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AI Apology

Tuesday 22 January 2013, 12:05

Mark Kermode Mark Kermode

When I interviewed Steven Spielberg last week I felt the need to apologise to him for getting it so wrong when I first reviewed AI - here's why I have revised my opinion of this film.

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    Comment number 161.

    I grew up with Spielbergs films, notably E.T. and Jurassic Park, and so I am a huge admirer of his work, despite his output being underwhelming of late. My favourite film from his back catalogue is, at a push, Jurassic Park.

    But I also love many of his films which Dr. Kermode described as "guilty pleasures", although I wouldn't describe many films as guilty pleasures, because why should I feel guilty about enjoying something that others may not.

    But sticking by the good Dr.'s question, my favourite Spielberg film, which isn't partcularly as popular as others is Minority Report. The first time I saw this film, I thought it was just bang average popcorn fodder. But I re-watched it and found it immensely gripping.

    It's Tom Cruise's best performance for my money, certainly over the last ten to fifteen years. I also think the neo noir cinemetography and score is incredibly atmospheric. It's an under-rated and overlooked Spielberg film, and I don't think it gets as much attention as it deserves.

    And I also like the Lost World. And I'm not kidding.

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    Comment number 162.

    For a long time now, I've found the very concept of 'guilty pleasure' to be a somewhat baffling critical response. It's almost as if the pleasurable emotion of responding positively and favourably is somehow always subject to the approval of a notional consensus (ie. 'I really like/hate this, but I know that ain't terribly fashionable so I'll just keep my trap shut and go along with the pack'). With Spielberg, the 'guilt' is seemingly always attached to a professed suspicion regarding his love of schmaltz and the recourse to sentimentality, two elements that are seen to impede a rational, objective critical response. This seems to assume that the critical judgement of films is dependent upon a conscious resistence to emotional effect (or even, bodily affect). This has often been central to the mainstream critical condemnation of much violent horror, where a focus on the mutilation, mangling and mutation of the body might be pivotal to a film's address to its audience . Any serious film criticism needs to find ways of accomodating and incorporating emotional and bodily responses if it is to have any relationship to the ways in which people actually watch films (for the record, Mark, I've always thought you do this rather well, and indeed state quite clearly in the blog that you feel emotional responses are indeed crucial).
    I long ago gave up on apologising for my responses, good or bad, to films which the party line has condemned to the celluloid furnace. That is why I would always recommend 'Mandingo', 'Jade' or 'Myra Breckinridge' regardless of their regular place in the 'guilty pleasure' file - these are all fabulous films, and nothing anybody else says is going to affect my personal critical judgement. The late great Robin Wood put it best:

    'If one feels guilt at pleasure, isn't one bound to renounce one or the other?... The attitude fostered [by bourgeois critical elitism] is essentially evasive (including self-evasive) and anti-critical: "Isn't this muck - to which of course I'm really so superior - delicious?"'

    And for the record, I feel no guilt at any response to any Spielberg film and remain steadfast in my view that 'Jaws' is one of the great works of American popular art and '1941' was, is and will forever remain wretched.

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    Comment number 163.

    A forgotten gem of his is the 3rd of the Indiana Jones series - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Probably one of the most perfect sequels I have seen and more than a worthy follow up to Raiders of the Lost Ark, much more so than follow up prequel to that, Temple of Doom. I fell in love with those films when I was 11 but the one that impressed me most was Last Crusade. If it weren't for the legendary razzmatazz that rightly accompanies Raiders then I think more Indy fans would be inclined to speak greater of Last Crusade. It's cast brilliantly, the action sequences are as thrilling as any Indy film and it's also a very funny too.

    Shout out to Minority Report as well which is dreadfully underrated even though the critics gave it a very good review. It's very complicated but is one of those films which rewards you more on second and third viewings.

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    Comment number 164.

