The Blue Ending Of A.I. Artificial Intelligence

One of the most debated moments in the underrated Steven Spielberg classic, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, was with its ending. When the film first premiered twenty years ago, many viewers came away thinking that Spielberg gave the film a happy ending. But that could not be further from the truth. In fact, A.I. Artificial Intelligence turned out to be Spielberg’s first genre film to take on a more mature and downbeat tone, which reflected many of his non-genre films. Spollers ahead.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence starred Haley Joel Osment as David, an android or a Mecha built to be a surrogate son for a couple (Frances O’Connor and Sam Robards), whose son, Martin (Jake Thomas) was in a coma. David’s programming was altered so that he could experience emotions and be imprinted onto his “mother” Monica. This created problems when Martin recovered and sibling conflicts led to David being abandoned by his mother.

For the rest of the film, David embarked on a frightening and fantastical quest to find a mystical Blue Fairy, who he hoped would turn him into a real boy so he could be loved and accepted by his mother. David became obssessed with the Blue Fairy thanks to his mother reading him Pinnochio earlier in the film. He met many Mechas in his journey, including the male prostitute Mecha, Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), who helped David with his quest. Eventually, he made his way to a partially submerged Manhattan (climate change and rising sea levels have claimed many coastal cities in the future setting of the film) where he became trapped underwater in a vehicle. It is revealed that he is in Coney Island, which was completely underwater, and he discovered a statue of a Blue Fairy. Trapped in the vehicle, but with the statue in clear sight, David begged her non-stop to be turned into a boy, and that is the first ending of A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

The film’s coda took place two thousand years later. The Earth was turned into a frozen wasteland and humankind is long extinct. Their only legacies being crumbling infrastructures and Mechas who have evolved into alien-like beings. David was found frozen and revived by the future Mechas. After they downloaded his memory files, they granted his wish of reuniting with his mother by cloning her. The catch was that the clone can only live for one day, yet she is able to provide the unconditional love and acceptance that the original Monica never could. Once she died at the end of the day, a content David allowed himself to sleep and go to the place “where dreams are born.”

This is a very ambigous ending, although on the surface it can be interpreted as a happy ending. After all, although David’s wish of becoming a real boy is unfullfilled, he attained his ultimate goal of being loved by his mother, the reason for wanting to be real. But it came at a cost. The clone of his mother died, and it is implied that he died, too, in a manner of speaking. Once he achieved his desire, his reason for existing was gone because the clone could not be revived and the cloning process cannot be repeated. So, it’s possible that he shut down his system in a type of suicide. Or maybe he took one step closer to becoming real. At one point in the film, he met his creator (William Hurt), who told David his ability to feel love and go beyond his programming by believing in abstract and mystical concepts proved that he has evolved. Then again, this could just be faulty or corrupted programming that left poor David in a loop.

It can be difficult to watch A.I. Artificial Intelligence because of the emotional torture David underwent in the film and his ultimate fate: left alone in a frozen world; his only companion being a semi-sentient super toy called Teddy. Without his mother, why would he want to continue existing? An irony here is that his Teddy also seemed imprinted onto David, but he largely ignored the toy If David did indeed die, then Teddy is the one to pity since by the end of the film, he is the last survivor, or did he shut himself down, as well?

At the second end of the film, David is given a false copy of a mother who was not able to love or accept him and while he was happy, this was just a one-time fantasy. He was never able to attain any of his dreams and was incapable of realizing this. In fact, David had an unhealthy obssession with his desire, which indicated an inability to move past his imprinting. In the end, David was unable to grow and move on past his parent.

While the ending may seem like a bittersweet wish fullfillment, and many argue it was typical for Steven Spielberg film, the conclusion up being a hollow victory for David. It is also sad to see that David was not able to realize or accept his circumstances and that he probably shut himself down instead of moving on. The ambigous ending of A.I. Artificial Intelligence is certainly open for discussion, but its downbeat and blue tone is undeniable and a testament to Steven Spielberg’s growth as a filmmaker.

José Soto

Raiders of the Lost Ark Turns 40

It’s hard to believe 40 years has gone by for this priceless treasure of a movie. Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was great then, as it is now. 

