Dave and Rachel's movie reviews.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Harry Potter

Year: 2001 (Philosopher's Stone), 2002 (Chamber of Secrets), 2004 (Prisoner of Azkaban), 2005 (Goblet of Fire), 2007 (Order of the Phoenix), 2009 (Half-Blood Prince), 2010 (Deathly Hallows: Part One), 2011 (Deathly Hallows: Part Two)
Running time: 152 minutes (Philosopher's Stone), 161 minutes (Chamber of Secrets), 141 minutes (Prisoner of Azkaban), 157 minutes (Goblet of Fire), 138 minutes (Order of the Phoenix), 153 minutes (Half-Blood Prince), 146 minutes (Deathly Hallows: Part One), 130 minutes (Deathly Hallows: Part Two)
Certificate: PG (Philosopher's Stone), (Chamber of Secrets), (Prisoner of Azkaban), 12 (Goblet of Fire), (Order of the Phoenix), (Half-Blood Prince), (Deathly Hallows: Part One), (Deathly Hallows: Part Two)
Language: English
Screenplay: Steve Kloves (Philosopher's Stone), (Chamber of Secrets), (Prisoner of Azkaban), (Goblet of Fire), (Half-Blood Prince), (Deathly Hallows: Part One), (Deathly Hallows: Part Two), Michael Goldenberg (Order of the Phoenix)
Director: Chris Columbus (Philosopher's Stone), (Chamber of Secrets), Alfonso Cuaron (Prisoner of Azkaban), Mike Newell (Goblet of Fire), David Yates (Order of the Phoenix), (Half-Blood Prince), (Deathly Hallows: Part One), (Deathly Hallows: Part Two)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Tom Felton, Oliver Phelps, James Phelps, Julie Walters, Bonnie Wright, Matthew Lewis, Devon Murray, John Hurt, Warwick Davis, John Cleese, Richard Griffiths, David Bradley, Fiona Shaw, Ian Hart, Harry Melling, Toby Jones, Mark Williams, Jason Isaacs, Kenneth Branagh, Shirley Henderson, Pam Ferris, Gary Oldman, Robert Hardy, David Thewlis, Michael Gambon, Emma Thompson, Timothy Spall, David Tennant, Stanislav Ianevski, Katie Leung, Clemence Poesy, Brendan Gleeson, Miranda Richardson, Ralph Fiennes, Robert Pattinson, Natalia Tena, Imelda Staunton, Evanna Lynch, Helena Bonham Carter, Dave Legeno, Jim Broadbent, Helen McCrory, Bill Nighy, Peter Mullan, Rhys Ifans, Samuel Roukin, Kelly Macdonald


There are a few things to get out the way before going on. First, there are huge spoilers in this review. I know the warning at the top of the page says there are always spoilers, but these are big ones. That said, if you've not read the books or seen the films but find yourself reading this review, you should be asking yourself why. Second, I feel no shame in admitting myself a big fan of J. K. Rowling's series, it's 'for kids' status notwithstanding. The world, the mysteries, the layers, and above all the characters are among the most wonderful I've ever spent time with. If you don't agree, again you should ask yourself why you're bothering to read this. Now, onward...

When Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was first released it was automatically compared to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. In all honesty, there really isn't anything that can compete with The Lord of the Rings and to compare the two was, frankly, unfair to the Harry Potter series.

Having said that, the films do have a fair bit going for them. Like the books, the idea (and it's a truly great one) is that the target audience grows up along with Harry, and to achieve that the earlier ones are more youngster-friendly, while the later ones add complexity and darkness. With the first film it was more important that the central trio looked the part rather than show any genuine acting talent. Even so, the child acting is at times abysmal, save the always funny Rupert Grint who gets by on comic timing and the faces he pulls, which distract from the fact that he is as bad at delivering lines as his peers. The kids do much better in the more casual scenes, and dreadfully bad in the more serious moments. The time Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Ron (Grint) first meet Hermione (Emma Watson) on the Hogwarts Express is the best-acted scene the three leads can manage - the line "You've got dirt on your nose, by the way. Did you know? Just there" is delivered nicely and Ron's face in response helps to make the scene pretty funny.

