The truth behind Haley Joel Osment's casting, Teddy's voice, and those weird websites
Jude Law, A.I., ...
Credit: A.I.: David James

When Steven Spielberg agreed to direct ”A.I.” (in theaters June 29), one of the last projects developed by his late pal Stanley Kubrick (”Eyes Wide Shut”), he borrowed more than the sci-fi plot (based in part on the Brian Aldiss short story ”Supertoys Last All Summer Long”). He also copied Kubrick’s obsessively secretive approach to filmmaking by refusing to give the complete script to cast and crew, banning press from the set, and making his stars sign confidentiality agreements. But that hasn’t stopped from hunting down the answers to your burning questions about the futuristic epic. And we didn’t even have a robot to help us do it.

What’s the deal with all the ”A.I.” websites? And who the heck is Evan Chan?
As part of a ”Blair Witch”-style Internet marketing campaign, Warner Bros. created more than 40 websites that describe a robot uprising in the year 2142 and the death of a man named Evan Chan at the hands of a companion bot. The mystery of Chan’s death leads to a complex and juicy web of intrigue, but fans may be disappointed to discover they have nothing to do with the plot of the film, which focuses on ”mecha” kid David (Haley Joel Osment) and his quest to find his mommy. So what gives? Producer Kathleen Kennedy will only say that the robot-uprising sites, besides painting an in-depth picture of the world young David is thrown into, lay the groundwork for a series of new video games. ”We’ve done a very elaborate long term project with Microsoft and [the video game system] Xbox,” she says, noting one game will open close to the release of the movie with others being released over a five-year period.

”A.I.” is rated PG-13, so why does it look like a kid’s movie about a little boy and his teddy bear in the ads?
Well, it IS a story about a little boy and his teddy bear, but this little boy happens to be a robot who hangs out with a mechanical gigolo (played by a sultry Jude Law) and must wrestle with the grown-up themes of abandonment, mortality, and bigotry. And watching a human looking robot drenched in acid and catapulted through an airplane engine isn’t for the faint of heart, either. ”I think it’s okay for kids my age and older to see it, but younger than that probably not because of the adult themes,” says Osment, 13. Kennedy is quick to point out there won’t be any kid-friendly action figures in an effort to herd them into theaters. ”It’s unfortunate people don’t pay more attention to the rating system,” she says. ”People assume it’s a family film because it’s Spielberg, a child, and a teddy bear, but it’s very adult.” So what merchandise will be available for grown-ups? A talking teddy bear by Hasbro that should be in stores this October, just in time for Christmas. ”It’s a very sophisticated robot,” Kennedy insists. Right.

Did Osment take this role instead of the lead in ”Harry Potter”?
No. Though the actor had mentioned his passion for playing the bespectacled wizard shortly after ”The Sixth Sense” became a runaway hit, he’s since decided Potter should stay planted on the page. ”I really enjoy the book, and it should stay a book,” he says. ”We never considered the role, because I think the movie’s going to ruin the book for a lot of kids, because it takes away that important part of being able to imagine it in your head.” As for the ”Potter” filmmakers, they chose to go with English unknown Daniel Radcliffe, 11.

Who does the raspy voice of Teddy the teddy bear?
If he sounds familiar, you probably watch too many cartoons. He’s performed by Jack Angel, who’s done voiceover work on animated TV shows such as ”The Smurfs” and ”Spider-Man,” as well as the movies ”Iron Giant” and ”Toy Story 2.” There are other disembodied voices that may sound familiar, too: The movie’s narrator is Ben Kingsley (”Gandhi”); Spielberg also enlisted Meryl Streep and Robin Williams to provide the voices of key figures in the film.

What was Stanley Kubrick’s contribution to the movie?
Kubrick is credited only for the concept of the film, but his presence was strongly felt on the set. Besides honoring Kubrick’s privacy policy by keeping the script under wraps, Spielberg also remained true to the master’s original story outline. ”The teddy bear, the ending, all of it’s in Stanley’s script,” says executive producer Jan Harlan. ”He would be so elated, because the story was so close to his outline. But it still had Steven’s handwriting over every frame, which was wonderful. If Stanley had shot it, we would still be shooting it, and we’d be fighting with the MPAA for an R rating. He wanted to go all the way with Gigolo Joe (Law) — he got totally carried away with it. Steven took it down 75 notches.”

Will we ever see thinking, feeling robots like the ones in the movie?
Good question. ”Something like this depends on so many factors,” says Cynthia Breazeal, a postdoctoral associate at M.I.T.’s artificial intelligence lab, and a marketing consultant on the film. ”We’re going to need to have improvements in computation and sensing abilities and motor technologies. And even if we knew how to build something like that, there are still fundamental ideas we don’t have yet. Understanding the mind is still one of the great mysteries. There are a lot of scientists who see people as extremely sophisticated machines, so in principle it’s possible to build something like us. But is that right? We don’t know.” In other words, don’t hold your breath waiting for a fembot to clean your room.

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