Raiders of the Lost Ark was conceived by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas while the two were on vacation at the time Star Wars was released in theaters in May 1977. The two filmmakers wanted to collaborate on a project. Spielberg wanted to do a James Bond film, but that did not pan out. Instead, he and Lucas decided to create their own hero and over time, Phil Kaufman helped flesh out Lucas’ story, and later Lawrence Kasdan wrote the screenplay.

When Raiders of the Lost Ark debuted June 12, 1981, it made us realize that Hollywood did not make movies like this anymore. Directed by Steven Spielberg and executive produced by George Lucas, the film was a tribute to the old black and white adventure serials (often done by Republic Pictures) that appeared in cinemas back in the early days of film.  

It was an adventure movie set in the 1930s with a touch of the religious and otherworldly—namely the mystical artifact, the Ark of the Covenant, which was sought after throughout the world by the archeologist Indiana “Indy” Jones (Harrison Ford, who was never more dashing) and Nazis led by Indy’s dastardly rival archeologist Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman). The film boasted a handsome and rugged hero, a beautiful, but tough, female lead (Karen Allen), smarts, spunk and pulse-pounding action. It’s why many moviegoers still consider Raiders of the Lost Ark to be the all-time greatest action movie.

What helped Raiders stand out from other action films were Spielberg’s directing which injected so much passion and energy into each scene and the hint of the supernatural when the Ark was finally opened. Basically the film was a Republic serial on a steroid budget as it boasted topnotch production values and effects, which consisted of blue screens and miniatures. One chilling effect that was unique at that time was that of one of the villain’s face melting off when the Ark was opened. The effects crew constructed a mold using a stone skull and gelatin that was melted between two propane heaters. It took about ten minutes for the face to melt, which of course, was sped up in the film to a gruesome effect.

Another star of the film was the film’s composer, John Williams. Already famous for his memorable scores for Jaws, Star Wars, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Williams was picked for Raiders thanks to his association with both filmmakers. Originally, Williams had two distinct themes for the film, and Spielberg suggested he combine the two and viola, that is how we got the famous Raiders March that evokes a feeling of grand adventure and thrills.

The film was wildly beloved when it burst into the scene that summer. Later in 1982, it won five Oscars and was even nominated for best director and best movie of the year, though as usual the Academy Awards voters chose to bestow those honors to less deserving winners (Warren Beatty for his overstuffed Reds, and Chariots of Fire, a real yawn fest of a film that is largely forgotten). As noted before, Raiders of the Lost Ark was based on cheaply made serials, yet it was made on a budget of less than $20 million. However, the film grossed almost $400 million (very high for its time), which proved that audiences still liked good old-fashioned adventures.

American actor Harrison Ford on the set of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Raiders of the Lost Ark and the followup Indiana Jones films dispelled any doubt that Harrison Ford could only be a box office draw for the Star Wars movies. Ford stood out so clearly with his iconic wardrobe, bullwhip and tough-as-nails demeanor, except when it came to snakes! After his role in Indy, Ford went on to become one of the top earning action stars of the ’80s.

At the same time, Raiders helped disprove that George Lucas was a one-trick pony, since he is best known for his Star Wars films, while it cemented Steven Spielberg’s deserved status as one of our greatest film directors.

The sequels were well received for the most part with exceptions. The first sequel, or rather prequel (since it takes place before Raiders), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was criticized for being too violent and helped inspire the PG-13 movie rating. The third film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was considered by some as the best of the Indy films, though most still think that forty years later, the first one is the best. Unfortunately, the last one, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which came out in 2008, is considered to be the weakest film, thanks to the obvious use of CG, clumsy antics and Shia LeBeouf, who played Indy’s son, but it still has some terrific moments.

Thankfully, that film will not be the last we have seen of Professor Jones as a new adventure is being filmed for release next year. But given Harrison Ford’s advanced age (he is 78), it is hard to see how the film will convince us he is still a man of action. It’s too bad, there were not more Indiana Jones movies made when Ford was in his prime, otherwise we would not have this dilemma. But keep in mind that the actor wanted to branch out and do other films, plus Spielberg and Lucas were also busy with other projects, which meant that all three getting together to do more Indy films was a logistical nightmare and it still is, as seen by the fact that Steven Spielberg is not directing the fifth film; James Mangold has taken over for the directing duties.