The effects are also poor, in particular the on-broom stuff and the copious use of unconvincing digital doubles make the action underwhelming. The cream of British acting talent are clearly having a ball, which helps you to overlook the quality of the effects and the use-the-clues-to-solve-the-mystery element to the story keeps things ticking along well enough. When a franchise stretches to seven books and eight films, the only real point of the first part is to set up the world, characters and enough background information to help the viewer understand what's going on, and Philosopher's Stone does that without too much trouble. The slightly creepy climax also hints at the darkness to come.

Chamber of Secrets expands on the clue-hunting and mystery-solving style set up in Philosopher's Stone, with Harry hearing strange voices and a magic diary of past student Tom Riddle revealing more of Hagrid's (Robbie Coltrane) back story. Some of the faults are still here - in particular the acting from the kids is still poor, and the film is overlong (Chamber of Secrets is the longest film, yet second shortest book in the franchise). The effects, however, have improved a great deal. Like its predecessor, Chamber of Secrets is aimed at a younger generation, but even so things are a fair bit scarier this time around, three examples of which are the spider den (with sound effects that are just horribly creepy), petrification and the climatic battle to the death with the huge snake monster. Even some of the comedy revolves around the ghost of a young schoolgirl (Moaning Myrtle, played by Shirley Henderson) who was murdered haunting the toilets. So, darker than it may first appear, and with a meatier storyline.

Kenneth Branagh pops in for a spell (geddit?) and steals the show a little as the highly irritating Gilderoy Lockhart, the supposedly brilliant, brave and beautiful new teacher taking over the cursed post of Defence Against the Dark Arts, who turns out to be not a bit like he wants to be portrayed. Director Chris Columbus did okay, but when he mishandles certain scenes (such as not-as-creepy-as-they-should-be moments listening to the disembodied voice talking of killing everyone that only Harry can hear) you can't help but wonder what someone like Spielberg would have made of the films.

Prisoner of Azkaban is the favourite volume of many a fan, and it's not hard to see why. Harry's third year is full of menace, with rumours of a notorious murderer on the run and looking for him. Hogwarts is no longer a place of blue sky and sunshine, and instead buckets of rain fall from an overcast sky, and the place is surrounded by frightening dementors (creatures that can literally suck the happiness out of you before consuming your soul in a 'Dementor's Kiss' - how is that any less scary than any number of adult fantasy and horror stories?).
There are a number of new additions, most notably David Thewlis as Remus Lupin, the new Defence Against the Dark Arts Teacher, Timothy Spall as the traitorous Peter Pettigrew (although, he's actually been here all along as Ron's pet) and the phenomenal Gary Oldman as the eponymous prisoner, who, as usual, is not what he first seems. Another new face was that of Michael Gambon, taking over the half-moon spectacles of Dumbledore; Harry's guide, protector and mentor following the death of Richard Harris. Harris did seem a good fit for the role, and kudos should be given to Gambon for not simply aping the style Harris had set and instead forging ahead with his own interpretation of the character. I do in fact prefer Dumbledore as Gambon plays him, as there is more of a suggestion of hidden strength under the gray hair, whereas Harris often came across as looking simply frail, albeit with wisdom.

Calling in a new director for the third film was a wise decision. As mentioned, Chris Columbus did well enough with the first two, which are quite similar in tone, but we are beginning to move out of kid's film territory here, and Alfonso Cauron is a fine choice, showing with his Spanish language Y Tu Mama Tambien that he has an intuitive understanding of teenagers and their conflicting emotions. This is one thing the Potter stories I have found pull off brilliantly well - combining the troubles of being a hormonal teenager with the troubles of being 'the boy who lived' - there is often some uncertainty as to which is the most daunting to Harry.

Goblet of Fire is also one of the most popular of the novels, and, as is the trend, it goes darker and scarier. The terms and classes structure of the previous films takes a back seat to the Tri-Wizard Tournament, for which Harry is unwittingly chosen. This makes for some grand set-pieces, with the particular standout being Harry versus the big, angry dragon, which, thanks to some top quality effects, great direction from Mike Newell and much-improved acting from Radcliffe, is the closest this series comes in the first four films to truly stunning cinema. The other kids are also getting the hang of 'proper' acting, with all of them getting a good handle on the Yule Ball scenes. Grint, as always, is streets ahead with the comedy though.

