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You need to watch Spielberg’s most divisive sci-fi movie on Amazon Prime ASAP

“David had never had a birthday party because David had never been born.”

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

Steven Spielberg’s movies have always been crowd pleasers. Throw in two Oscar nominations and nods from BAFTA and the Golden Globes, add a few giants stars, and you’ve got a surefire hit, right?

Not this time.

The sci-fi drama A.I. Artificial Intelligence had an extremely long journey to its 2001 release, one that even its director didn’t join until years after its inception.

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At first, Steven Spielberg’s A.I. was Stanley Kubrick’s A.I., which the late director based on the short story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long,” about a couple who adopt a robotic child in a dystopian future.

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Kubrick began developing the adaptation in the ‘70s. Despite doing extensive pre-production into the ‘80s, he decided the special effects of the time weren’t up to the task.

Universal Pictures

Through these years of production, Kubrick talked to his friend Spielberg frequently about A.I. After the release of Jurassic Park in 1994, Kubrick knew technology had finally caught up to his vision. He even asked Spielberg to direct it.

As Spielberg tells the Los Angeles Times, he deflected but ultimately signed on to A.I., then backed out again, feeling guilty for taking the movie from Kubrick. Only after Kubrick died in 1999 did Spielberg take on the project.

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It’s hard to think of a less likely film partnership than Kubrick and Spielberg. Kubrick was an intense, even abusive director to work with, and his films delve into dark psychological themes.

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Spielberg, on the other hand, is cheerful and optimistic. His films are upbeat and commercial, usually capped with a feel-good ending.

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That’s a big part of why A.I. is so divisive. It combines the optimism of Spielberg with the darkness of Kubrick — though not in exactly the ways some people assume.

Both Kubrick and Spielberg drew on Pinocchio for A.I. The film follows an android child who’s adopted by a couple whose own son is in a coma.

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Warner Bros.

The android, David, is programmed to love his parents unceasingly — the perfect replacement for their lost son.

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But when the couple’s child miraculously recovers, David is cast out.

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The rest of the film follows David on a quest to become a “real boy” through a world ruined by climate change and characterized by cruelty.

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David is mistreated and taken advantage of throughout A.I. before its ambiguous ending offers him — at least in some viewers’ minds — his greatest wish.

The whiplash of A.I.’s conflicting tones was too much for some. While critics were generally kind, audiences decried the film as too bleak and too saccharine all at once.

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Warner Bros.

Spielberg’s penchant for light fare was seen as compromising Kubrick’s vision, though screenwriter Ian Walker says the elements Spielberg is blamed for came from Kubrick.

To be fair to its detractors, A.I. is a jarring experience, but its sheer oddness is also what makes A.I. worth watching.

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Warner Bros.

A.I. is about the divide between machines and humans, and who we decide is worth protecting. Those who are deemed lesser meet a horrifying fate.

David embodies the positivity of a Spielberg movie, but the world of A.I. is pure Kubrick. The film is in conflict with itself, demanding your attention even when it’s off-putting to watch.

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

Kubrick was right to wait decades to make A.I. While its 2001 CGI isn’t perfect by any means, Spielberg creates a future that’s as compelling to watch as it is horrifying.

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Ultimately, though, A.I. demands revisiting because of Haley Joel Osment’s heartbreaking performance as David, who struggles with the extremely human need to belong and be loved.

Its climate change apocalypse seems less fantastical every day, but its themes were as clear in 2001 as they are now. Go in expecting to be challenged more than entertained, and you may see A.I. is overdue for a reevaluation.

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A.I. Artificial Intelligence is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.

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