With three sequels released and a fourth sequel currently filming we should take a moment to consider the appeal and influence of Indiana Jones.

The concept of Indy being an outdoor adventurer looking for things of importance no doubt influenced Tomb RaiderUncharted, the Temple Run video game franchise, the Jumanji films, Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy, and even Dora the Explorer. Lesser known properties inspired by Indy’s film adventures include the cult classic The Rocketeer, the fairly recent Journey to the Center of the Earth movies with Brendan Fraser and The Rock, and TV shows like Tales of the Golden Monkey. There was even an Indy- themed episode of Magnum P.I. starring Spielberg and Lucas’ first choice to play Indiana Jones—Tom Selleck. The actor almost got the part, but had to bow out due to contractual obligations with his TV show.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is so influential that any imagery in media showing a person or people exploring the jungle, with table cards flashing a bold logo is no doubt influenced by Indiana Jones. It even re-popularized the fedora hat that Indy often wore along with his leather jacket. These are just some of the reasons why we celebrate Raiders of the Lost Ark forty years after its release. Simply put, it still holds up as an exciting, innovative and lavish adventure yarn that is timeless.  To paraphrase Belloc, who mentioned in the film that if he buried a cheap watch in a thousand years it would become priceless, well in a thousand years we sense that this movie will still be priceless!

Walter L. Stevenson

A Look Back At Space: Above And Beyond

It has been 25 years since the sci-fi gem Space: Above and Beyond first premiered on television. The show was cancelled after only one season and has been forgotten by many, but is still treasured by a select few for its merits.

Created and produced by Glen Morgan and James Wong, Space: Above and Beyond was a military sci-fi adventure piece that took place in 2063. Humanity has just started to colonize other worlds before being attacked by these mysterious aliens called the Chigs. War broke out between humanity and the Chigs and the series followed the plight of a young group of soldiers hastily recruited into a squadron called the Wildcards to help fight the alien attackers who threatened Earth. The show was unique in that it showed that in the future, although humanity fought as one, Earth still was not united and had separate nations as today with armies from different nations cooperating in their war against the Chigs.

The soldiers making up the Wildcards were themselves very compelling and had fascinating back stories. The young leader of the squadron was Captain Shane Vansen (Kristen Cloke), who was a career soldier who wanted to honor the memory of her deceased soldier parents. Tough as nails, yet loyal and caring to her squad, Vansen was one of the standouts in the show. Another lead was Nathan West (Morgan Weisser), who was the heart of the show. Sensitive, introspective yet strong-willed, West only joined the Wildcards after his girlfriend was kidnapped by the Chigs. The other lead in the show was Cooper Hawks (Rodney Rowland), the muscle of the squadron. He stood out from the other recruits because he was an “In Vitro”, a human who was artificially grown. Commanding the Wildcards was Lt. Col. T.C. McQueen (James Morrison, who was terrific in this role), an In Vitro himself. McQueen was a tough and decorated U.S. marine who had been through his fair share of wars and became a father figure of sorts to Hawks. Each episode examined the soldiers as they grew from green recruits into hardened fighters.

Space: Above and Beyond was one of the earliest TV shows to use the modern method of TV storytelling of episodes-long arcs. This contrasted with the norm back then when TV shows produced unrelated standalone episodes. The overall arc dealt with how humanity was fighting a desperate war against the aggressive Chigs. The fact that humanity seemed to be losing the war inspired many gritty episodes that explored the nature of sacrifice, comraderie, determination and loss. On the other hand, the show was not afraid to shine a light on humanity’s ugly side and raised questions about humankind’s conduct during the war not just with the aliens but with the past. Namely, it tackled bigotry with a new twist.