With the introduction of other schools of magic in Europe, there is, for the first time, a broader message about disparate peoples coming together to face a common enemy, but deep down it's still all about the main three, and particularly Harry, which makes the whole thing remain emotionally engaging - it is, after all, Harry, Ron and Hermione who form the core, and it is always them we care about the most.

The climax of the film is like the book - nothing short of astonishing. When Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, who nails just the right mix of psychosis and insanity) finally takes shape and becomes something more substantial than a whisper or a preserved memory (complete with blood and severed body parts - and this is still supposed to be just for children?), the whole tone of the series shifts dramatically. We're no longer on a small scale, with Harry's goal simply to make it through school, but it becomes larger, something that smacks of epic proportions. It is the cold-blooded murder of defenceless schoolboy Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson, pre Twilight) that truly brings home the magnitude of the shift - simply being a child is not going to save you here; nobody is safe.

In the series of books, Order of the Phoenix is considered something of a letdown. While it is overlong, I still find it a decent read. It does seem to work better as a film, however, Michael Goldenberg's script (the only one not scripted by Steve Cloves) trimming the occasionally plodding pace of the novel into a story so streamlined it simply does not pause for breath. Order of the Phoenix was Rowling's political novel, taking a vicious pot-shot at the New Labour government. Harry and Dumbledore are alienated for speaking the truth about Voldemort's return thanks to the authority-backed tabloid spin, and Hogwarts is subjected to countless petty rules and regulations that mean nothing, but are enforced with sadistic glee by Dumbledore's replacement, evil in pink Dolores Umbridge (played brilliantly by Imelda Staunton). The three young leads continue to come into their own, a world away from their shockingly wooden beginnings.

It's around here that Ron's younger sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright) develops as Harry's love interest, which is certainly a surprise, because she's been in it since the beginning with nary a hint of interest from Harry. Given a moment to think about it, I find it to be a really neat touch by Rowling, because it illustrates the complete unpredictability of love. Ron and Hermione starting to show more than a passing interest in each other is quite the opposite and entirely unsurprising, but in
a good way. A favourite character of mine, Luna Lovegood appears here for the first time and is beautifully played by Ivanna Lynch, who gets Luna's mix of strangeness and wisdom exactly right.

The sense of fear and mounting menace is palpable, and new director David Yates handles the different strands of comedy, action and tension well. The climax is well constructed as the Order face off against the Death Eaters with Dumbledore's Army caught in the middle, and this time it's Helena Bohnam Carter as the demented Bellatrix Lestrange who steals the show. It's a shame they jettisoned some of the really weird stuff from the novel's climax, but going for the more straightforward action angle is understandable and works fine.

The ending is genuinely heartbreaking, with Harry not only losing his last remaining family member, but following an almighty duel, watching Dumbledore kneeling before Harry as Voldemort invades his mind, beseeching him to hold on, but powerless to help, is a moment that is resoundingly impactful.

The plot rolls on and the sense of dread continues to build in The Half-Blood Prince, which follows established form by going darker and nastier with a more frightening climax. This novel was the pause for breath before the big finale and the decision to use it to fill in Voldemort's back story could easily have been a jarring change of pace. While it's certainly more considered and slow-burning when compared to the break-neck pace of Order of the Phoenix, the tone is similar thanks to the retention of David Yates as director, who sees the series through to the end. This sees a welcome continuation of style, as I see the final three books as a set in a similar way to the first two, although a world away from the lightness of the opening chapters. This evolving style is something that might have derailed a different franchise, but here it is a strength, due to the way the stories adapt to their aging target audience.

