If you search the IMDB under "Spielberg", you'll see that Steven Spielberg, despite his directorial craft and more than occasional genius, has only a few writing credits to his name. A.I. is notable as an insight into how far the boy wonder has to go before he can again solo as a writer. The box office champ obviously had the power to wing this screenplay on his own, but doing so was a mistake. I wish he had sought counsel; the central theme in this tale deserved it. Spielberg would have benefitted greatly from running his final draft by any number of script doctors - Robert Towne for instance - before pre production.
Not that the film fails entirely; as I said, it has a beautiful soul too. But the mistakes and missed opportunities are of such an obvious and repetitive nature that experienced and mature filmgoers will be distracted - constantly standing on the sidelines rather than immersed in the film. Like other's commenting here I saw a number of viewers get up and leave two thirds of the way through. Amazing.
I encourage you to see this film if you're a serious film lover, if only to watch Spielberg's feet of clay stride ardently toward what turns out to be an only partially realized epistle about love. His ambition is almost Faustian. My own opinion is that after three masterful serious films (Schindler's List, Amistad and Private Ryan) and an intermezzo with the great Kubrick around this project, Spielberg reapproached the lost boy genre as a writer-director, and found himself in an almost schizoid void between Kubrick's distanced visual language (pulled off with great aplomb in A.I.'s first third by DP Janusch Kaminsky) and the magical sci-fi fantasies of his own youth.
The result is a genetic experiment. There are strange flowers along the way and many have a strange smell to them. Some are downright garish. The most luscious fragrances are the musical passages composer John Williams scored to accompany David's first days with his adoptive family. David's strange presence is echoed in William's paraphrases of Bartok. Where Stanley Kubrick needed to license Bartok recordings for films like "The Shining", Spielberg has his longtime maestro John Williams around to recombine Bartok's strange Hungarian tonalities for A.I. In the early family scenes, this Williams-Jaminsky mixture is original and stimulating. It's a new kind of Spielberg magic. Unfortunately, this new intoxicating mist is nowhere else to be found in the film. I would have loved Spielberg to carry this atmosphere through to its logical end - as would have many I discussed the film with afterward. These passages spoke of the strange bond building between David and his mother with greater eloquence than any of the bathetic Pinocchio references in the next two hours.
Indeed, I strongly felt the opening impetus of Speilberg's story was completely hijacked by Pinocchio. I became completely sidetracked by thoughts of "How is Spielberg ever going to let a robot become a real boy?" The original question was a much more compelling one: "Can a creature programmed to love unconditionally ever be matched in its ardor by the object of its affection?" This hypothetical, posed by a female scientist of African descent in the first scene, remains the real spine of the story. But it evaporates once David is abandoned by his mother. Or, perhaps, it is simply answered in the negative in the first hour by her very abandoning of him, making the next 90 minutes anti-climactic - an irritating retread of Pinocchio rather than the original, thought-provoking investigation of the first 45 minutes.
After this abandonment we plummet to sensational sequences drawn from Mad Max and Blade Runner, culminating in a final, grandiose apocalyptic epilogue. The SPFX budget goes through the roof, yet nothing in the hearts of viewers is deepened beyond the original family scenes. For a theme this profound, Spielberg might have consulted Aeschuylus, Sophocles and Shakepseare, as well as Collodi.
Despite its failings, I draw great hope from A.I. It is beautiful beyond imagining in places. And great filmmakers need to make big, public mistakes to get them actively reevaluating and rerouting themselves into new territory. Spielberg is an opus filmaker, a career director with a historically significant oeuvre. Perhaps someday he'll become a great screenwriter too. Meanwhile, we and he can take comfort in knowing that his burgeoning into a full literary auteur won't be mandatory for him to realize more great cinema. His directorial resources and maturity have already been proven in two of his last three serious films. Next time he writes a film, I would like to see him surrender his prodigious imagination to a great collaborator who is brave enough to discipline and shape his inventions. I'm sure Stanley Kubrick would have done so, had he lived.
(It should also be noted that Spielberg buddy George Lucas's fourth installment of Star Wars also suffered primarily from a screenplay that fell short of Lucas's earlier work. Even the greatest lose their objectivity and need the humility to seek good counsel - Orson5 - 7/3/01.)