I, Robot

IRobotLoosely based on Isaac Asimov’s seminal 1950 work of the same name, the beginning of the film I, Robot centers on the Three Laws of Robotics:

  • 1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • 2) A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • 3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Filmmakers use this theory and other concepts like nanotechnology and “ghosts in the machines” to drive the numerous sci-fi scenarios and amazing action sequences. Director Alex Proyas (Dark City, The Crow) begins with a great opening shot of the futuristic Chicago then pans down to a street where the hero Detective Del Spooner, played by Will Smith, walks the beat. The shot also illustrates how robots function in the year 2035 as civic servants and helpers. Proyas also utilizes a key flashback sequence and some great rotating shots to enhance the action amid large interior and exterior settings.

Spooner’s latest investigation involves a murder at U.S. Robotics. His partnership with the company’s psychologist Dr. Susan Calvin, played by Bridget Moynahan (The Recruit, The Sum of All Fears) establishes the drive for the rest of the plot, but without the romantic diversions. Opposites definitely don’t attract here. Spooner sees robots as a mere imitation of life while Calvin backs the social benefits of robots with credible statistics. She clings to the three laws of robotics when signs of instability in U.S. Robotic operations surface. “You’re the dumbest smart person I’ve ever met,” Spooner says to Calvin.

Screenwriters Avika Goldsman (Oscar® winner A Beautiful Mind) and Jeff Vintar create a strong plot around several intriguing concepts. Filmmakers could add on an additional half hour to expand on these concepts, but that supplement doesn’t fit the needs of their audience so they compromise by providing some great twists (figured out one big one, but not the other) that make audiences think about “asking the right question(s)” about society, humans and robots. Still idealistic inconsistencies within the movie cause some problems. For example, Spooner jokes at Calvin’s emotions getting the best of her, yet he lets several emotions drive his actions throughout the investigation. His actions seem odd at first, but you later discover his reasoning. The approach of dazzle and surprise first, then explain later also resonates in other plot points. The mixed genres of sci-fi, action, thriller, drama and comedy become a marketing ploy to acquire and please a wider audience, instead of providing needed consistency within the plot.

Smith also produces the film and has a good supporting cast including James Cromwell who stars as the founder of U.S. Robotics, the main manufacturer and distributor of the new NS5, and Chi McBride (TV’s Boston Public) who plays Lt. Bergin, head of the Spooner’s police division. Bruce Greenwood (Thirteen Days) also stars as U.S. Robotics executive Lawrence Robertson while Shia LaBeouf (Holes) plays a younger character named Farber that represents the general population. Farber only shows up twice and only functions to justify a conflict near the end of the film. Fiona Hogan provides the voice for V.I.K.I (Virtual Interactive Kinetic Intelligence), who you don’t see in previews, and the voice talent from Alan Tudyk (Ice Age, Dodgeball) as the robot Sonny resonates long after the ending credits.

Production designer/visual effects veteran Patrick Tatopoulos (Godzilla, Dark City, Independence Day) provides amazing eye candy. The sound department also shines especially in a revealing scene after a massive highway accident while music composer Marco Beltrami (Scream, Resident Evil) creates a pounding score.

The nearly two-hour futuristic film I, Robot has a stellar production design and special effects plus a decent screenplay that only suffers from formulaic action clichés including the typical damsel in distress, one-liners like “hold it or wear it” and filming the biggest sets as many times as possible before they’re destroyed. Recommended with minor reservations (**1/2) and rated PG-13 for intense stylized action that minimizes the impact of human casualties and some brief partial nudity during shower scenes.

Copyright © Michael Siebenaler

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