There is plenty of Gambon's Dumbledore along with newcomer Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn, the potions professor with a secret that could prove to be Voldemort's undoing. Watching the two established thespians clearly enjoying the outlandish material is great fun and ensures the slightly overlong running time (a problem with Steve Cloves as screenwriter that besets half of the films in the franchise) passes without the viewer losing patience. Also impressive is Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy, who outperforms the other kids and handles the increased complexity of Draco's character with ease. Despite the increasing darkness of the series, there is still room for moments of comedy, involving a drunk Hagrid and Ron, who finds his libido, including a particularly funny sketch involving mishaps with love potions.
Much has been made of the endings to the books and films, and following the steady tempo and building menace, the climax to The Half-Blood Prince is an electrifyingly sudden change of pace into high gear. Harry and Dumbledore attempt to destroy one of Voldemort's horcruxes (items in which he's hidden parts of his soul, making him immortal, assuming they're not all found and destroyed) in one of the creepiest, most frightening and lightless set-pieces of the franchise. The moment when Harry witnesses his last remaining role model blown off the top of the school is excruciatingly emotional, and such a shock (assuming you're one of the few people who didn't already know) you're left stunned. In the cinema, I could hear people muttering "But he's going to get up again, isn't he?" in astounded disbelief.

Unable to reduce the final volume into a single film, Deathly Hallows: Part One is full of foreboding and further cranking of the tension. The previous books all had plenty of world-building and sub plots (Hermione's house elf liberation thing and Neville Longbottom's (Matthew Lewis) brush with greatness in Order of the Phoenix for example) that could be cut for the scripts, but the final book is all plot and as such couldn't be reduced. With the three friends on the run and the Ministry of Magic (the government of the magical world) all but fully supporting Voldemort, there are no safe places to turn to. The opening mostly silent shots of our main three are extremely evocative; in particular Hermione erasing herself from the memories of her parents in order to protect them is a quiet yet huge sacrifice that is enough to bring a tremor to your lip and a tear to your eye.

To begin with it is relentlessly tense and shot through with a crushing sense of fear, and the deaths of both 'Mad Eye' Moody (Brendan Gleeson) and Harry's owl Hedwig within the first few scenes is like a statement of intent and a further illustration of the mortal danger all the characters, children included, are facing. With the seem
ingly impossible task of finding and destroying the remaining horcruxes before going after Voldemort, all seems bleak and following a daring break-in to the Ministry of Magic tempers start to fray as we follow the three out into the middle of nowhere, where the sense of dread eases off and we have a little room to breathe. After Ron departs in a mood, there is a much talked-about scene, not in the novel, in which Harry and Hermione share a dance. It's been both praised as a lovely extra moment of characterisation and criticised as an awkward and pointless aside. In truth, it's kind of both. As it begins, and Harry takes Hermione in his arms, you can feel their awkwardness, but as the dance continues, their smiles and laughter are genuine and it serves its original intention of lightening the mood for a moment in a surprising and tender way. I'm sure that initial awkwardness is entirely intentional and shows the main strength Yates brings to the series; his grasp of mood and character.

As lovely as the land surrounding Hogwarts undoubtedly is, the film makes great use of the opportunities for a change of scenery in what is essentially the Harry Potter Road Movie. Although it's often cold, dark and damp the difference is striking. A particularly effective use of the surroundings is the scene at night in the middle of a wood where Harry has to dive into a frozen pond to retrieve the sword of Gryffindor. It's remarkably done and has you cringing in sympathy and yearning for a comfy seat by a warm fire. One other outstanding moment is the telling of the story of the titular Deathly Hallows - told in fluid and beautiful animation, it is extremely well designed and very effective.

What is different about this film is the ending. It's really the most natural point at which it could have ended, and yet because it's only half way through the book, it's a little anti-climactic compared to the others. All of the action of the huge finale is contained in the second half. The film doesn't suffer greatly for it, but it is a little strange.

Deathly Hallows: Part Two kicks off at the exact point Part One left off. It says something about how much these films mean that throughout the sold out showing I went to see the cinema audience were deathly quiet. The again very effective opening dialogue free shots are of Voldemort finding the Elder Wand (which is also the final scene of Part One) and new headmaster Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) silently presiding over a Hogwarts run like a military prison. After a few brief rather clunky conversations, we set off for the finale. First off is a stop at Bellatri
x's bank vault to retreive another horcrux in an impressive sequence which sees our trio escape Gringotts (the wizard bank, run by goblins) on the back of a dragon.

