by Allan Fish
(USA 2001 146m) DVD1/2
Cirrus; Socrates; Particle; Decibel; Hurricane; Dolphin; Tulip…
p Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg, Bonnie Curtis, Jan Harlan, Walter F.Parkes d Steven Spielberg w Steven Spielberg story Brian Aldiss, Ian Watson, Stanley Kubrick ph Janusz Kaminski ed Michael Kahn m John Williams art Rick Carter cos Bob Ringwood spc Dennis Muren, Stan Winston, Scott Farrar, Michael Lantieri
Haley Joel Osment (David), Jude Law (Gigolo Joe), Frances O’Connor (Monica Swinton), Sam Robards (Henry Swinton), Brendan Gleeson (Lord Johnson-Johnson), William Hurt (Prof.Hobby), Rena Owen (ticket taker), Paula Malcomson (Patricia), Jake Angel (voice of Teddy), Robin Williams (voice of Doctor Know), Meryl Streep (voice of Blue Mecha), Chris Rock (voice of comedian), Ben Kingsley (narrator),
It was Stanley Kubrick’s baby; one of many embryo projects he put on hold, this particular one because when he conceived the idea in the late eighties, special effects were not advanced enough to meet his vision. Seeing what one of his successors, Steven Spielberg, did with ILM in Jurassic Park, convinced him the time was just around the corner, but he still had doubts. Eyes Wide Shut took over, and went on…and on. In the moments when he did come back to Brian Aldiss’ short story, he was struck with the notion that perhaps he wasn’t the one to direct it at all, that his vision would be too cold. He thought it might be an idea for him to produce and write and Spielberg to direct.
We know with hindsight that announcing one’s plans is a sure-fire way to make the almighty laugh, and fate robbed us of the opportunity by Kubrick’s sudden and much-mourned passing. Spielberg was one of the coffin bearers at his funeral, and they had been close friends since the days when Spielberg watched Kubrick shoot The Shining while waiting to begin Raiders of the Lost Ark. When the notion came for him to take up the baton for his old mentor and friend, he could do no other. He even made the film not at his customary Universal but at Stanley’s home since 1971, Warner Bros. It would be the first time since Close Encounters that he would write the finalised script himself.
Spielberg took the story of a small boy, created scientifically, a robot for want of a better word, and mixed in elements of his own and Stanley’s career. It divided critics down the middle, with many seeing it as too dark for Spielberg, others as too light for Kubrick. One cannot help but wonder what Stanley would have made of it. Would it have been better? More ambitious, perhaps, and yet for all its faults, Spielberg’s film ranks among his best. It would have been near as dammit to a masterpiece if it had been left at the point where David is trapped ad infinitum under the depths of old New York staring at his Blue Fairy, but a last act is tacked on. It seems superfluous, a refusal to let it go perhaps, and yet linked with the opening narration there’s a wistful quality that’s unique. This is not merely another futuristic vision of the future, but a far off future’s looking back into the mists of time to what is to us, still a future. A future, as the opening words tell us, in the “years after the icebergs had melted because of the greenhouse gases and the oceans had risen along all the shorelines of the world.” The vision of a submerged New York is an amazing one, and the shot of the Twin Towers, many thousands of years later, all but submerged, carries a special poignancy that both betrays and upholds its doom-laden philosophy. One could write whole paragraphs on the effects and design alone – Rouge City with its barrage of neon and a building topped by the outline of a horizontal girl in hotpants and fishnets – and Williams’ score is his best in aeons, evoking memories of both earlier Spielbergs and Kubrick’s 2001. And at the centre, outdoing even Jude Law’s uncanny Gigolo Joe, is Osment, emerging into his new home like one of the aliens in Close Encounters descending in silhouette from the mother ship. Is there a more moving shot in 21st century cinema than of him shedding a tear – yes, robots can cry – at his mother finally telling him she always loved him. That’s his glimpse of the infinite, his Blue Fairy moment, his star child looking down on earth. Forget the faults, see the all-enveloping vision of one master film-maker’s paean to one of his icons.