top of page

VIEWING CUES: A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Steven Spielberg, in his 2001 film A.I. Artificial Intelligence, uses carefully constructed compositions to add greater depth and poignancy to the scenes in the film. An example of such deliberate crafting in a shot is seen near the beginning when David, the main robot protagonist and his friend Teddy, a robot as well, enter the frame of a doorway. David has just finished a conversation with his human mother regarding her life expectancy in which David suggests that he will outlive her and remain alone. The brief conversation is morose and depressing and this particular shot, which occurs afterwards, illustrates the mood perfectly. David and Teddy stand in a well-illuminated room staring through a doorframe to a dark, almost entirely black area. It is a shot that foreshadows the future in which David will become separated from the only human being who loves him and cast out into a world of hatred and loneliness.

Another example of artful frame composition is found later in the film when David confronts the returning human son of the family he is currently staying with. There is some initial antagonism between them that increases as they grow more competitive for the love of the mother.  This subtle conflict is perfectly illustrated in a shot where the mother Monica is reading the story of Pinocchio to both of the competing children. As Monica describes a painful situation for the fictional wooden puppet, the human son sits resting against his mother listening while David sits very close to Monica and rubs her arm softly with a rather terrified look on his face. The shot pinpoints the relationship among the three and the ignorance toward David’s emotions. 

Toward the middle of the film, during a scene that has robots running away from human robot hunters. A robot, whose sole purpose was to be a nanny to human children, runs toward the camera. At first, she looks like a regular human woman until, frightened, she turns her head and it is revealed, through a missing cranial covering, that she is in fact, a robot. It is a stunning shot in terms of visual effects artistry and reflects the entire theme of ambiguity between human and non-human in the future.

All of the shots mentioned are from an objective point of view.

A shot in the film that is rich in detail occurs in the middle act of the film when David and the mature lover robot Gigolo Joe enter a seedy, underground place called Rouge City. The area is filled with brightly lit fluorescent signs and marquees. The dresses of the visitors are also very bright and ultra-modern. Gigolo Joe, very familiar with the place, exactly mimics one of the more dynamic marquees that show a dancing, top-hatted showman of some sort. The shot is very simple but encompasses many visuals that do not overly distract from the focus on the protagonists’ interaction with the city. It is accomplished with a very fluid camera movement with great vertical and horizontal flexibility. This shot is also from an objective point of view.


Regarding the use of framing and depth of field, there is a shot of David during his introduction that shows him out-of-focus in the center of the frame. The image is very ethereal and, through the out-of-focus shape, foreshadows the more advanced robots that are seen at the end of the film. Introducing an artificial, fake, man-made, robotic character as an ambiguous, shapeless, ghost-like entity adds a greater depth to the entire situation and highlights the theme of the film which concerns mistaking that which is mechanical for something holy and sacred in the future.

The movement of the frame is particularly effective in a shot towards the end of the film. David has entered the robotics lab, his place of origin, only to encounter the scheme of the human creators which is to mass-market hundreds of duplicate versions of him. Confronted with this baffling identity crisis, David stands in the center of a room surrounded by his robotic duplicates. The camera, from a far away distance, moves in closer and tracks right into his face for a close-up at a very high speed. The effect is startling and reflects the emotion of David in this crisis of his.


Since the depth of field in nearly every shot of the file is very deep and rarely isolates a single object or person, the composition or arrangement of elements rather than their focal definition is used for increasing understanding of a scene.

However, there is one important shot when the human mother Monica imprints onto David’s programming, causing him to begin loving and emotional toward her. The shot is still and only includes Monica and David. From the start of the film, nearly all the environments are always just as in focus as the characters on the screen. Here, however, the background is out of focus. This isolation of the mother and son figures reinforces this important step in their relationship.

The film is divided into three acts. The first act of the film deals with a domestic lifestyle. Lighting and color here are very warm and soft. The second act is more action-oriented and deals with more daring themes. In this part of the film, saturated colors and low-key lighting are found. Colors range from a very warm palette to a very cold one.  The final act is spiritual/supernatural for the protagonist. The color here is subdued at the start and very cold; filled with whites and blues. Then, the color becomes more like the first act except slightly distorted and unnatural.

Color in the film, for the most part, reflects the emotions of the protagonist’s situation. When more excitement and passion is involved, a warm color theme is used. When the scenes reflect the exposition of technology and medical situations, the colors are very bleak and cold (i.e., blues, whites, grays).

An excellent use of the tracking movement of a frame is utilized at the end of the film when the viewer is introduced to the Manhattan of the future after an ice age has devoured it. The camera follows a flying vehicle of the advanced robot society that now inhabits the earth. It follows the vehicle through a gothic-styled corridor of ice, the height of skyscrapers. The shot is very dynamic visually and created using only computer-generated visuals. The movement serves mostly as exposition showing the extensive excavation that is taking place in the ruins of future Manhattan.

During a scene at the dinner table, a reality is represented through a shot in which David is framed by an above room light. The visual suggests that David is isolated and ignored as a member of the family. The following shots, however, are from more conventional angles, close-ups and over-the-shoulder shots.

Another example of a presentational shot contrasting with a representational one would be during a scene in which David, confronted with a depressing, existential introspection, decides to commit suicide. The presentational shot is very conventional and simply shows David falling from a ledge. However, the action is then viewed from the perspective of Gigolo Joe, David’s robot companion, who is watching through glass. To the viewer, the reflection of David falling appears as a tear falling from Joe’s eye due to the transparency of the glass. This representational shot suggests that Joe, though he is a robot not programmed with emotions, is sad and affected over the event.

bottom of page