1 Comment | Add
Rate & Share:
A.I.s Last All Summer Long
We look at the similarities and differences between this summer's SpielBrick production and its literary inspiration
By James T. Voelpel
July 17, 2001
The Brian Aldiss story that inspired the feature film A.I. in a new trade paperback edition
© 2001 Griffin Trade Paperback
It's ironic that 2001 would be the year of release for one of Stanley Kubrick's most eagerly awaited and controversial motion pictures. With Steven Spielberg writing and directing what was to be the late master's greatest sci-fi epic, A.I.
is a film to be loved or loathed. The seeds for this modern day Pinocchio are rooted in the 1969 Brian Aldiss short story published in HARPER'S BAZAAR
, SUPER-TOYS LAST ALL SUMMER LONG
. Kubrick purchased the story in the early 1970s and always kept it in the back of his mind, waiting for moviemaking technology to get where he needed it to be. It was said that he actually had a robot child prototype built for the part, as his method of filmmaking meant that it could take three years of production and a real child would have aged too much in that time. When Kubrick saw JURASSIC PARK
in 1993, he thought he had found the technology in CGI animation to make what was to become A.I.. Kubrick was about to start pre-production on the film after turning in his final cut of EYES WIDE SHUT when he died suddenly in his sleep on March 7th 1999.
In early 2000, Spielberg announced that he would write and direct Kubrick's dream project and purchased the rights to the two '90s Aldiss sequels to SUPER-TOYS, SUPER-TOYS WHEN WINTER COMES and SUPER-TOYS IN OTHER SEASONS. Aldiss even worked with Kubrick in 1990 on a possible script for the film, but the relationship was tumultuous. Aldiss did not like the direction Kubrick wanted to take, and this motivated him to publish his version of the boy-android David's future in the sequel stories. Spielberg's script closely follows Kubrick's treatment and has no part of Aldiss' sequels, so it is the original short story that was ultimately expanded into an epic motion picture. In the original SUPER-TOYS we can see the basis of the film and determine where it took a different path from Aldiss' original vision. If you have not yet seen the film, this is your only spoiler warning read no further.
Much like the opening scenes in A.I., SUPER-TOYS opens with the Swinton family living in an over-populated future where people have to win a lottery to obtain permission to have a child. Henry Swinton does work for a android manufacturing company as their Managing Director as he did in the film. Most of the world lives in famine except for the very rich, but unlike the film, there is no melting of the ice caps and the Swintons live in an apartment, not a house, in the ritziest area of town. The family does have hologram technology in their home to completely simulate a garden and mansion house as seen in A.I.. Some of the most prominent early differences in the original story are David's age (3 instead of approximately 10 in the film) and the absence of another Swinton son.
Haley Joel Osment in Steven Spielberg's A.I.
© 2001 warner Bros.
One of A.I.'s most important characters is probably more of a focal point in SUPER-TOYS the small robot bear, aptly named Teddy. He is the very young David's guide to life in the story much more so than in the film. Teddy is David's parent when his Mom (or "Mummy," as he calls her) will not accept her manufactured son. He teaches David about life and answers his questions about the world as best he can. Unlike the film, David does not know he is an android, so Teddy must guide him to places that a parent takes a child. This is because the small bear is the same species as David and therefore more like a true parent.
A.I. alludes to this when Monica gives Teddy to David and he treats him like his father/sibling. When Swinton's real son returns from cryogenic freeze, he torments Teddy and David, like a little boy smashing his toys. Where David treats Teddy with respect and even love, Michael sees David and Teddy as nothing more than objects to be played with and then thrown away. While the short story never has David anywhere but the in Swintons' home, in the film Teddy is David's first companion after Monica abandons him in the woods. His importance in the film waivers after the appearance of Gigolo Joe and he becomes little more than a background effect save for the final scene in the film.
As stated above, Swinton's son does not exist in SUPER-TOYS, and the reason for Monica's depression in the story is not as certain. She is childless, and the revelation that her 3-year-old son is an android (or 'mecha,' as in the film) is the surprise of the story. Aldiss' tale is more about the paradoxical loneliness of living in an overpopulated world than about David's individual journey. The pool scene in A.I. is the catalyst for the abandonment of David by Monica, but in the short story, David's fate may be sealed due to the Swintons' winning the birth lottery, allowing them to have a 'real' child.
Jude Law guides Osment through the sights and sound of the future.
© 2001 Warner Brothers, Dreamworks
The young David's communication skills have malfunctioned a few times and he has to be brought back to the factory. Monica and Henry discuss this problem like David is a microwave oven or VCR. Teddy shows his parenting skills by talking to David about his trips to the 'psychologist' (in reality, these are visits to the factory for repairs) and tries to get him to understand his communication problems. One of the emotionally charged scenes in the film is Monica reading David's crayon written notes, such as "Dear dear Mummy, Teddy is helping me write you, I love you and Teddy" and "Darling Mummy guess how much I love." In the film as well as the original story, these notes help Monica to feel that David is more than an appliance. This realization prevents her from having him destroyed at the factory in A.I., while in SUPER-TOYS this is merely a passing acceptance. Her excitement over the chance for a real child pushes David into the background once again.
The film moves on after David's abandonment and headlong into the futuristic retelling of PINOCCHIO. The ironic part of the fairy tale angle is that Brian Aldiss himself has a reputation for revisiting old stories with a new twist. Two examples are DRACULA UNBOUND and FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND, both new and completely different stories within the familiar framework. A.I., on the other hand, is Kubrick's version of PINOCCHIO, where an artificial boy longs to be real and earn the love of his mother. Aldiss was never happy with this angle on his story and came out with the sequels to offset it. The David of SUPER-TOYS is a confused three-year-old lacking the needed guidance from his parents. This was Aldiss' take on David he's not a wooden boy, but a neglected one.
The android boy with his mom, in A.I.
© 2001 Warner Brothers, Dreamworks
Both versions of the A.I. story are thought-provoking and leave you with many questions. The movie dealt with the journey of a small boy obsessively searching for the love of his mother, trapped into that behavior because that's how he was made. The original short story dealt with a child who needed guidance from his parents but was seen as flawed because it wasn't what the Swintons themselves wanted. The film's Teddy is David's Jiminy Cricket, guiding David through his journey; the short story's Teddy is David's surrogate parent.
A.I. goes on to show the depths that David will go to become real and finally attain the love he never received from Monica. Both versions ask the pointed questions, "What responsibility do we have to an artificial being that longs to love us by design?" and "Do we have the right to construct such creatures?" Indeed, what responsibility do we have to them when we are done with them or they don't live up to our expectations? These questions provide the poetic beauty of A.I. and SUPER-TOYS LAST ALL SUMMER LONG.