The In Vitroes were considered second-class citizens by humankind and useful only for being cannon fodder. They were developed to supplement human armies in a previous war against A.I.s (called Silicates) and were now struggling for equal rights. Many took up the In Vitro cause, such as West, yet many others considered them to be inferior and were hostile towards the In Vitroes. Hawks and McQueen struggled against the bigotry from others as they fought for humanity. Some of the best episodes focused on the two soldiers and their unique perspective. “Who Monitors the Birds?” was a largely dialogue-free episode that examined Hawks’ past upbringing as he underwent a covert mission behind enemy lines. “The Angriest Angel” focused on McQueen, who carried out a vendetta against a Chig fighter pilot that terrorized human fighter pilots with an advanced Chig fighter ship. The dogfight between McQueen’s fighter and the Chig’s was quite intense and rousing!

Eventually, humanity began to triumph against the Chigs and the final episodes dealt with a planned D-Day-type of invasion on Chig territory. There were many shocking twists about the origin of the Chigs, how the war began and the fate of the show’s characters. The fact that the final episode “…Tell Our Moms We Done Our Best” was open ended indicated that more seasons were planned as the war did not end and the characters were in cliffhanger situations. Some were apparently killed or taken prisoner by the Chigs. It was frustrating but added to a feeling of ambiguity about war and life; so the ending was somewhat appropriate.

Space: Above and Beyond was truly ahead of its time. It was one of the earliest shows to use computer effects which largely hold up today and had a fantastic and rousing military score by Shirley Walker. The show did a great job with its world building and set a template for hard and gritty miltary sci-fi that was further developed in the Battlestar Galactica reboot a decade later. But it was not appreciated or understood by many viewers when it first aired, and it was not a breakout hit that the network that aired it (Fox) hoped it would be.

As noted earlier, Space: Above and Beyond does have its fans and is considered to be an underappreciated gem. Anyone wishing to see will have to hunt for it online as its not currently streaming on Netflix or the other streaming apps, and the DVD boxset is quite pricey. Still, the show is worth seeking out for anyone wanting to see a well crafted military sci-fi yarn.

José Soto

The Captivation Of Inception

Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi classic film Inception continues to enthrall viewers ten years after its release in theaters (remember those?) in the summer of 2010.

When Inception was first teased, many were as intrigued by it as they are by Nolan’s upcoming film Tenet because the former film was so mysterious. The only thing shown to potential ticket buyers were images of people fighting in low-gravity conditions, cityscapes twisting and bending, and vague dialogue about dreams. This, along with Nolan’s filmmaking credentials, was enough to lure people into theaters and many were not disappointed by what they saw.

Inception stood out as a sci-fi actioner not just because of its mesmerizing visuals but for its complex plotline. For anyone who has not seen the film yet, the film starred Leonard DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, a corporate spy/thief whose specialty is to go into people’s minds while they’re dreaming and steal trade secrets or implanting suggestions. How this is done was not explained but Cobb and his team used a device that allowed them to enter the dreamscape of others. It was not important; what was notable was Cobb’s personal story and how he pulled off his latest and intricate caper.

Cobb was haunted by the death of his wife who was lost in the dreamworld and is desperate to return to the United States and reunite with his children. To do this, he has to complete one final mission, which is to enter the mind of his client’s corporate rival and influence him to break up his vast corporate empire.

The film spent a lot of time with explaining how Cobb and his team would enter their target’s mind and it involved going into dreams within dreams. Admittedly, this was quite complex and demanded careful attention, yet it made sense and was quite exciting. There were many complications as Cobb’s team stayed one step ahead of their foes. This involved perfectly executed car chases, stunts and an unforgettable fight scene in a hotel hallway between Cobb’s right hand man, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and a henchman that had them literally crawling along walls and defying gravity. This occurred because the dreamer at that moment was falling…don’t ask, it still looked great and this type of fight has been copied by other films and TV shows.

Other visual standouts were sequences where entire city blocks twisted upwards into sky as Dom Cobb explained how to navigate the dreamscape to his protegee, Ariadne (Ellen Page). Of course, this feat would be duplicated years later in Doctor Strange. This demonstrates how influential and revolutionary Inception was for its time. In some ways, the visual tricks it pulled off were the next step to those seen in The Matrix.

One reason as to why Inception was so captivating was the brilliant, Oscar-winning cinematography by Wally Pfister. It was best appreciated when seen on a large movie screen or better yet an IMAX screen. Another was the pounding music by Hans Zimmer, which was one of the composer’s best film scores.

