I, Robot

i-robot-poster“This doesn’t run on gas, does it? Gas explodes, you know!”

The Scoop: 2004 PG-13, directed by Alex Proyas and starring Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, and Alan Tudyk

Tagline: What will you do with yours?

Summary Capsule: Robophobic cop gets all wrapped up in a murder case involving – what else? – robots.

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PoolMan’s Rating: Okay class, conjugate the verb. I Robot. You Robot. He Robots. She Robots…

PoolMan’s Review: The Three Laws of Mutant Reviewing:

      1. A Mutant Reviewer will always be honest and critical when speaking of movies, and do their best to share their opinions with their audience.
      2. A Mutant Reviewer will always be funny and witty wherever possible in their reviews, except when this conflicts with the First Law.
      3. A Mutant Reviewer will always accept bribes from interested parties to give a better review, First and Second Laws be damned.

As you can see, the only inherent problem with these Laws is that we plainly do not have enough studio bigwigs sending in bribes. If only Kyle would stop frisking them all at the door!

What we have on our hands today is a troublesome movie by the name of I, Robot. The works of Isaac Asimov are legend in science fiction circles; he was writing compelling and fascinating SciFi long before Gene Roddenberry started taping ugly foreheads to black people and calling them “aliens”. I’m still early in my learning curve on Asimov’s work, but I’ve read some of his stories, and they neatly combine drama, physics, human nature, and so many wonderful intangible elements that have kept his fans reading his stuff for decades. What he’s probably most famous for, however, are his robot stories. These are compelling tales, usually woven around some kind of misinterpretation of his famous Three Laws of Robotics. Basically, in order of priority, a robot can’t harm a human, must obey human orders, and must protect its own existence. The actual laws are a little more flowery (see Intermission below), but that’s the gist of it.

So why is the movie version of I, Robot, based on the Laws as well as Asimov characters and stories, troublesome? Well, let’s be honest. Asimov probably wouldn’t have written the whole thing as an action movie. There’s been completely justified outrage that the movie has nothing in common with the books beyond the superficial level. The truth is, that’s an accurate statement.
But it’s still a good movie.

I had heard endless times that if you can just turn off your bias for Asimov and look at I, Robot (the movie) as its own work, you’ll be just fine. And it’s true. Will Smith is as good as he’s ever been (in any of his action movies, anyways) as Del Spooner, a homicide detective called in to investigate the apparent suicide of the father of robotics, Dr. Alfred Lanning. Skewing the picture a bit, however, is the possibility that the good Doctor was in fact killed by one of his own robots. This would be rather disastrous timing, as the world is about to experience the single largest manufacturing release of new robots in history, and it’s bad for business if people find out that the robots don’t want to obey the Three Laws anymore. It’s an interesting premise, and one that may keep you guessing till the end if you don’t bite on too many red herrings.

Compared to tripe like Independence Day (ID4 for the thinking-impaired), this is a pretty intelligent work. There are no completely arbitrary or stupid twists to the story, it unfolds very naturally and logically. Sure, it’s definitely far more action-oriented than Asimov’s stories were meant to be. The CGI-rendered robots are all extremely convincing onscreen, moving with a real weight and purpose, even in some of the incredibly complex, Matrix-like fight scenes. Watching these bad boys hop around is a lot of fun, and believable. Also featured is the world’s simplest car chase ever, which consists of Smith’s car sandwiched between two giant freighter trucks in a tube. Not even a chain link fence to go crashing through! But at the heart of it, buried under everything, there still lies the heart of an Asimov tale: Is it really a good idea to have a robot in every home?

If I sound like an Asimov purist, believe me, I’m not. It’s been told to me several times that Bridgette Moynahan’s character, Dr. Susan Calvin, should definitely not be a drop-dead gorgeous woman who takes long, steamy showers. Also, the reliance on gunplay and robots leaping about like spider monkeys probably doesn’t fit very with old Isaac’s original vision. You just have to accept that it’s not the same thing, and then you’ll be fine.

I liked I, Robot. It kept me interested, featured a Will Smith character who (when the usual Will Smith smartass routine wore off a bit) demonstrated some depth. The supporting cast is all perfectly fine, if secondary to Spooner and his robot-related struggles. Definitely worth a look, but leave your library card at home… you won’t need it.

Lissa’s Rating: Did anyone else count the product placements in this movie? Sheesh. BLATANT.

Lissa’s Review: Let’s get one thing straight before we go any further: I’ve never read anything by Isaac Asimov. I realize I should be ashamed of this, especially given that I do quite like sci-fi, I am a scientist, and I classify myself as a geek. But I’ve never gotten around to it. So I went into I, Robot without comparing it at all to the source material, and I am writing this review again without any sort of reference to said source material. I am guessing that it was not an incredibly faithful adaptation, as the credits read “Suggested by I, Robot” instead of “Based on” or “Adapted from”. So bear that in mind as you read this. If you’ve read the original work, you might be shocked and appalled at any opinions hereafter, because I rather liked the flick. If you haven’t, come with me, because we’re starting on the same page.

I, Robot the book might be a classic work of literature, defining a genre altogether, or at least laying the foundation (HA! I crack me up) for it. I, Robot, the movie, was released in the summer, and you know what that means. Lots of effects, little brain power. Well, that’s what it means in theory. Although I think it’s a pretty safe bet that the movie is not as intellectual and complex as the written work, the movie IS more intellectual and complex than you would expect for a summer blockbuster. Actually, it was pretty interesting.