    Personally I loved AI when it came out, and I cried at the ending as well. I haven't heard "Always" mentioned yet, so I will champion that as Spielberg's most underrated film. Great romantic chemistry between Richard Dreyfuss and Holly Hunter, and some thrilling scenes of Holly Hunter fighting the forest fires in a battered old aircraft. Almost touching cameo from Audrey Hepburn.

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    Comment number 165.

    I still hold Duel up there with his best and is easily my favorite. The tension, the paranoia, the lack of actual dialogue and characters and the whole movie keeps you gripped right to the spectacular finale.

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    Comment number 166.

    Always: - I went through the first five or so pages and was thinking that I must be the only one. Thankkfully at least some of you agree. It is a lovely film.

    Yes, it is sentimental - but then so is It's A Wonderful Life. But the performances are great. Who wasn't moved when Holly Hunter goes through all the reasons why she wants him to stop flying, why the fear is tearing her up inside - while we a slow close-up - and then to have Richard Dreyfuss say "Look, I have an idea so keep an open mind..." and he tells her he'll stop flying! I'm welling up again right now! Spoiller alert! And then he bloody goes and dies. What? And then there's some great comedy scenes, Audrey Hepburn, John Goodman with the tar on his face, a genuinely exciting climax.

    Come on guys, that was a great film.

    Obviously lots of other Spielberg guilty pleasures but noit enough defending Always, which, as someone said, was far superior to Ghost

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    Comment number 167.

    I like War of the Worlds too, also The Terminal, Catch Me If You Can deserves a mention for great performances from DiCaprio and Hanks. For me though I think Minority Report is the great Spielberg film that I like but nobody else seems to mention. I am also going to mention Hook, that film is a big part of my childhood. Perhaps more controversially though, I don't really like Saving Private Ryan

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    Comment number 168.

    War Of The Worlds for me is one of the most visually spectacular, intense and emotional experiences I have had watching a film. It is Spielberg at his best, whilst his historical drama's are usually fantastic this is all about entertaining us and that's what I pay to see when his name is on the poster. It's also one of few films where I can say 'Tom Cruise did alright in that'

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    Comment number 169.

    The Lost World. I snuck in with a group of friends at the age of nine, making it one of the first proper adult films I ever saw in the cinema. From the seemingly lighthearted but quickly revealed horrific opening scene with the young girl on the beach, to the finely crafted suspense of the gigantic creatures let loose in nature, I was awed, stimulated, terrified, and most of all, smitten.

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    Comment number 170.

    First, anyone on hear who claim Speilberg is "over-rated" needs to come forward and let us know what someone needs to do to be rated as a film maker and director.

    I was born in 1981 and Speilberg is the film maker of my generation.

    I count two "duds": JP: Lost World and IJ: Crystal Skull.

    His greatest works are: Duel, Jaws, Close Encounters, Indiana Jones, ET, Saving Private Ryan (argue all you will) and Schindler's List. These are some of the greatest films of all time.

    In terms of 'guilty' pleasures, someone of my age needs to think about that time when you first saw the film, the effect it had on you, how you feel about revisiting the film now, when you are older. To this end:

    1. Empire of the Sun. A beautiful account of a boy's jounrney through war torn Japan at a momentus tipping point in history. It is precursor to what Speilberg would go on to do with some of his more historical accounts, and is classic Speilberg in the way it put children at the centre of the drama, delaing with abandonment and coming of age amidst sweeping melodrama. There is no one working in film who does this better.

    2. Jurassic Park. Goldblum, Neil, Attenborough, Velociraptors and a T-Rex. I was 13 and came out of the cinema buzzing with excitement. It's magic may have faded but, at the time, it was glorious fun.

    3. Minority Report. A neat counter-piece to AI, with pace and superb visual style. It paved the way for numerous copies, done far more poorly.

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    Comment number 171.

