April 10, 2011

... it wasn't a prequel.




To explain, for several months now I had been made aware of a certain alternate reality game masterpiece known affectionately to its fans as the Beast. It ran for a magical three months in early 2001, but it had taken me just last month to actually sit through a walk-through explaining what the heck was going on in it.

I'm looking through my daily journals right now, trying to remember exactly which night I spent without sleep and devoted to that walk-through. It might have been the 28th, the 29th of March. It was an exhilarating night, and all over something that ended almost ten years ago. (Dang, I'm old. And I need to get out more.)

Of course, it is impossible for me to discuss the Beast without going into length about the film it was created solely to promote. A.I. Artificial Intelligence was originally a Stanley Kubrick project inspired by "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long," a sci-fi short story by Brian Aldiss. And going by the Wikipedia page, it also famously got stuck in development hell for several decades until Kubrick died and Steven Spielberg took the helm.

Considering that Development Hell is usually a place reserved for either the unluckiest or most passion-driven of projects, exactly what is so special about A.I. that Kubrick had spent years making sure he got it right?

Well... I'm not exactly ready to answer that question yet. Maybe one day I'll attempt a proper movie review, I'm still not sure. All I remember is that when my sister and I first watched that movie onpiratedVCDpleasedonotjudgeus we were both overcome by that same dazed, rotten but sobering feeling you get when a movie leaves behind an impression somewhere between "This movie is incredible" and "Oh my God I want to DIE." (The last movie to make such an impression on me was A Very Long Engagement. Thanks a lot, HBO.)

There's one more thing: Despite it leaving a fairly visible impact, I did not recall particularly falling head over heels in love with A.I. the way you normally would when you discover you have just seen your new favorite movie. In short I did not recall particularly liking A.I. despite its emotional punch.

I still don't. I still can't get over how stereotypical or under-developed some of the characters were, or how baffling the lead-up to that ending was, or how Jude Law as a sexbot seemed both eerily appropriate and utterly ridiculous.

But most of all I was just struck with how the plot itself seemed to do much of the movie's heavy lifting. Taken out of context many of the performances in this movie (like the jerkass big brother or the "ringleader" of the flesh fair) play out like lazy archetypes, but at the same time you get the feeling that their presence makes sense... or at least has to. All because of this loony roller coaster of a plot.

Ironically this quirk is also the reason why I cannot find it in me to outright dismiss A.I. as a work of fiction. It is a widely-held belief in literary circles how "literary fiction" (the kind you'd expect to win Pulitzers or other equally magnanimous awards) is known primarily for its character-driven stories while "genre fiction" (which includes works of horror, fantasy and science fiction among other things) is more known for its plot-driven stories, often derisively so. But as an aspiring writer with a preference for certain flavors of genre fiction (do you people read this blog?), I feel I need to bring up one of the surprise perks of plot-driven stories, and possibly one of the best parts of writing itself:


While I may not care much for A.I. the movie, the Beast completely helped redeem A.I. the fictional universe in my eyes. That's because of exactly what the Beast is made of: it's knee-deep in the mythology of A.I. in ways the movie isn't. It clues us in on the nuances of the world that both created and doomed David the robot child, and it does so in tantalizing increments of company profiles, hacked e-mail, vandalized websites, stone-age blog posts and leaked coroner reports. And code-breaking. Piles and piles and piles of code-breaking. But I'll get to that later.

The enormity of the scale and depth of the Beast itself caused me to remember that for all its flaws, A.I. was still a remarkably complex feat of worldbuilding. The building of this universe from the ground up is as sound as you can get considering that this was all just for one single Hollywood movie. This is a universe where people can be kept in suspended animation, where companies are in cutthroat competition over the next groundbreaking piece of A.I. technology, where people attend university on the Moon, where rednecks have built campaigns and militias dedicated to the cause célèbre that is the snuffing out of the Mecha menace. Heck, the fact alone that the words "orga" and "mecha" are loaded epithets in this universe is just mind-blowing to this poor nerdichlorian heart of mine.

But most importantly at all, the Beast wasn't a prequel.

I mean that literally; after hearing so much about the Beast pretty much serving as the backstory of A.I., all this time I thought it was literally a direct prequel to the movie. It's not.

But I'm too much of a lady to spoil all the best bits, so I must insist you judge the Beast for yourself. Your sleepless night starts now. Now go, go, go, go, GO!

(Stay tuned for an eventual continuation to this post. I have not even begun to geek out over the Beast.)

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