Friday, March 23, 2012

TOP 10 SHOTS from "A.I. Artificial Intelligence"

In searching for a film to tackle cinematically for this week's segment, I kept running into road blocks. Seeing as "The Hunger Games" is arriving to much anticipation this weekend, it felt necessary to find something that ties into it, which is easier said than done. At first my mind went immediately to "Winter's Bone", also from Lionsgate and also starring Jennifer Lawrence. But once I got into it, I realized that the film isn't visually all that intriguing. As impressive a film as it is, it gets of by the grit of Debra Granik's teeth and the performances from John Hawkes and Jennifer Lawrence. More of the latter actor in my book. Lawrence's performance is undeniably tough, but sadly overrated.

Moving on from there, I went to Gary Ross' prior filmography for inspiration. No vein in my body wants to see "Seabiscuit" ever again. That film has caused me too much grief already. I do, however, have a compulsion to revisiting "Pleasantville" at some point, either for this segment or not. If nothing else, I remember the film being quietly arousing. With Ross out of the way, I looked briefly at cinematographer Tom Stern, but most of his experience comes from dreary and repetitive work on Clint Eastwood's body of work. No luck there, and I leave everyone involved in the film in the dust.

And then I eventually landed on the most unlikely of films with "A.I. Artificial Intelligence", Steven Spielberg's decade old science-fiction adventure. Containing the last published work of Stanley Kubrick, but even more so an amazing piece of cinema from Spielberg himself, this is a visual marvel in every sense of the word. If I were to go over Janusz Kaminski's long work as Spielberg's trademark D.P., this would win almost automatically. It may have some tough fighting to do with "Minority Report", but this sticks out more than anything. So how does it connect to "The Hunger Games"? It's a vision of the future. That's it, and I won't call it a deep connection, because it isn't. But I'm happy if it allows me to tackle this film.

10. Moved Outside

I'm a sucker for simple manipulation of space, and how the camera moves within it. To hell with you and your boundless beauty of sweeping shots of the countryside. It's pointless in how the camera is accentuating the landscape, and though there isn't much landscape going on in the first half of "A.I.", mainly taking place at the home of Monica and Henry Swinton, it's a meticulously constructed area. This shot comes in following Martin's return, with David intentionally left outside the soft comfort of the sleeping pod, but nonetheless listening attentively. Monica and Martin, and even the camera itself, are too keen to leave him behind, but he insists with blind hope. It's just a little tragic.

9. Cowering in the Dark

Conversely, this shot is in a way an equal an opposite depiction from Monica's side of the table. Coming in earlier on in the film, when we first meet the robot David, the camera spends the entire season hovering over David objectively, in constant fear as Monica is. Suffice it to say, this child isn't normal, but he is functioning as a machine without a priority. Monica storms out of the room as David's creepy insistence forces her away as her follows. It's an extremely creepy situation, with the distortion of the glass and bright light giving oppressive dominance to David, and Monica's movement into the dark strips her of any strength. What kind of threat does this robot pose to humanity. These possibilities are made clear very early on.

8. Scratches on the Wall

This comes later, after Monica has given David the imprinting protocol and accepted him as her son. In many ways, the shot speaks for itself. Monica is hunched over the wall, her nails constricting in a scratching manner against a wall full of scratches. Yes, she did just find out that her real son is coming back, but I'm much more interested in what the film is saying implicitly through the visuals. Monica has gone through this sort of pain before, showing a lifetime of stress and tragedy, with the wall showing those so presently. But just below her hand, her watch is also in view, and we see that what has happened to her before is destined to happen to her again.

7. Turmoil of the Seas

The very first shot of the film, which may indeed just end up as stock footage. Yes, this is an informative image first, as narrator Ben Kingsley goes over the turmoils that plague the human race in the 22nd century, far enough in the future for this film to still be possible. A lot can happen in 100 years, and the passage of time is something the film is very interested in. As foreboding an image this is of mankind's inevitable destruction, with the seas moving forth relentlessly without being stopped, it works equally as extension of the main conflict brewing inside every living being, David very well included.

