We got to the conference centre in good time and insolently overtook the various limos that were cruising towards the front doors. However, there weren't actually that many people when we got there since most of the attendees were at the dinner party sponsored by Coke next door.
It was a pleasing treat that when we went up to get some drinks they were being provided for free - 'now let's see if the damn Yanks with their special preview screenings get free drinks, eh?' I thought to myself.
A bit later we met up with Tony Benham, who'd driven up from Switzerland to see the movie. We then made our way to the Onyx Lounge where we'd been told by Laia herself that our tickets would be waiting.
Sure enough, there was a representative from Warner Brothers there with our names on the list. In case you were wondering, yes, that sign on the desk does say 'Microsoft - AI Screening Registration Desk'. I'm on the left, with Tony on the right.
After getting our tickets, we had a pleasant chat with the woman at the desk who revealed that the press had been incredibly anxious to get their hands on these AI preview tickets so we were quite lucky to get them. We did find it amusing that out of the fifty names on the list, only three people actually showed up - and only two of them were real Cloudmakers! (my friend in Amsterdam doesn't strictly count).
To be fair, it was a bit of a poor showing by the Europeans but it's forgivable due to the lack of notice and the cost of travel. In any case, surely it's not too bad that people from Switzerland and the UK - both hundreds of miles away from Amsterdam - successfully made the pilgrimage?
The WB representative, funnily enough, didn't know much about the game at all so we had to do the standard spiel about what the game was. I'm sure that I've said it so many times that I could reel it off without a pause in my sleep now, but I digress.
[Incidentally, 'mad props' to Tony for having charmed the door minders at the screening hall and getting my ticket back for me.]
Okay, we didn't get any posters from Microsoft like at the other special previews, nor did we get a showing from the Puppetmasters, but we did get to pick up even more free drinks and popcorn in our way into the cinema/conference hall, and the Senior VPs of Warner Brothers Distribution and Marketing did make an appearance.
Doesn't look big, huh? Let me assure you that the screening room was pretty damn huge and extended way off to the sides and back of this photo (naturally, being die-hard Cloudmakers we made absolutely sure we had the best seats in the theatre, bar none). There was a bit of delay as latecomers filtered in, and then the Senior WB VPs gave a short talk (no mention of the Cloudmakers, alas). Then the film began.
I'm not going to give you a synopsis of the movie - if you want that, you can read the BBC News review. I am going to have to put some mild spoilers in this review, with major ones towards the end (which will be clearly marked as such, if you want to avoid them).
A.I. is set in the future, when the ice caps have melted and the sea level has risen. Overpopulation has posed a serious problem for the world and families now require a license to have children. A scientist, Allen Hobby, proposes to build a new type of AI that can experience emotion - an AI child that can serve as a surrogate for all of those childless couples in the world. They decide to test their prototype (called David) out on a family whose son has been subject to a near-fatal illness and now has been in cryogenic suspension for five years.
David is a strange child - he isn't a 'real' human even though he looks exactly like one. There's a bit of tension, and lots of hijinks, David decides he wants to become a 'real' boy and to say any more would be to spoil the movie.
I think that everyone's reactions to the movie immediately afterwards was the same as mine: 'What was that all about?'
A.I. wasn't what anyone was expecting. It wasn't a straightforward movie by any accounts; you couldn't classify it as a tear-jerker, although it had its moments. It wasn't an action movie, even though a good third of the feature had significant action elements. And it wasn't a straightforward SF movie, even though yet another third of the movie had obvious SF elements. It defies categorisation.
Yet even so, it wasn't disappointing. It was... interesting. Thoughtful. And the more you think about it, the more interesting it is.
[Okay, I'm doing a really bad job of reviewing this movie here. Bear with me.]
Naturally, the special effects were second to none, and the acting was universally impressive. Haley Joel Osment has been praised by every single reviewer and I'll add mine here - he's an extremely talented young lad. Also of note was Jude Law who seems to be making a name for himself in these types of SF movies, what with Gattaca.
However, the character who really stole the show was Teddy, an AI 'supertoy' belonging to Haley Joel Osment's character in the movie; the audience loved Teddy, who was an excellently shot animatronics/CGI intelligent teddybear.
The direction of A.I. was also top-notch; the action scenes were perfect and we were also treated to some technically impressive continuous action shots which we rarely see these days in the split-second cuts we have come to sadly expect.
