BBC1: Friday 31 July, 11.15pm
In a world of drowned cities after the melting of the Polar caps, the development of low-maintenance service robots is essential to the economic survival of the species. Robots don’t eat or sleep. With strict prohibits on pregnancy in a time of diminished natural resources, Cybertronic scientist William Hurt develops an experimental prototype android: Haley Joel Osment’s David is the first robotic boy to be programmed with human feelings. The mechanical boy is placed with a couple whose own child lies in a coma. Despite initial misgivings, Frances O’Connor comes to look upon David as a son. But when her real son returns home, David is abandoned to fend for himself in an alien world that’s not just wide but also wicked. Decommissioned ‘mechas’ are hunted down by Flesh Fair exhibitors who destroy the machines for fun in front of howling crowds aggrieved at the gradual depletion of the human race. David has been programmed to think of himself as one of a kind. But he’s just the first of a kind. His ally on the run is Jude Law’s Gigolo Joe, a Rouge City sex-toy robot who knows the score: “Humans hate us, you know,” he tells David. “They made us too smart, too fast and too many. We are suffering for the mistakes they made. When the end comes we will be all that’s left – and that’s why they hate us.” Even so, David is determined to fulfil his dream of becoming a real boy and so win back his mother’s love. His head full of Blue Fairy moonshine from Pinocchio stories, he sets off for the lost city in the sea at the end of the world. Steven Spielberg’s stunning sci-fi fairy-tale gives due credit to the years of development Stanley Kubrick put in to his long-thwarted adaptation of Brian Aldiss’ short story Supertoys Last All Summer Long. The widely divergent sensibilities of both film-makers are plainly evident in the fascinating, flawed finished picture: a hugely ambitious film of human failings and stubborn dreams, suffused both with the chill blue hues of Kubrick’s pessimistic pictures and with Spielberg’s sunny insistence on sound hearts beating in this world and in the next. What they share, of course, is supreme craftsmanship and a sharp eye for cinema’s developing technology. Although Spielberg’s consummate skill in telling an imaginative story through indelible images remains triumphantly undimmed, the film’s most poignant shot is perhaps that of New York’s skyline, the World Trade Center towering above the flood waters. No one can predict the future, not even Steven Spielberg.