As many wait for Christopher Nolan’s next film Tenet to come out, Inception will be re-released to pump up theater goers for Tenet and to herald the reopening of theaters. Of course, this will be muted because the coronavirus is still spreading and will probably keep most theaters closed at least in the United States. Be that as it may, no other film is better suited to be a companion piece to Tenet (from what we’ve seen in the trailers) as is Inception.

X-Men: Herald Of The Modern Age Of Superhero Films

It was twenty years ago on this day that X-Men premiered in theaters. While many at that time knew of the film’s potential impact, its success was still surprising given how the superhero film has grown in stature.

Before the first X-Men film came out on July 14, 2000, there were many prominent and successful superhero films that made their mark in pop culture like Superman: The Movie, Batman and The Mask. However, the splash they made was not as intense as the one X-Men made. Yes, after those films made millions at the box office, superheroes were the craze with merchandising and copycat films and TV shows, yet X-Men heralded a new and lasting age of superhero films that continues to this day (well, coronavirus notwithstanding and causing most theaters to shut down and film studios to delay film releases). It was not that X-Men was a better film than say Superman: The Movie, it probably was that it was the first genuine hit based on a Marvel superhero IP. Before anyone brings up Blade, that film was marketed more as an action/horror film and most had not heard of Blade. The X-Men were different, they were prominent in geek culture and many fans were aching for a big-budget adaptation of the superhero mutants. They wanted to see how Wolverine would be realized in live action, how filmmakers could translate the complexity of the X-Men comic books. 

Director Bryan Singer did a fine job distilling and presenting a somewhat simplified version of the X-Men. This is not a criticism but rather a compliment in that he and the filmmakers (which included future Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige) were able to strip down what worked in the comic books, which were the best characters to bring forth, and knew what would resonate with audiences and fans. 

In their wisdom, they were nearly spot on with their casting. Starting with Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, which was ironic considering Jackman replaced the original actor cast in the role, Dougray Scott, after Scott was injured during filming of Mission: Impossible II. Some scoffed at Jackman’s casting because he was tall, good looking and lacked a filmography that screamed comic book action star. But from the moment that Rogue (Anna Paquin) met Wolverine in a Canadian bar following a cage fight, we all knew after witnessing Wolverine’s feral nature that the casting gods were generous. 

Another equally important casting choice was Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier, the leader and heart of the X-Men. Often, people mock fan casting for being ridiculous and unrealisitc. But time and time again Stewart was the fan favorite for a hypothetical X-Men film. Thankfully this proved to be perfect as Stewart brought gravitas and humanity to the role. We believed he was a kind and just mentor, who championed humanity. Needless to say. Ian McKellan as the villainous Magneto was a pleasant surprise given so many doubted his casting due to his age. However, McKellan displayed the same gravitas as Patrick Stewart and was able to believably match Hugh Jackman’s vicious Wolverine with his own cunning and hatred towards humanity.

For years, filmmakers were challenged by the idea of bringing the mutant team to life. Two reasons were because of budget and the complexity of the team. Their storylines were more mature than standard comic book stories as they tackled racism and related strife. It would not do to treat an X-Men film as a campy romp, nor could it be a mindless action fest. The villains were more nuanced with causes that audiences could sympathize with, namely the evil mutants’ actions resulted from humankind’s fear and bigotry. X-Men displayed this naunce splendidly, thanks to solid performances and Singer’s direction.

The film is not perfect, namely in the execution of the action pieces, which feel a bit pedestrian and low key compared to what filmmakers have been able to pull off in recent years. Some of those fights were cringe worthy! But no one should hold that against X-Men and the accomplishment of everyone involved with the film.

X-Men was not the biggest hit of that year, but it did well enough to excite fans and film executives who saw the box office potential of superhero films. Helping to cement the modern age of superhero films in the early years were Spider-Man, X2: X-Men United and Batman Begins. There were fits and starts in that decade but by 2008, the runaway success of Iron Man and The Dark Knight signaled that superhero films were here to stay and be a major influence in films. 

This was all due to X-Men; keep that in mind during the next viewing of this film.