    Having posted already in response to your question, I feel I need to add a piece on AI specifically. I didn't see it when it came out, and never bothered to catch up with it...until your piece appeared. I was aware of some of the critical opinion, and that people had taken against it, but I watched it the other night for the first time with no preconceived ideas. For me, the first act is the standout. The setup is great, and HJO's performance as David is breathtaking. However, once we moved into the flesh fairs and Rouge City sequences, I found I was becoming increasingly disengaged. Now, don't get me wrong, the standard of the performances remains of high quality, but I think the story lost its way. Indeed, by the time we get to the third act, it all felt like a bunch of Spielbergian hoop-jumping just to move the story along. And I'm afraid the final coda left me completely cold (no pun intended)...the fact that it needed a voiceover tells you all you need to know - I neither need, nor want, sentimentality explained to me. It should be self-evident. It's such a shame because the opening setup was so promising.

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    Comment number 172.

    A.I. is the only film that, just by chance, I have seen at the cinema with my mother. Predictably, it had us in tears when David says goodbye/goodnight near the end of the film. Most of the final section of the film is unnecessary though and something Kubrick would have done differently - if Kubrick had lived to be a producer on the film it would have better in my opinion. Some of the visual effects that Spielberg managed, with much help from a big-budget and state of the art computer-graphics, were extremely memorable and brilliant. It should be noted that most of the film was action and the dialogue scenes were brief and simple - so not exactly putting Spielberg's direction of actors and script-writers to the test really. And the credit for the dramatic structure of the film has to go to Kubrick's 90 page treatment. I'm not sure that it's much of a compliment to Spielberg to say that his best film is a film largely given too him by other people?

    Most of his output is in the guilty pleasure category for someone. It come's down to a basic philosophy of film-making - I remember Baz Lurman saying that he found the idea of portraying real-life in film boring and that film's purpose was to portray a 'heightened reality'. Spielberg seems to be of a similar approach, yet unlike Lurman, he also wants to manipulate the audience into feeling something for certain characters ('schmaltz') in order that they suspend their disbelief and buy into the story -he has a tendency to construct stories in a way which simply aids the dramatic effect of the film as a set-piece rather than to try and portray some 'truth' about life, as say a Werner Herzog might (despite his use of iconic images and surrealism too). He has no concept of the appropriate time to cut away and not show something, or end the film succinctly - to allow the audience to see in their minds eye rather than trying to enterbrainwashtain them. You can see that he has too much concern for what the audience thinks when you look at the cherry-picked approach to Lincoln's politics, leaving out for instance the fact that Lincoln was an open racist, despite being an abolitionist (e.g. The Lincoln/Douglas Debate - well documented).

    For me his film output is a string of brilliantly memorable visual scenes and effects (the opening of the ark by the doomed nazis, the high-speed entrance to sin-city in AI, the bullet spattered run up the beach in Saving Private Ryan, the first glimpse of the space-ship in Close Encounters, the E.T. in the closet, the desert car park in Empire of the Sun, the food fight in Hook, the cup of water vibrating in Jurassic Park, DiCaprio's final capture in Catch Me If You Can, the triplets hooked up to a brain reader in Minority Report, the razor blade incident with Danny Glover in The Colour Purple, the metallic octopus in War of The Worlds, the first attack on the boat in Jaws and so on..) however, these are usually strung together with extremely forgettable and banal dialogue, with the exception of a few more personal films like Schindler's List or Empire of The Sun. You can use the excuse that it's "just entertainment", but most of his films don't have the sense of humour that Indiana Jone's has, so that doesn't really add up as an explanation. He understands film brilliantly, but not people, whereas if you watch a film like Michael Haneke's 'White Ribbon' you can see some film-makers have both key elements - but unfortunately no distributor and marketing machine to back them up.