Drawing comparisons with Pinocchio are facile but necessary. David is thrown into a society that can't accept AIs as equals, and even though he strikes the audience as being completely out of place with his stilted and limited emotions, he's in fact one of the most human characters within the movie. Yet of course he's not human - that's not the point of the movie.
Something that really did annoy me about this movie was the narration - it just pissed me off. Narration, in my mind, ought to be banned from every single movie (sweeping overgeneralisation that I'll come to regret in the future, yes, I know...). It's the sign of a lazy filmmaker.
Click here if you don't want to read them.
I have to mention the last chapter of the movie, set 2000 years into the future. David and Teddy are discovered far below the now-frozen oceans by what look like aliens but are really supremely advanced AIs.
When they find David, they rejoice at finally finding an AI who had direct contact with humans, for they no longer have any records of humans who have apparently disappeared or completely died out at this point.
I have to admit that I was rather amazed that they put this ending in the movie instead of leaving David and Teddy to die at the bottom of the ocean, and many people will hate Spielberg for doing this. However, on reflection, I think I like the ending. If you strip away the nonsense about life-threads and consciousness and all that, you realise that while the AIs don't make David human, he is to all intents and purposes the only human that is left in the world. It's not what he is that makes him human, it's his mother's love.
Okay, it's a slightly saccharine ending. And the narration pissed me off somewhat. But it wasn't that bad. In fact, it was quite good.
I have remarked to many of my friends that I feel that A.I., along with 2001, now joins the exclusive ranks of the movies that I feel are true science fiction.
Let me clarify. Lost in Space, or Armageddon, or Star Wars - they're not real science fiction to me. Sure, they're set in space, or they're in the future, but what they really are are action movies with spaceships, or robots. They don't try to explore new possibilities or ask or answer any questions about the human conditions. They're just mindless pulp movies (not that that's technically a bad thing - we always have a need for popcorn movies).
A.I. is a real science fiction movie - more real than 2001. The extrapolation of the greater part of the movie 2000 years on is very courageous and evokes memories of science fiction novels that attempted the same tricl. The themes explored - antipathy against the 'other' and the eventual evolution (or destruction) of the humans into AIs are heartening to see in such a major movie.
The producers of the movie stated in an interview that they know that some people will hate the movie, which they seem to have a certain amount of satisfaction in saying. I don't think they're trying to please everybody with A.I. I think they were trying something new. And I think it worked, but not without flaws.
After the movie we all moved outside to watch a strange laser-show that appeared to mark the ending of the conference. After about 20 minutes of it (including a section where they put on the Little Mermaid 'Under the Sea' song), we got fed up and cycled home.
The house I stayed at had a wonderful view from the back which I took a photo of before I left.
I also got a shot of the street adjacent to theirs again, at the tram stop. Incredible place.
On the ride back to Centraal on the tram, I was interested to see some people sticking their tickets into a little machine in the carriage. I suddenly remembered that you were supposed to do that with your ticket or else you'd get into trouble if it was inspected - and of course I'd completely forgotten to do that on my first tram ride.
However, it was already a few minutes into the tram journey and I didn't want to get up and mark my ticket since it'd look a bit foolish. Besides, I like living dangerously. After a nail-biting thirty minutes, I emerged off the tram at Centraal Station victorious - I'd bought a two day tram ticket and it wasn't even marked! Truly, the Rogue Train Traveller Rides Again!
Even better, when I got the train back to Schipol Airport (it didn't break down this time), my ticket still wasn't inspected. So theoretically I could have travelled throughout the Netherlands public transport system without paying a single penny.
The flight back to Liverpool was delayed, alas, by three hours since apparently the plane had 'too many passengers' or something. Anyway, I made up the time by chatting with Cine Expo attendees about the screening of A.I.; they all thought I was some kind of young whiz-kid technical movie guy or something. Strange.
And despite the three hours delay, I was cheering up no end by the fact that the guy who sat down next to me on the plane was wearing an A.I. T-shirt. Clearly my psychic powers had cast a spell over the entire airport, pulling like-minded people towards my immediate proximitiy. Then again, it could've just been a coincidence, but I prefer my explanation.
On arriving back at Liverpool, I was moochily considering getting a taxi to make up lost time spent waiting for the plane, but the fates smiled upon me as there was a bus going straight to the city centre waiting right outside the airport. What's more, the bus driver must have divined my experiences on the plane as he felt the Need For Speed and zoomed there directly without stopping once.
So it was all good fun, and certainly worth it.