March 19, 2006
Movie Review By: SFAM
Directed by: Alex Proyas
Written by: Jeff Vintar & Akiva Goldsman, based on book by Isaac Asimov
Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: High
Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: High
Key Cast Members:
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.
Overview: Superficially based on Asimov’s great collection of short stories - “I, Robot” – this movie of the same name usually sacrifices intelligent Sci-Fi for overblown summer blockbuster clichés. While Asimov fans will recognize the names of Dr. Alfred Lanning, Dr. Susan Calvin and Lawrence Robertson, they won’t recognize the characters that Proyas gives us. In yet another, “The evil robots are coming to control us” movie. I, Robot delivers eye-popping, often well over-the-top FX from beginning to end. Right at the beginning, I, Robot relays to us that they’ve set the bar low by spending the first five minutes delivering Converse Shoe and Fed-ex Delivery commercials. Still, I, Robot captures enough of the essence to make it enjoyable cyberpunk viewing. Asimov’s three rules are still in play here, and Sonny, the robot, actually makes it interesting.
The Story: In the near future (2035), robots are a pervasive fact of life, and serve humans in a variety of capacities. US Robotics, maker of the fabled “NS” series of robots is just about ready to release their greatest innovation, the NS5 robots. NS5 robots are the most lifelike to date, and are destined to replace the ultra-reliable but outmoded NS4 model. The NS5s are guaranteed to stay new by receiving daily updates from US Robotics’s master AI system, “V.I.K.I.”
The week of the release, Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), the founder of modern robotics dies in an apparent suicide. He leaves a clue behind for former patient and police officer Del Spooner (Will Smith). Del Spooner has reasons to hate and mistrust robots and immediately suspects foul play. US Robitics CEO Lawrence Robinson (Bruce Greenwood) is suspicious looking, and things just “feel” right.
Assisted by robot psychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moyanahan), Del finds an NS5 robot named Sonny, who appears to have freewill developed life-like features – so much that Del suspects Sonny of having killed Dr. Lanning. In following the breadcrumbs, Dels fears are realized – the robots do not seem to be adhering to the thee Laws of Robotics. Now they must race to uncover the real nature of the plot before the trap is sprung.
Will Smith Plays “Will Smith”…Again: You know the role – cocky, argumentative, underdog tough-guy cop – Be it MIB, ID4 or I, Robot, Will Smith plays the same old Will Smith. I, Robot was clearly green-lighted to bring in the teens to the seats over the summer – Will Smith is the guy to do this. Will Smith and massively cool FX = ROI. Unfortunately, it also engenders a far crappier story. Had we gotten an introspective no-name person in Smith’s role, we might have had a significantly higher degree of realism. But then again, realism would imply that things like the overblown US Robots Truck bashing scene wouldn’t have been included.
Sonny: If not for Sonny, I, Robot would be almost unwatchable. Sonny (voiced by Serenity star, Alex Tudyk) provides us an investigation into android humanity similar to Star Trek’s Data in his better moments. While some of it comes off as sappy, Sonny’s questioning of his right to exist, and more interestingly, his hopes that others consider him a being instead of an it provide the best moments of the movie. One can only wonder how much better I, Robot would have been if this aspect of the movie was highlighted vice the focus on Will Smith and the overblown FX scenes.
Evolution of The Three Laws: I, Robot touches on some interesting questions concerning the three laws. If, taken to their logical extreme, do the laws imply, similar to Colossus: The Forbin Project, that machines should consider removing our freewill in order to protect us? Also, given a set of operating conditions that include the ability to learn from the environment, are we truly sure that machines would not eventually develop sentience and freewill? This is especially problematic when science has yet to deliver a definitive statement on how this comes about.
The FX: Yes, I, Robot delivers awesome android FX – continually so, in fact. The mandatory overblown chase scenes, massive explosions and lots of gun fighting are all there, but so are the robots. And the robots are simply amazing. Their facial expressions are lifelike, their exoskeleton muscles look believable, and their demeanor seems perfect. However, their cartoon-like ability to jump as high and far as they like is well past over-the-top. Worse, not all of the NS5s are equal, as near the end they transform into bumbling fools, where an army of them seems unable to stop two humans in possession of guns that never run out of ammo.
The Bottom Line: One wonders how great I, Robot could have become had the studios given Dark City director Proyas more of a free hand in its development. Instead, I, Robot is a summer blockbuster first, and an interesting cyberpunk movie second. Still, Sonny and the robot FX raises I, Robot to be more interesting and enjoyable than it has rights to be. The performances of the leads are pretty much all lackluster – make no mistake – Sonny is the star here, and dominates the screen during every appearance he makes. Normally I give overblown summer blockbusters with great FX five or six stars – Sonny, and the wonderful ending visual makes I, Robot deserve a bonus star.