    Film's like Lincoln show that he has the potential to be a more subtle film-maker and of-course he has the funding to put terrific quality up on the screen, but if you look at the dramatic skill of Lincoln, drawing on the magnetism and realism of someone like Daniel Day-Lewis, it is markedly different from most of Spielberg's output (as he says himself) as if he is only beginning to realise what other film makers like Werzog have been doing for many decades.So that being the case, why do all the plaudits go to the guy who's just learning how to get the best out of actors rather than the people that have been doing it for years? and is that fair? Why do you think Lewis turned down the film three times before agreeing?

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    Comment number 173.

    ...another thing to notice about A.I. is Spielberg's understanding of the story - after initially enjoying the film and it's visuals, I was actually forced to reconsider my initial reaction to what I viewed as more of Kubrick film, when I heard Spielberg himself talking about the story in a TV interview. His explanation that the heart of the story in his interpretation was about mankind's love affair with it's creations - that we should value other people's creations as something which other people have a sentimental attachment to and thereby something which is an extended part of them rather than an inanimate object or device - which for me is a complete misunderstanding of the story and a misinterpretation of Kubrick's interest in the original story. The Pinocchio element was Kubrick's and the intent their is clear - this film was supposed to be about what defines 'human intelligence', i.e. if we can put aside our emotional response to a robot as 'inhuman' and see it as we see a child, then is it conceivable that something non-organic might in some way become human or human-like? The uncertainty over this question and the way that it relates to the future of mankind and mankind's legacy was supposed to be the heart of the film. Yet Spielberg tried to turn it into a film about the value of sentimental attachment - in his own words (check the interviews online). That's quite a dum approach to the story and shows the flaws in his dramatic approach. It's like a sort of focus-group philosophy of film making - George Lucas seemed to agree when he said the reason why some critics hate the pair is down to their unlocking of a sort of mass popularity formula - but that's like saying that a political party which wins an election has 'captured the mood of the nation' - the reality is more complex than that, and people come to hate that which they once had a sentimental response to e.g. Tony Blair.

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    Comment number 174.

    If anyone did really enjoy Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, they should feel guilty.

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    Comment number 175.

    I seriously don't get the hype. I'd sit through ET and Jaws under duress, but the only Spielberg movie I would choose to watch is Duel. Everything else is so schmaltzy it hurts.

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    Comment number 176.

    A.I is one of the very few films that has bought a tear to my eye . It is in my opinion one of Spielbergs greatest films and like Blade runner I think over time more and more people will re visit it and revise their opinions about it . I was so blown away by it when I first saw it I watched it back to back again 2 times more . I draw many parallels to Blade Runner in the central theme and the ways society and culture have declined and progressed at the same time . Its references to Pinocchio work seamlessly and it is a film that tugs at your emotions and also like 2001 and Blade runner leaves you with many deep thoughts and questions about the very fabric of life and existence .

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    Comment number 177.

    Oh Please !! ! Dr Kermode you always wimp out on your comments when you interview a director.
    ''Oh I am meeting (insert famous Director) next week so I will re visist (insert Film name here) just to check my original harsh comment was justified, Come on Mark have the guts to stand by your original Honest review on what was and still is a Overindulged preaching message ridden piece of pants,
    Keep it up,
    Alfie

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    Comment number 178.

    I think the one Spielberg film that i got completely wrong was AI as well. Hated it the first time, now...a masterpiece. My guilty pleasure Spielberg has always been 1941...i just love the whole bombast of the piece...is it funny..not really, but as Stanley Kubrick reportedly said.."i thought it was a drama" Nuff said!

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    Comment number 179.

    I like 'Catch me of you can' I thought it was a bit of 'fluff' at first but on a second viewing really enjoyed the detailed scenes on how the cons were achieved and the energy of the acting.

    I've always liked A.I. and it will be interesting to review again in 30 years time to see how close the film got in predicting how robots might be.

 

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Outspoken, opinionated and never lost for words, Mark is the UK's leading film critic.

This twice-weekly video blog is the place where he airs his personal views on the things that most fire him up about cinema - and invites you to give your own opinions.

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