6. Dancing into Legend

The latter half of "A.I.", otherwise known as the adventure portion, is chocked full of astonishing visuals, but there were very few shots that we're beautiful through the skill of the shot itself. I'm always an advocate of the heavy distinction between visual effects and cinematography, and from that perspective, this shot struck me quite wonderfully. It's among the few shots of the film that draws directly from the fairy tale influence of the narrative. Silly though it may seem, it's an entirely honest motivation. The shot of Gigolo Joe and David dancing off with one another into the mist of the night is such an ethereal signifier that they themselves are going to be the stuff of myth and legend.

5. Left in the Rear

The most heartbreaking and difficult moment of the film comes at the close of its first act, when Monica has to break ties with David in order to save him. It's an impossible decision, and if there wasn't a single shot that stuck out in that sequence, it may not have had the proper impact it was supposed to. The object of blue light becomes an important signifier throughout the entire film. It's somewhat cold, but deeper to the heart than any other colour. The sleeping pod is showered in blue light. As Monica steers away from David definitively, we see him showered in that same blue light, and it clinches everything going on in Monica right now. It's heartbreak that she turned this thing into a person capable of heartbreak themselves.

4. Joe's Tear

"Robots Can't Cry" may have been just as suitable a title for this film as any, if a degree more sentimentalist. Gigolo Joe is a character that has had a tendency for criticism in the past, though I don't know why. Yes, he's silly and quirky and an odd companion for David's epic journey, but I always saw those elements as endearing additions to Joe's darker qualities. Yes, he is a mecha made with a purpose, but he is equally dictated by intelligence and his own efforts to find a sort of life. This single shot sells me on his character more than most may be able to understand. David takes the leap to end his struggle, Joe sees him, and we see David fall as a tear down Joe's face. He wasn't designed to love, but David has made that happen within him.

3. The Birth of Man

The top three shots of the film share such a place in my heart that it was difficult for me to distinguish any way to place them. This shot came behind the others, simple because it is of such obvious meaning. Monica is about to state the imprinting code on David, accepting him as her son. Any film about a robot who is in search of humanity begs the question of birth and origin. Where does the human soul come from. Is it from God? Does that even matter? The soul and the heart come from the people who imprint on us, literally in the case of this shot. The sunlight glowing down on this occasion strictly between Monica and David, equates this solidly as the birth of David. It's a beautiful scene, and one of the only joyful moments of the film.

2. Moon on the Rise

Beauty for the sake of pure beauty. I doubt there is a shot in the film that is more iconic than this beautifully conceived still that lands about right in the middle of the film, centerstage for everyone to see. We're still drifting off of that intensely personal first half of the film, and we're not sure exactly where we're going. Suddenly, enter Joe, as he turns around to see the moon rise before him more rapidly and closely than it should. Seeing it in the theaters for the first time, I hadn't a clue what was happening. What it turns out to be isn't as significant as the pure astonishment, confusion, and promise that single shot provided.

1. Feet in the Water

After two shots that were so iconic and filled with obvious beauty, how can I end with a shot that seems so superfluous? What does it even mean? It may only come along for such a short part of the film, after David has unintentionally dragged Martin down to the bottom of the pool in need of protection. This is the moment of the film that is absolutely the most important. It's where everything turns to a place where it can't go back, and we see the ugliness of humanity as well as its compassion. It's the latter that this shot channels most, with Martin's feet still in the water, beckoning towards David. It doesn't necessarily SAY anything, but it's such a quiet and wordless empathetic gesture of Martin towards David. It made me cry, and absolved me of any anger I had towards this child and towards humanity. We are all capable of exactly the same, the good and the bad.


1 comment:

  1. The scene in the forth position is just marvelous. Would be my personal first.

    But is good to remind, also, the scene where David and Joe take a lift into a giant woman tunnel. The soundtrack on this particular scene was the one chosen by Kubrik before his death.