The direction is unchanged from the previous three, with Yates still struggling at times with the dialogue and making a passable attempt at action. He continues to excel at mood and expressing character through shots framed without dialogue. Like the first two films, you sometimes wonder what a director more competent with action might have done with some scenes - James Cameron prehaps - but Yates is so effective at putting Rowling's characterisation on screen, I doubt it would have been worth the trade. It's odd that the scenes that say most about the characters are the ones in which they don't speak. I suppose, having established your characters over the course of eight films, it's entirely natural that they don't always need to speak to be understood.

The final film is almost like an exercise in ticking boxes to make sure everyone gets their payoff, their big moment. Some work, some don't. Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) shows that she is every bit as formidable as has always been suggested, Ron and Hermione finally sharing a kiss is well handled, but Molly Weasley's (Julie Walters) big moment is fumbled - rushed almost. It seems ludicrous that after eight films, half of which were too long, that the finale with the shortest running time of all the series, doesn't take the time to portray such a huge moment with the care it deserves. Something else it gets right is the resolution of Neville Longbottom's arc; seeing the lad take over Dumbledore's Army in Harry's absence and having the nerve to stand up to Voldemort is great. As Voldermort, Fiennes is marvellous; feeling his power crumble and his sanity slip away as each horcrux is destroyed, utterly bewildered at how his nemesis is accomplishing the impossible and flying into unpredictable rages as his desperation increases.
A great job is made of showing the cost paid by those who stand up to Voldemort; brief images of the Weasley family pole-axed by grief, or of Lupin and Tonks (Natalia Tena) lying beside each other in death, leaving their baby to be raised by others are played as minor touch notes in the grander scheme of things, but are genuinely upsetting. Each of these fleeting glimpses acts as a prism focusing on Harry, struggling to come to terms with the sacrifices others are making to protect him, the weight of their deaths lying heavier on him all the time. As with other scenes, it is portrayed best without words.

The final reveal of Snape's true character is, considering the way it slows the pace to a grinding crawl, handled remarkably well and like in the book, the potentially fatally large infodump is absorbed into the story with no great difficulty. It's here where one of the standout performances of the film and indeed the series is resolved. When you have all the pieces, you can see Rickman did a superb job of portraying all of Snape's complexities. Even from The Philosopher's Stone, Rickman's peformance takes on a dual nature. In the later films, Snape can be viewed as a cold-blooded, uncaring villian, but when re-watched, Rickman's mannerisms hint at the tortured soul underneath, playing out his role with a suggestion of sorrow and not a little bravery, protecting a boy who reminds him so strongly of a man he despised, but very occassionally of the woman he loved. It is Rowling's crowning moment of genius and makes for the most satisfying character arc of all.

When it comes to bravery, the star of the show is always Harry, and it's no different here. While Neville Longbottom takes over
the role of typical action hero in the battle for Hogwarts, Harry faces his own personal struggle as he quietly and deliberately prepares himself to die for his cause. It's one thing to die fighting, going out in a blaze of glory, but it's quite another to accept your fate and willingly give yourself up to death to save others. Harry's quiet and dignified decision to sacrifice everything is beautifully understated; Radcliffe has truly never been better and along with Rickman, gives one of the performances of the film. He's come a long way, that kid.

There have been a couple of wobbles along the way, but overall this set of films helps me to remember why I along with millions of others fell for these characters in the first place.


Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: 6/10
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: 7/10
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: 8/10
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: 8/10
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: 8/10
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: 8/10
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One: 8/10
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two: 8/10


Rachel might one day write something about these films, but don't hold your breath, for unlike me, she has a real life. She has, however, scored them.


Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: 6/10
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: 6/10
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: 8/10
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: 8/10
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: 8/10
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: 8/10
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One: 8/10
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two: 8/10

Further reading:

Bill also enjoyed them, and although Jake enjoyed the new one, he's more critical than me of the previous ones.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I Am Legend

Year: 2007
Running time: 101 minutes
Certificate: 15
Language: English
Screenplay: Mark Protosevich, Akiva Goldsman
Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Charlie Tahan


When the news broke that Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend was being adapted again, with Will Smith playing the role of last man alive Robert Neville, it was met with a collective 'meh' the world over. When the impressively creepy trailer first hit, opinions were rethought, and anticipation began to grow. It turns out that the first reaction was the appropriate one, and this film goes to show just how misleading trailers can be.

