulfillment of dreams at the end of the story (at least
not an uncompromised one; Kubrick wanted to force the boy to watch his
mother immediately die before him), and Spielberg's need to tie a nice
big bow on the package caused Williams to follow suit. The score becomes
unequivocally harmonious in its final half hour, leaving behind all of
the Kubrick-inspired aspects of the score and film that had made both
somewhat interesting. Williams establishes the mother-like female vocals
of Barbara Bonney, operatic in performance, to represent both the Blue
Fairy and the mecha boy's unwavering love for his adopting mother. With
that voice, the score takes on an almost religious tone of fantasy,
combining with the piano from the beginning of the score (performing the
mother's theme) to provide a hauntingly beautiful aural sense for the
remarkable visuals of the final sequence. Williams technically utilizes
two separate themes for these concepts. The title theme is obviously the
one for the boy's programmed love for his mother, while his search for
her is interrupted by a singular theme for the Blue Fairy he is destined
to find submerged in the film's bridge between eras. On album, these
moments, in tandem with the two song renditions of Williams' title theme
(entitled "For Always"), allow for an extremely pleasant listening
experience, regardless of their connection to dissatisfying elements in
the plot. Still, in the film, the heart-wrenching and hopeless portrayal
of humanity causes the music to become secondary until the very last
scenes and the end credits, during which Williams' score finally
announces itself for the first time to an audience bombarded for two
hours with emotionally disturbing turns of events. As such, "For Always"
almost seems too pleasant for the occasion. There is a point at which
music can attempt to sugar coat a film to such a degree of saturation
that it actually becomes noticeably obnoxious in its beauty, and
is a rare transgression of this kind for Williams.
Whatever the flaws that inhabit the score for
, they are the fault of the extremely problematic plotline of
the film. Williams got caught in the middle of a story torn in two
opposite directions, and he did his best to score each scene
appropriately. Thus, whatever failure of the music cannot be considered
his fault, and the score earned him another Academy Award nomination in
a very competitive year. The underlying horror in his music prevails for
the majority of the work, following the extremely frustrating twists of
the film with skill. It has been suggested that Williams borrowed motifs
significantly for A.I.
, including minimalistic material from
Steve Reich, vocal segments taken from Gyorgy Ligeti, and rhythms of
strings from Philip Glass. Whether or not the score will offend the
trained classical ear, it still suffers from the unhappy and ultimately
hopeless fate of the characters in the film, transforming into a
depressing work due to the crushing weight of its own melodramatic heart
in the later sections. The album release has always been a source of
dissatisfaction for Williams' collectors, with some unhappy over its
short length, others quibbling with the choice of cues and their random
ordering, and even a few claiming that the product was artificially
spiced up for a more commercially upbeat audience. While a lengthy album
(at 70 minutes), there remain many important cues missing from the
presentation, and those that are included are indeed very much out of
film order. Williams arranged the tracks so that all of the unpleasant
material is located at the start of the album, leaving four tracks of
the more hope-inspiring variety at the end. A very limited 2-CD
Oscar promo for A.I.
included some of the more weighty omissions and
fans eventually created very comprehensive bootlegs of the score, some ranging onto
3 CDs. The enjoyable song performances were a commercial vehicle for the album, and
at least Josh Groban's voice was fresh at the time. If you haven't seen
the film, the combination of "Where Dreams Are Born," "The Search for
the Blue Fairy," and "The Reunion" makes for a very strong twenty
minutes of listening. If you've been bludgeoned by the horrifying,
illogical plot of the story, however, then perhaps you might have a more
difficult time appreciating it. In either case, A.I.
is a rare
Williams score that works better on album than in its overplayed role in
a heavily flawed film. Amazon.com Price Hunt: CD or Download
Music as Written for the Film: ***
Music as Heard on Album: ****
|Bias Check:||For John Williams reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating
is 3.74 (in 69 reviews)|
and the average viewer rating is 3.59
(in 336,805 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.
The insert includes the usual short note from Spielberg, but no extra information
about the score or film.