Lenser merged two visions for futuristic fable
Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski faced a formidable challenge on the set of “A.I. Artificial Intelligence.” Aside from the futuristic drama containing disparate set pieces, from cozy home interiors to large raucous stadiums, the Poland-born Kaminski was asked to create moods combining the austerity of Stanley Kubrick’s script with the more sentimental direction of Steven Spielberg.
“The challenge for me was how do you combine two great filmmakers into something that feels coherent,” says Kaminski. “Kubrick’s movies are (sometimes regarded as being) cold. Steven’s movies are emotional. I needed to find the proper lighting to convey the emotions that the characters were going through, which wasn’t easy because most of the characters in ‘A.I.’ are cold. That’s a direct legacy of Kubrick.”
Kaminski notes that he and Spielberg tried to maintain Kubrick’s original vision for the story, about a robot boy (played by Haley Joel Osment) who learns the true meaning of “mommy,” as best they could.
“We played a certain homage to Stanley,” says Kaminski, “so I shot the film very clean and stark, with no camera moves. Stanley’s films are known for their simplicity and cleanness of the frame. That’s what I tried to do.”
Kaminski points to the dinner sequence when the robotic lad mimics eating spaghetti and the finale between the boy and his creator (played by William Hurt) as examples of that Kubrick style.
To convey the internal drama the characters are experiencing, Kaminski says he took a page from the Kubrick/Spielberg playbook: He used a lot of backlight during the 80 days of shooting on the Warner Bros. lot.
“Steven and Stanley rely heavily on backlight. For instance, at first the family’s house is a little bit colder, clinical, but as the relationship between the boy and family develops, the house gets more colorful and warmer,” explains Kaminski, who adds, “we used certain cliches.”
But Kaminski acknowledges that staying 100% faithful to Kubrick’s master plan wasn’t possible.
“The movie originated with Stanley, but it turned out differently with Steven directing,” says the cinematographer, who’s taken home Academy Awards for lensing Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” and “Schindler’s List.”
No doubt Kaminski’s directing experience (the Winona Ryder-toplined “Lost Souls”) gives the d.p. greater insight into how images and photographs are part of a larger story.
“You have to make the right decisions (when directing). You are a one-man (team),” says Kaminski.