The first part of the film delivers everything the trailer hinted at. Smiths damps down his megastar wattage and hits the right notes as a human all alone in a world full of monsters. Days are spent hunting, driving sports cars and playing golf in an eerily empty New York, while Neville passes the nights hunkered down inside his bath, clutching a weapon as the sounds of a rabid population of roving demons echo through his secured house. Venture inside a building and the tension hits a fever pitch, plunging us into the pitch black, knowing that something is in here with us. A quick glimpse of what humanity has become sends the heart-rate soaring.

But then, when Neville captures one of them, we dispense with the terrifying flashes, and for the rest of the film we get a good look at the monsters. I realise the tension generated in the first part of the film could not have been maintained, and that the story demanded we see these things and see a lot of them. It was, however, a big disappointment to find that the monsters that had seemed so terrifying only a moment ago had been reduced to nothing more than a bad CG effect that wouldn't look out of place in The Mummy Returns. It's clear that production design in films is much more important than you might think, and getting it wrong can ruin it all. When the creatures came into the light all the tension drained away, and the film died on its arse at that exact moment. For the rest of the mercifully short running time, I couldn't summon the energy to care what happened to our hero at all. The ending, therefore, which should have been emotional and tension-filled, was typically over the top on the use of computer effects and really rather dull.

A shame.

Score: 4/10


Rachel might one day write something about this, but don't hold your breath, for unlike me, she has a real life. She has, however, scored it.

Score: 6/10

Further reading:

The Telegraph says pretty much the same thing, but this guy rates it a little more highly than me.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A.I. Artificial Intelligence

Year: 2001
Running time: 146 minutes
Certificate: 12
Language: English
Screenplay: Steven Spielberg
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, William Hurt, Frances O'Connor, Brendan Gleeson


You might think that Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick have directing styles so different that for them to collaborate successfully on a project would be impossible. Well, in a sense, you'd be right. Great friends for a long time, the two of them spent many years discussing A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Kubrick's brainchild, the story of a machine capable of love is an extended adaptation of the Brian Aldiss short story Supertoys Last All Summer Long. The director considered the material very close to his heart but unsuited to his detached and clinical directorial style. For years he tried, unsuccessfully, to convince his friend Spielberg to direct it for him. Spielberg's style is much warmer and usually more sentimental (in fact, over-sentimentality is what he is most often criticised for). Spielberg believed strongly that Kubrick was the only one able to d
o justice to his own vision. And so it went on, until Kubrick died. As a tribute to his friend, Spielberg decided to take the project on. As it was particularly personal, Spielberg elected to also write the script himself, something he had not done since Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

You can plainly see, especially in the earlier scenes, elements that would have been most suited to Kubrick's touch. You could be fooled into believing it really is a Kubrick film for a while, his style is homaged so perfectly by Spielberg. The moment when Spielberg's sensibilities kick in is as blindingly obvious as a clarion call. The scene in which the mother Monica (Frances O'Connor) 'imprints' the robot child David (Haley Joel Osment) to cause him to love her like a son is bathed in warm yellow 'Spielbergian' light and from then on, Kubrick was right; the material suits Spielberg much better.

