Monday, 16 April 2012

Fuzzy Logic: When Hollywood Lost The Plot

Aka The Trouble with Hollywood: or why AI: Artificial Intelligence should have been re-named NI :No Intelligence, and why Planet of the Apes (2001) made a monkey out of the audience

In the autumn of 2001 I sat through AI: Artificial Intelligence.
Steven Spielberg's take on Stanley Kubrick's long-cherished final project was a brave piece of work in which the world's most famous director had so much rope, he hung himself.
No other movie that year irritated me more.
I must confess that due to the poor state of Hollywood movies, I sat through a handful. Planet of the Apes, like AI, suffered from the same breakdown in logic.

I'm no scientist, or businessman but it seems to me that throwing millions of dollars at projects and then ignoring the basic principles of science is like shooting a movie without taking the lens cap off.
Your average film-goer may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but even they know that when opening the door to a thousand-year-old spacecraft, there's a good chance it may have got sticky, or take more than a couple of seconds to open.
I leave my car door longer than a week in the winter and it needs a bit of persuasion before letting me in.
In Planet of the Apes such things were obviously seen as slowing the movie down and when Mark Wahlberg says "Open Sesame", it does so.

When Woody Allen had tried the same thing in his sublime 1973 comedy, Sleeper the result was hilarious.
While on the run from the authorities, our latterday Rip Van Winkle finds a hundred-year-old Volkswagen in a cave.
It starts first time.
POTA also suffers during the finale. There's a chance of SPOILERS here so you have been warned.
Mark Wahlberg escapes from the world of simians in his rocket ship (how something so small can achieve an escape velocity is clearly not a problem in this future world. For that we will suspend disbelief.) However, when he returns to earth and makes an emergency landing in a pool, within seconds he emerges from the craft and walks up some steps.
Hold on a minute. Forget that final revelation which I won't reveal here and actually is quite good.
Our hero has just re-entered the earth's atmosphere and splashed down. He walks from the spaceship like he's stepping off a bus.
There's no sense of disorientation, dizzyness or even a stiff neck.
If I drive for 118 miles back to see my folks, it takes me a minute to get my act together after getting out of the car.

Like any movie goer who pays their money to be entertained for a couple of hours, I will believe there's a planet where monkeys can talk, but I won't forgive such disregard for the necessary nuts and bolts which make you suspend belief in the first place.
It's just not good enough.
Clearly under pressure from 20th Century Fox to get his movie out for the summer box office, director Tim Burton clearly rushed the ending and as a result jettisoned what little credibility he had generated in the previous 100 odd minutes.
Even movie moguls like Steven Spielberg are responsible to studios like Warner Bros.
AI had been in the pipeline for years. Based on a short story by sci-fi author Brian Aldiss, Stanley Kubrick had planned to make it when special effects could realise his vision of a drowned world.
According to John Baxter in his Kubrick biography, Aldiss believes Kubrick was schizoid, like Rene Descartes, who said I think therefore I am. For Kubrick it was a case of "I film therefore I am."
Alas, by then effects wizards had caught up and he was ready to go, he had spent so long making his other pet project, Eyes Wide Shut, that time inevitably caught up with him
Before his death, Kubrick gave the project to Steven Spielberg, a friend of Stan's since they had been working in neighbouring studios in 1980. Kubrick was working on The Shining and Spielberg on one of his finest offerings, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Vivian Kubrick (the director's daughter who was filming a documentary about her father's movie) was shocked when Spielberg seemed to show little respect for the snakes features in the Well of the Souls sequence.
There were dead snakes on the set and the RSPCA were called. Production was shut down for a day at a cost of millions of dollars.
Her father was damning in his putdown.
"Steve's a jerk."
Despite such rocky beginnings, Kubrick spent several years picking the 'jerk's' brains.
The more he worked on AI, the more it became clear that this project was more up Spielberg's alley.
Once Kubrick died, Spielberg sat down and wrote his first screenplay since Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977.
While the bulk of Kubrick's vision made it to the big screen, there's an epilogue which runs for half an hour and completely ruins the movie.
Kubrick's glacial logic makes way for Spielberg's warm, fuzzy sentiment.
The pristine Kubrick world, like a snowflake, is dissolved by the hot air and audience-friendly conclusion more akin to one of Spielberg's Amazing Stories.

You can tell where his input starts and where Kubrick ends.
As the camera pulls away from our young protagonist (Haley Joel Osment) trapped in his ship under a ferris wheel, that's a really good time to either leave the cinema or turn the TV off.
Here all logic that had been built up before hand goes out of the window.
Many years pass and aliens, or man's final stage of evolution, (it scarcely matters which) arrive in their craft made of boxes.
These computer-generated beings are benevolent brothers to the Close Encounters aliens and rather wimpy to boot.
They proceed to reveal many years of exposition in a rather ridiculous voice which sounds like it was dubbed by the first person that turned up at the recording studio that day.
Kubrick once said that for a movie to work, you need six non-submersible units to keep the project afloat. In the case of Star Wars, the final attack on the Death Star is one, in James Cameron's Titanic, it's naturally the sinking of the eponymous vessel.
It's ironic that Kubrick had developed five non-submersible units and instead of devloping a sixth, Spielberg came along as the iceberg itself and sank the whole, expensive ship.

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