by Laura Kyle
Will Smith finds himself in a familiar role: a cop battling non-humans and managing to tell a joke here and there. But this time, it isn't aliens he is dealing with, it's robots. In the year 2035, Smith's character Spooner is a homicide detective who is curiously paranoid of robotic technology. He doesn't trust the mechanical human companions that help out in the home and office, run stores and businesses, and take out the garbage. So when the inventor of the newest and most high-tech robot, the NS5, is found dead from a huge fall onto the first floor of his company's building, Spooner immediately suspects a robot as the murderer, rather than believing it to be a suicide. This notion is absurd to the inventor's co-worker and friend, the distant Dr. Calvin, played by Bridget Moynahan, and to everyone else around Spooner, including his grandmother, because that would mean the robot would have violated Law I of Robot Code which forbids harm toward humans. And after all, what motivation would a computer have to destroy its human creator?Screenwriter Jeff Vintar and director Alex Proyas sacrificed a lot of intelligent intent in some of their arbitrary filmmaking decisions, like making all the robots male, for the sake of mere cinematic effect. But I don't remember any girl bots in Star Wars (correct me if I'm wrong), it didn't bother me then, and it doesn't bother me now. And why the audience is exposed to Smith's naked profile, is beyond me, though I can't say I am protesting it. Also, there were plenty of times when I asked myself if certain futuristic aspects of I, Robot's 2035 setting were even the least bit plausible, but those questions faded into irrelevance as I became more interested in the bigger story Proyas was trying to tell. I don't know if it's the same story original author Isaac Asimov intended (probably not), but Asimov was obviously satisfied enough to allow for and loosely tag his name to the motion picture. And at the end of the day, if the subjects of this movie, the robots, had written it instead of humans, we probably would have a lot more logic. But that wouldn't be as fun, now would it?
"I still want a Robot."
Plot wise, the poorly directed action sequences were just distractions from the real character-driven suspense. And I sometimes wished Spooner would just decide if he hated robots because they were too logical, or if he hated them because they were capable of developing human emotion so great as to lead them to kill. Or maybe it is the combination of this ruling logic with emotion that he hated? It wasn't very clear to me.
Ultimately though, I, Robot explores the idea that people are essentially robots who have evolved into feeling human beings. If a brain and a DNA code are basically what separate us from an inanimate object, what would happen if we created something to be almost as complex as ourselves? Could it evolve too? And what does that mean for our creation, and for our perceptions of logic and emotion, and finally, freedom? Perhaps it isn't as much of a revelation as it was in Shelley's Frankenstein or Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and maybe the movie's premise didn't come across as artistically or realistically as it did in the recent A.I, but that doesn't mean I am going to condemn it.
The dialogue is witty, often quite funny, the characters are interesting, Smith and Moynahan giving expectedly solid performances, and while the special effects left a little to be wanted at times, I thoroughly enjoyed Sonny the Robot (voice: Alan Tudyk), possible culprit of the inventor's death, and an oddly conflicted piece of machinery who dreams and harbors secrets, but is labeled a "can-opener" by the lead detective, played by Chi McBride.
I, Robot is a fairly conscious film; it simply falls tremendously short of greatness, due to its lack of attention to detail and its loyalty to firstly wanting to please the people in a commercial fashion. Unfortunately, it doesn't completely succeed on that front either. I found the plot turn and concept of a robot revolution, which served as the climax of the film to be hardly effective. And other themes about war and government and all that mess seemed to deviate from the central message, rather than reinforce it.As a filmmaker, you have to decide what you want; you usually can't make a quality film with cheap tactics, and I sensed that was what was going on in the written drafts, direction, and final editing of I, ROBOT.
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originally posted: 07/18/04 03:08:35