Will Smith starring as Del Spooner, a homicide detective in 2035, is a good choice. As we all know, I’m definitely a Will Smith fan. I don’t think he’s the most wonderful actor ever, but I do think that he’s a solid actor and he makes for a good action star. He does well enough with the quirky, witty one liners, but he can pull off the serious scenes without making me snort water out my nose in disbelief as well. His character of Spooner is (naturally) haunted by a past that explains his utter hatred of robots, but I didn’t actually guess what that past was.

In fact, the whole movie felt like a guessing game, thus the description “interesting”. The main plot is “who killed the robot designer guy?”, and of course, we all know that the immediate suspect is a huge red herring. But there are a few other convincing red herrings as well, and I finally figured out who was behind the whole thing maybe a minute or two before the movie revealed. Now, granted, I’m not a major sleuth or anything; mysteries aren’t something I watch all the time. But I consider myself a pretty intelligent person overall (even if I can’t spell dwarves), so if a movie keeps me rather stumped for a while, I’m happy. (Granted, there weren’t a lot of clues pointing to the real culprit, but it still worked well enough for me.)

The action is okay. A lot of blue screen work, and the robots DO look like the title should be iRobot, not I, Robot, but it’s not as hideous as in some movies I’ve seen. Acting is, overall, not overly remarkable one way or the other. However, I must say that Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk, who played Steve the Pirate in Dodgeball and Wat in A Knight’s Tale) struck me as far more human than Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan). Although — whoopee! — Dr. Susan Calvin actually made it through the entire movie without being smooched. It’s so nice to see a woman in a sci-fi/action flick and not have her be a love interest! (And even nicer that — as pointed out elsewhere on this page — the guy did the full shower scene and the girl got misted over. HA!)

I, Robot isn’t one that we’ll be running out to buy, but it made for a nice popcorn flick on a night with nothing better to do. It did take something that is probably definably cult and turn it utterly mainstream, but hey. Maybe more kids will read Asimov, or something like that. All in all, it could have been much, much worse.

How can you tell they're evil? Because they're RED!

How can you tell they’re evil? Because they’re RED!

Intermission!

  • In all of Isaac Asimov’s books, all robots existed by 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.
  • Asimov claimed that the Three Laws were originated by John W. Campbell in a conversation they had on December 23, 1940. Campbell in turn maintained that he picked them out of Asimov’s stories and discussions, and that his role was merely to state them explicitly.
    The Three Laws did not appear in Asimov’s first two robot stories, “Robbie” and “Reason”, but the First Law was stated in Asimov’s third robot story “Liar!”, which also featured the first appearance of robopsychologist Susan Calvin. (When “Robbie” and “Reason” were included in I, Robot, they were updated to mention the existence of the first law and first two laws, respectively. “Robbie” was also updated to include a cameo appearance by Susan Calvin.) Yet there was a hint of the three laws in “Robbie”, in which Robbie’s owner states that “He can’t help being faithful, loving, and kind. He’s a machine – made so.” The first story to explicitly state the Three Laws was “Runaround”, which appeared in the March 1942 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. [some sources: Isaac Asimov FAQ]
  • One scrapped poster suggests that the movie might have been called “Yo, Robot”.
  • Oh sure, we get full screen nude Will Smith showering action, but of course Bridget Moynahan showers behind frosted glass. Dang.
  • A demolition-bot! How cool would that be?
  • Why exactly would a prosthetic limb be made to glow from inside?
  • When Sonny hides amongst the “normal” NS-5 robots, he’s standing in perfect rank both times. So what happened to the two robots who were in those spots previously?
  • That’s a cool way to draw.
  • Beers are $23 each? The future truly IS a frightening place!
  • I’d hate to be a low density alloy robot near that forcefield… ouch!
  • When Sonny gets winged in the hand, he “bleeds” a silvery liquid. How come all the robots that get shot up later in the film don’t?
  • Is it just me, or do the NS-5 bots look like they were designed by Apple?

Groovy Quotes

Bergin: We’re going to miss the good old days.
Spooner: What good old days?
Bergin: When people were killed by other people.

Spooner: [to the head of USR] I don’t usually do this, but since I’m here, I got a great idea for your next commercial. There’s a carpenter, and he builds this beautiful chair. And then a robot comes along and builds a better chair twice as fast, and then it says: “USR: S***tin’ on the little guy.” Fade out.

Calvin: Are you being funny?
Spooner: I guess not.

Spooner: Somehow “I told you so” just doesn’t quite say it.

Spooner: Oh, hell no!

NS5 Robot: [Jumps on car and tries to steer car out of control] You are experiencing a car accident.
Spooner: Like hell I am!

Spooner: You are a clever imitation of life… Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot take a blank canvas and turn it into a masterpiece?
Sonny: Can you?

Spooner: I thought you were dead.
Sonny: Technically I was never alive, but thanks for your concern.

Spooner: Please hold my pie sir.
Guy with a Pie: What?
Spooner: Hold it or wear it. It’s your choice.

Calvin: [about Spooner's motorcycle] This doesn’t run on gas, does it? Gas explodes, you know!

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2 Comments

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