As with anything touched by Stanley Kubrick there is a wealth of complex issues running through every part of this film. A bereaved father designs a robot child to genuinely love and opens a whole can of murky moral and ethical worms, which is summed up nicely in the opening scene, when a colleague asks what responsibility that places on the 'parent' to love them back. Many films have explored the idea of the rights for advanced thinking technology and robots - Ghost in the Shell, I, Robot and The Animatrix among others. This succeeds in having a much deeper emotional impact than those others though, especially for parents, because the robot in question is an innocent child. The wider issue is explored in a scene set at a 'Flesh Fair' where robots are destroyed for the amusement of human spectators. How sophisticated does the technology have to be before they could be considered life-forms and all the rights and freedoms that implies? Depending on your sensibility, the Flesh Fair concept will either disturb you greatly or cause you to shrug your shoulders and wonder what all the fuss is about.
Going back to the question of responsibility to a machine that is in essence a child who loves you, it doesn't take long for David's 'parents' to fail in their responsibilities to him when their own critically ill son Martin (Jake Thomas) begins to recover and comes home. Driven by an understandable need to protect her own son, Monica abandons David in the woods in a scene that is devastatingly heartbreaking. Understanding her reasons does not absolve Monica of her act - the abandonment of what is essentially her son is unforgivable, and in the scene you can see that she knows she has proved herself unworthy of David's love. Prior to this Martin treats David with little respect, simply like a toy, albeit one he has a particular dislike for. His behaviour is entirely understandable and more forgivable than Monica's - he has come home to find he's been replaced by a robot; at his age he's not going to have the emotional maturity to deal with this properly and his actions bear this out.

Before being abandoned, David had been entranced by the story of Pinocchio, and using the logic of an inexperienced child, assumes that becoming human like in the story will make his mother love him, and the story in many ways then becomes a retread of Pinocchio, following David's quest to become human. He meets the likable Gigolo Joe (Jude Law in one of his most impressive roles to date), a pleasure robot on the run after getting into 'bad trouble' when one of his clients is murdered by a jealous
human lover, and the two of them head to Rouge City, which is an incredible wonder of special effects wizardry.

The film has a very powerful tragic streak running right the way through it, because if a human child is abandoned by its parents, it will at least have a chance to grow up and the opportunity to mature and perhaps recover from the ordeal. David is forever doomed to stay a child, forced by his programming to love helplessly a mother who has abandoned him, never able to grow to understand the reasons why he was rejected. It starkly illustrates a child's need for the unconditional love of its parents, its willingness to forgive any number of sins committed against it by the parents just for the chance of being loved, and seeing David eternally denied this essential need is distressing in the extreme. The film is undeniably beautifully designed, shot and written - the effects are, even 10 years on, absolutely flawless - but this underlying helplessness of the main character that can never change makes watching the film extremely bittersweet. While being a futuristic sci-fi with clear fantastical elements, the film is not a fairytale and is set in a real world where magic does not exist, so David's belief in the Blue Fairy and her magic, coupled with his inability to develop and mature leaves him destined to be forever heartbroken and abandoned.

The ending is widely considered to be unnecessary and typical of Spielberg's over-sentimental nature, as it contrives to give David's story a happy ending within the confines of the 'real' world in which it is set. Critics of the film say it should have ended with David under the sea, forever doomed to beseech the Blue Fairy in vain. Beware of these people, for they may be without hearts. I, you may have guessed by now, utterly adore the ending for the very reason it's criticised - the film became a kind of version of Pinocchio and as such needs a relatively hap
py ending or it would be too unbearable to watch. It wasn't an ending that was tacked on, as many who are critical seem to think - it was foreshadowed in a scene where Joe explains to David why robots are so hated by humankind: "They made us too smart, too quick, and too many. We are suffering for the mistakes they made because when the end comes, all that will be left is us." 2000 years in the future, the highly advanced robots exploring a world without people proves the truth of Joe's words. (And yes, they are robots, not aliens as many mistook them for. Just because it's a Spielberg film, it doesn't mean there will always be aliens.)

Seeing David finally get his heart's desire - the right of a mother's love which should never be denied any child - is absolutely essential, and is the ending David deserves. Here is an ideal time to point out the astonishing work of Haley Joel Osment in the lead role. He is wonderful in every scene, but the close up of his face when his mother at long last tells him she loves him is breathtaking. Almost without doing anything, he portrays the internal workings of a boy who finally has what he always wanted after a life filled with heartbreak and desperation. Few actors with decades more experience would be able to pull off something like that.

Difficult and distressing to watch, but undeniably brilliant, Kubrick and Spielberg combine disparate styles to create a truly under-rated masterpiece.

Score: 9/10


Rachel might one day write something about this, but don't hold your breath, for unlike me, she has a real life. She has, however, scored it.

Score: 8/10