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.
. After 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 A.I.
, but despite engaging Industrial Light & Magic and approaching Steven Spielberg to direct, 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 emotional sensibilities of Kubrick and Spielberg led to several problems in the script as it was executed. 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 A.I.
has always been the on-screen battle between Kubrick's strikingly cold outlook on the human/robot relationship and Spielberg's hopelessly optimistic alternative in how he shoots scenes. 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, whether intentionally or not, 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.
exist that it's pointless to belabor them much further. The film ultimately earned its grosses through Spielberg's reputation rather than stellar critical response.
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 a tone in the 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 Green
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. It should not be surprising that Williams and Spielberg had difficulty applying music to this context, in part because of Kubruck's own surviving parameters.
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' influences on 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. A.I.
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 A.I.
in Williams' career in terms of grim tone. The quiet, unnerving terror of the sickening domestic failure in A.I.
is even more tragic than the spookier revelations of Presumed Innocent
, 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. The composer's handling of themes in these portions is minimal and fragmented, the identities for the boy and robots in general so diluted as to be ineffectual, likely an intentional choice, leaving foreshadowings of later impactful identities as the only fleeting anchors in these portions.
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 Extra-Terrestrial
'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. This abandonment motif originates earlier in the score in distinct Presumed Innocent
shades, both "David Studies Monica" and, more poignantly, "Monica's Plan" building momentum towards that pivotal moment with explorations of that theme. 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. Much of this challenging, tumultuous atmosphere was destined to fester greatly in Williams' War of the Worlds
a few years later. The composer and director specifically opted to avoid thematic usage during many of these passages, Williams instead writing singular ideas for locations and situations as he would in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
While Williams' music for A.I.
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, typically-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 seeming urge 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 challenging, 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 concept of the Blue Fairy and the mecha boy's unwavering love for his adopting mother, the two actual main themes for the picture. 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. Why Williams utilizes two separate themes for these concepts is curious, though the primary one is obviously the theme for the boy's programmed love for his mother, while his search for her is interrupted by a singular theme for the larger existential issues at hand, embodied to a point by the Blue Fairy he is destined to find submerged in the film's bridge between eras (but eventually being pegged to the species of characters discovered at the end of the story). On album, these moments, in tandem with the two song renditions of Williams' main mother's 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 A.I.
is a rare transgression of this kind for Williams. Whatever the flaws that inhabit this score, 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. Reports indicate that some influences actually came from the notes of Kubrick himself, and kudos are owed to Williams and Spielberg for any attempts to honor such wishes. They struggled mightily with finding the right tone for especially the end of the picture, Williams recording several different variations of the two lovely themes with and without the operatic vocals. The composer also tested the utilization of the vocals during the "red herring" cue, "What is Your Wish," that features the Blue Fairy but not the theme originally associated with her. The composer and director also found difficulty in approaching the applications of the mother's theme in early sequences ("Canoeing With Pinocchio") and in the level of brutality conveyed with the music in "Abandoned in the Woods," which ultimately went far darker in depth than William's original vision for the cue. You also have a strained identity on woodwinds for the teddy bear, heard most significantly at the end of "Wearing Perfume," and there remains disappointment that this identity did not itself receive any kind of complimentary resolution in the final moments of the score given that character's important presence there. To that point, Williams really doesn't succeed at all in A.I.
in mingling his identities, instead choosing to use pinpoint self-contained placements. This separation is a bit of a disappointment, as this score, more than most, could have used some merging of melodic structures to denote appropriately intertwined concepts. The lack of any resolution for the themes for the boy and teddy bear at the end, while those identities may have intentionally been meant for orphaning, begs question about their need to exist at all, especially given the wishy-washy, nebulous character of so much of the other early music in the score.
Whether or not the score for A.I.
will offend film music collectors or 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 original 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 expecting the maestro's romanticism in full. While it was a lengthy album (at 70 minutes), there remained 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. The enjoyable song performances were a commercial vehicle for the album, and at least Josh Groban's voice was fresh at the time. 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. In 2015, La-La Land Records made that 3-CD presentation official, offering an impressively loyal three hour arrangement of both the score as heard in the film on two CDs and a third CD of alternates, album cuts, and the song variants. No matter your opinion about the glories and flaws of A.I.
in context, this 2015 product is a must-have for Williams collectors, exposing more of the composer's toil even if it sheds light on mostly non-melodic portions. The two "Journey Through the Ice" cues are essentially atmospheric choral haze suited to a Kubrick film, and the string mystery of "Cybertronics" is extended in tone throughout a few other cues. Enthusiasts of the score's most effective theme, however, the one for abandonment, will cheer the additional performances of its vintage Williams creepiness, highlighting once again how the composer can utilize a benign instrument like a piano with such piercing malice. Ultimately, if you haven't seen the disturbing film, then the combination of the score's romantically accessible cues ("Where Dreams Are Born," "The Search for the Blue Fairy," and "The Reunion") makes for a very strong twenty minutes of easy 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 especially the longer album presentation. In either case, A.I.
is a rare Williams score that functions better on album than in its overplayed role in a heavily flawed film. @Amazon.com: CD or
- Music as Written for the Film: ***
- Music as Heard on Album: ****
- Overall: ****
For John Williams reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.75
(in 70 reviews)|
and the average viewer rating is 3.64
(in 341,253 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.
The insert of the 2001 Warner album includes the usual short note from
Spielberg, but no extra information about the score or film. That of the 2015
product contains extensive notation about both, including a list of performers.