Steven Spielberg's idea of great movie music, he's said, is Jiminy Cricket crooning "When You Wish Upon a Star."
But when the director of "E.T." needed a musical act in his new futuristic variant of "Pinocchio" "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" he skipped the cartoon insect and went straight to the creators of The Land of Rape and Honey and Filth Pig.
"[Spielberg] thought we'd be baby-eating, satanic goat herders or something," Ministry founder Al Jourgensen said Wednesday. "And we thought he'd be some puppet master of 'E.T. ' From uncommon ground, [though], we found out we're pretty much the same folk."
Ministry's Jourgensen and Paul Barker the first contemporary musicians to play a role in any of Spielberg's movies pop up in "A.I.," which opens Friday, in the guise of an unnamed futuristic band. Despite the industrial rock pioneers' obvious fondness for technology, the band they play has a strong distaste for robots, or "mechas."
Ministry perform "What About Us?" a song they wrote specifically for the movie onstage during a nightmarish anti-robot rally, the Flesh Fair.
The story of how the group got there is nearly a fairy tale in its own right.
When "A.I." co-producer Bonnie Curtis first contacted Ministry about appearing in the movie, she was interested only in the group's post-apocalyptic appearance, not their talents.
"We were really going after a certain look," Curtis said Thursday from a Washington, D.C., set for Spielberg's "A.I." follow-up, "Minority Report." "I was not familiar with who they were Steven was not familiar with who they were."
Curtis and her fellow producer, Kathleen Kennedy, told Barker and Jourgensen that their scene would be set in a bleak future where intelligent robots have begun to assume many human roles. Intended to celebrate life by destroying as many robots as possible, the Flesh Fair attracts a rowdy crowd worthy of a Limp Bizkit concert.
"We just pitched the story and Al just immediately got it, to a scary level, got it," Curtis said.
A few weeks later, Jourgensen, who hadn't been asked to contribute any music, only to appear in the movie, faxed over the lyrics for "What About Us?," which captured the fears of the Flesh Fair attendees.
"They just walked us through it on the phone and from there the key phrase was 'what about us,' " Jourgensen said. "I remember just thinking that was the summation of what was being said in this little speech ... What about us humans?"
The result was an archetypal Ministry track, all distorted drums, pulverized guitar chords and nigh-incomprehensible shouted vocals.
Spielberg and his producers loved it, and it blares in the movie's soundtrack as child star Haley Joel Osment playing the first robot with human emotions faces mortal peril at the Flesh Fair.
Shooting the scene in a Long Beach, California, arena with 1,000 extras on hand took eight days. Ministry wore arena rock garb of the future, with Jourgensen's face hidden by a silver mask and his guitar enhanced with a built-in video screen.
A couple of times, Spielberg even got onstage and rocked out with the band.
"He was funny," Jourgensen said. "He just kind of came up with us and ... air-jammed and just got into the whole thing. He basically said if he starts listening to this kind of music he has us to blame."
Throughout the shoot, Ministry mimed to the studio version of "What About Us?" onstage with a full arena rock light and video system, thanks in part to famed lighting designer Marc Brickman (Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen).
The band also ended up recording two other wordless pieces of music for the movie, which are briefly heard during the sequence as well.
Although only a portion of "What About Us?" sneaks into "A.I.," Ministry's Flesh Fair performance of the song can be seen from start to finish in the band's music video for the song. In addition to the performance footage, shot on the set specifically for the video without Spielberg's direction, the video incorporates numerous outtakes from the Flesh Fair shoot.
"What About Us?" will be included in Ministry's upcoming Greatest Fits collection, though not on the movie soundtrack, which will focus on John Williams' orchestral score (see "Ministry Get Shot For 'A.I.,' Throw Greatest Fits").
Jourgensen and Barker (Ministry's only permanent members) didn't see the movie until Wednesday night, and that afternoon they were still confused about just who they were supposed to be in their scene.
"As far as I know we're Ministry in the movie," Barker said.
"A future Ministry?" Jourgensen said with a laugh. "Kind of like Menudo. It's a franchise."
Curtis emphasized, however, that the movie band isn't supposed to have any connection to Ministry besides looking and sounding exactly like them.
Nonetheless, Ministry made at least one fan in the "A.I." cast.
"You guys were cool in the film," Haley Joel Osment chirped at the duo Wednesday night before the film's premiere in New York.