I, Robot

More robots! More action! Less interest!

Released in 2004, certified UK-12A. Reviewed on 24 Aug 2004 by Scott Morris
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With science fiction enjoying it's most successful dalliance with mainstream culture since Orson Welles was provoking widespread panic with The War of the Worlds, the surprise regarding this Asimov adaptation (or 'suggestion' as the credits more accurately claim) isn't so much the decision to make it as it's the length of time it's taken to appear.

In a seemingly utopian future world where robots can do everything humans can, faster, stronger and utterly subservient, there's only one man who doesn't trust them. After a traumatic accident Del Spooner (Will Smith) is left with an irrational hatred and distrust of the metallic chappies that spills over into his professional work as a hard boiled, all action supercop. On the verge of becoming the precinct laughing stock, he's handed an unpleasant reputation saver when the apparent suicide of Dr Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell) looks increasingly like it was actually a murder, with only one possible suspect...a robot.

Having apprehended the rouge robot, the case would seem to be closed were it not for Spooner's continued suspicions after interviewing the bot, who calls himself Sonny (voiced by Firefly's Alan Tudyk). Doing a little more digging with the aid of robot technician and Company employee Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), it's a matter of mere days before they uncover the unpleasant, world threatening truth about the shiny new NS5 robots that are cluttering up the place all of a sudden.

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Not that it will come as much of a surprise to anyone who's seen the trailer, which seems to promise ninety minutes of robots vs. Will Smith action with all the open-shirted, two-handgun toting posturing that implies. Thankfully, I, Robot avoids the temptation to become Bad Boys II with Bots, much of its time spent exploring the same worlds of logic that Asimov is renowned for. While this 'adaptation' is so loose as to have little in common with the source material other than the name, it at least pays more than mere lip service to the concepts of the Robot novels so the die hard fans shouldn't be too peeved.

Assuming that they weren't looking for accuracy, which the trailer gives prior warning of. What is more unexpected is perhaps the most blatant product placement ever seen. As a hard boiled cop who happens to have an affinity for our timeframe, watch in awe as Spooner lovingly strokes his prominently placed JVC hi-fi. See him purr with delight as he receives a pair of Converse All-stars, which then has the temerity to become a running (ho ho) gag.

Offensive enough, but a minor flaw. More serious is the slightly pony CG that's seen throughout, almost to the point of it being a stylistic effect. It's not exactly terrible, perhaps workmanlike is a better term, but for a summer effects extravaganza we're perhaps entitled to expect more than jerkily mocapped robots and sloppy compositing that inevitably causes the viewer to be drawn out of the action. Watch in particular for Smith racing through a warehouse of robots, which doesn't seem to even make an attempt to convince you that he's in the same world as the bots, let alone the same room.

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It's not all bad, in fact some of the robot-fu seen in the mildly exciting set piece finalé is actually quite nifty. The movie overall succeeds more than it fails, although the cadence of the slow paced investigation / burst of action / repeat as required may prove a little to familiar by the end of the affair.

Perhaps the greatest deviation from canon is the films outlook on technology and the future. Asimov's Robot and Foundation series always seemed, if memory serves, to have a positive outlook on what the advances of tomorrow may bring, even through times of trouble that they may themselves bring. Here director Alex 'The Crow' Proyas presents a more pessimistic picture that seems to have more commonality with Cameron's Terminator horrors. it doesn't stray too far from the concepts Asimov presented, but the overtones as seen here are far bleaker than i remember observing..

Still, all this comparative babble has too play second fiddle to the prime purpose of the movie - to entertain. Oddly it's this aspect that's the dullest to write about. Smith goes through his usual action routine, which by this point is familiar enough to be described as 'comfortable' although if he doesn't add something new to the mix it may soon become 'irritating'. Moynahan does little of note but the story line is intellectually engaging enough to forgive the sloppy CG, although it's this same flaw that will stop the action scenes from being truly exciting. Sadly we're used to better these days, and while this movie won't have Asimov spinning in his grave it's also not quite the legacy the esteemed author deserves.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.

Alex Proyas
Cast list:
Will Smith (Del Spooner)
Bridget Moynahan (Susan Calvin)
Alan Tudyk (Sonny)
James Cromwell (Dr. Alfred Lanning)
Bruce Greenwood (Lawrence Robertson)