Dir: Steven Spielberg.US. 2001. 144 min

Always captivating towatch, and often emotionally touching, Steven Spielberg's A.I.: ArtificialIntelligence is one of hismost ambitious, intelligent, and problematic films, and not only due to itsvaliant effort to blend two disparate cinematic sensibilities. Easily thissummer's most eagerly awaited movie, A.I. qualifies as a media event par excellence: Aproject begun decades ago by the late Stanley Kubrick, who handed the directorialreins to Spielberg, when he realized that the latter may be more suitable for astory centering on a robot boy anxious to be real and experience the utmosthuman feeling - love. As expected, thematically, A.I. revisits ideas first seen in 2001: A SpaceOdyssey, Kubrick's propheticsci-fi, as well as Spielberg's blockbusters E.T. - The Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind; yet visually, this inventive film charts new,exciting grounds for Spielberg, who continues to evolve as an artist. Abrilliant central performance by Haley Joel Osment will certainly help broadenthe appeal of a film that's decidedly not a typical children's movie a la E.T., and whose dark look and contemplative narrativewill attract more mature and educated viewers, resulting in a very popularpicture.

Intellectual debates havealready begun as to what would A.I.look like had it been directed by Kubrick, who was intrigued by the idea eversince he read Brian Aldiss' 1969 short story, Supertoys Last All Summer Long. Yet a closer look at Kubrick's oeuvre reveals nochildren in his narratives; when there's a young protagonist, as in Lolita, she's a nymphet.

In contrast, those claimingthat A.I.'s distinctive visualsand darker tone are mostly due to Kubrick's inspiration -- and drawings hecommissioned -- are doing Spielberg a major disservice. Spielberg's best workhas always expressed the good/evil duality, not necessarily in films hedirected. Hence, E.T. and Poltergeist (which Spielberg co-wrote and co-produced) arebasically companion pieces, with the former a sunny, bright version ofsuburbia, and the latter a ghost story with unfriendly, destructive spirits. Moreover,the Holocaust film, Schindler's List, and the superior WWII drama, Saving Private Ryan, also revealed a more mature and savvy director, determinednot to repeat the mistakes of The Color Purple, which had the neat, clean look of an old MGMproduction.

In A.I., Spielberg takes solo writing credits, the firsttime since Close Encounter, whichmay account for part of the textual problems. While the narrative structure iscomplex but clear, the dialogue is serviceable (but no more), and some of thecharacterizations, particularly of Jude Law as a gigolo robot and David's realbrother, Martin, are narrowly conceived.

In the brief prologue, abrilliant genetics professor (Hurt) informs his students and colleagues of hisambition to create a child robot with all the human qualities, one who'll beable to feel, dream, fear and, yes, love. An inquisitive student challenges himby asking about society's reaction to the robot: Will he be accepted and lovedas one of their own' It's in this aspect that A.I. is at its most pensive, introducing intriguinginsights that haunt the entire film, specifically: What's the definition oflove' Is love symmetrical' Is it always based on reciprocal emotions' Is familylove (both parental and by siblings) a biological given or culturallyconditioned'

Twenty months later, Hobby'sgrand plan materializes and a gorgeous boy named David (Osment) is created andplaced in the hands of a grieving couple: Henry (Robards), who works at thelab, and his inconsolable wife, Monica (O'Connor), whose son Martin has been indeep freeze for years, waiting for what seems to be an impossible cure to acrippling illness.

The film's secondpart, which details David's life with his adoptive parents, recalls familysequences in E.T., though it'simbued with a more sombre and grave tonality, possibly influenced by Kubrick'svision. Spielberg has said that in writing and directing the film, he not onlywished to pay homage to Kubrick's genius, but also felt if the director's ghostwas present on the set.

The well-behaved Davidimmediately takes to his parents, particularly Monica, calling her mommy andbombarding her with questions about her mortality. Gradually, the reluctantmother, who initially locks David in the closet, warms up, to the point ofinvesting him with Martin's supertoy, Teddy, which has the ability to talk andreact.

Things change radically,when a cure is found for Martin's disease and he returns home. In one brilliantscene after another, Spielberg demonstrates how the group dynamics of a familychanges when it size evolves from a trio to a quartet. It doesn't take long forDavid and Martin (Thomas) to become rivals, competing not only for theaffections of Teddy, but for those of their mother as well. A mecha (mechanicalcreature), David is not allowed to eat, but under pressure from Martin, hechallenges his body with a huge bowl of spinach to some disastrous results. Onething leads to another and a desperate Monica decides to dispose of David,dropping him in a forest in a truly heartbreaking farewell.

The third, and weakest part,which throws the narrative off-balance, switches to a sleazy urban milieu,where gigolo Joe (Law) is introduced as a sexual machine, a blond robot inblack leather coat, whose function is to satisfy women in a way -- and withequipment -- that will never make them desire another man. Fate brings Joe andDavid together when, along with other mechas, they are brutally chased by someBiker Hounds, and locked into scary stadium, Flesh Fair, where the masses areentertained in something equivalent to a bloody gladiators' arena. The extendednocturnal sequences in this seedy circus, where mechas are ruthlessly executed,recall Fellini's City of Womenand other rock concert films, representing a new visual terrain for Spielberg.

Fortunately, after thisdistracting and gruesome part, the story resumes its resonance and chief line,when David, Joe, and Teddy, escape to Rouge City, a garish urban world that inlook and ambience bring to mind Fritz Lang's brilliant silent sci-fi, Metropolis, as well as Blade Runner and other noirish sagas. From here on, the taleassumes the shape of a road-fantasy movie, with the trio searching for the BlueFairy, who lives at the End of the World. Inspired by MGM's classic, TheWizard Of Oz, as well as David Lynch'sdeconstructive fairy tale, Wild At Heart, the ensuing acts