In 2035, technophobic homicide detective Del Spooner of the Chicago PD heads the investigation of the apparent suicide of leading robotics scientist, Dr. Alfred Lanning. Unconvinced of the motive, Spooner's investigation into Lanning's death reveals a trail of secrets and agendas within the USR (United States Robotics) corporation and suspicions of murder. Little does he know that his investigation would lead to uncovering a larger threat to humanity.
Directed by: Alex Proyas
. Starring: Will Smith
, Bridget Moynahan
, Alan Tudyk
, James Cromwell
, Bruce Greenwood
, Adrian Ricard
, Chi McBride
, Jerry Wasserman
, Fiona Hogan
, Peter Shinkoda
, Terry Chen
, David Haysom
, Scott Heindl
. Music by: Marco Beltrami
I had mixed expectations as I went to see I, Robot. I read as little as possible about it before viewing this film in order not to cloud my experience, be it good or bad. My hope was for successfully executed ménage à trois of down to earth Smith, Asimov's genius and Proyas directorial talent.
Admittedly I did somewhat struggle to see a character such as usually portrayed by Will Smith "wisecracking hero who bathes in his own cynicism and uses charisma for shampoo" being incorporated into something vaguely or directly based on a the work of one of the Grand Masters of Science Fiction.
However my faith in Proyas and his brilliant delivery of Dark City sustained my flame of hope that this wasn't going to be yet another regurgitated, stereotypical, cliché, full of corn, pile of Hollywood dung manure.
To start with and in part to answer the questioning glances from the ranks of Asimov fans the movie I, Robot is in no way based on any short story or novel ever written by that writer, nor does it allude otherwise. Professor Asimov wrote a helluva worth of books, almost publishing in all ten categories of the Dewey Decimal System, covering topics as diverse as Generalities, Religion, Social Sciences, Languages, Pure Sciences, Applied Sciences & Technology, Arts, Literature, and History & Geography. It's well agreed upon among literary circles that Isaac Asimov is the only author who has so many well written books in so many different categories of library classification. While this movie is not about him I feel it's just to present a few key parallels and anecdotes between his vision and that of this film.
The movie is introduced as "suggested by Isaac Asimov's book", meaning it incorporates some elements of the robot stories that appeared in Asimov's 1950 short story collection titled I, Robot. This collection contains a total of nine short stories revolving around the common theme of future robotics and humanity's quintessential morality. Interestingly the film started as a screenplay titled "Hardwired" by screenwriter Jeff Vintar to then have it changed later with the permission of Asimov's estate. I'm guessing the title was changed and the story modified to use some characters and plot elements from Asimov's stories in order to give it some street cred, notably increasing it's box office success and not as homage to the writer (but I could be wrong... or not). Consequently while the final result clearly contains some of Asimov's ideas, the story belongs to Vintar and fellow screenwriter Akiva Goldsman.
However there was an earlier attempt at a movie version of I, Robot which never made it to the big screen. Taking place in 1969, same year that Neil Armstrong unrolled a US flag on the soft surface of the Moon (or a Kubrick directed hoax), the rights to story were optioned to Hollywood. It took another eight years until 1977, when Harlan Ellison, an award-winning author and good friend of Asimov, was hired to write a screenplay.
Reportedly Ellison worked on this for a year, creating a screenplay that both gratified him and one that Asimov himself thought would make a great film. Unfortunately the head honchos at Hollywood lacked the nerve to make a movie from that particular screenplay, and the project was shelved. Fortunately for him, Ellison regained control of his work, which was published in 1987 as I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay, currently available in paperback.
The movie that was finally made and one that funnily enough is enjoying such box office success does however retain a few interesting and enjoyable parallels, delivering several ideas and concepts on the subject of futuristic robotics as envisioned by Asimov.
During the opening sequence very appropriately and possibly to justify it's title, the film faithfully starts with the three laws of robotics (as per the short story collection):
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 the 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.
The positronic brains of Asimov's robots were designed around the Three Laws, so that it was impossible for the robots to function without them. There were a few ambiguities in the Three Laws to make for interesting stories, but there was only one story in that particular collection, "Little Lost Robot", in which a robot posed any sort of danger to a human being.
True to the concept the Three Laws in the movie are hardwired into the positronic brain of each robot as explained by Susan Calvin, the robopsychologist for U.S. Robots, portrayed by the gorgeous Bridget Moynahan. Calvin was the central character of the story collection, however while she was brilliant, logical, and strong-willed, Asimov never described her as attractive nor feminine. Nevertheless casting Moynahan in this role works well enough as she doesn't come off as your stereotypical, gorgeous female scientist but rather someone dedicated to the pursuit of her profession, preferring the company of robots and the emotional safety they provide over that of her colleagues.
The movie also centres on robots built by United States Robotics, the corporation whose full name in Asimov's stories is U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc. In the movie Lawrence Robertson played by Bruce Greenwood runs the corporation with the kind of arrogance reserved from the world's richest tycoons and powerful men, epitomised by the likes of Bill Gates. Greenwood delivers a convincing, laced with contempt and self assuredness performance with his character giving Detective Del Spooner played by Will Smith reason for resentment toped angst.
While in the short story collection, Lawrence Robertson receives only a brief mention in the introduction as being the first president of the corporation and there are no detectives such as Del Spooner, this doesn't detract from overall plot.
Also Del Spooner with his deep-seated distrust of robots was reminiscent of Elijah Baley a character that Asimov created for his robot series set of novels, starting with The Caves of Steel and eventually tying in with the famed Foundation series (also great material for a sci-fi saga). Just like Spooner, Baley wasn't overly fond of robots and in that respect is not alone in his feelings with humans in general showing contempt and prejudice towards their mechanical companions. In the film all robots are presented in beneficial light, having gained wide acceptance in the human society.
Alfred Lanning played by James Cromwell is a director of research credited with being the father of robotics is the key to the puzzle. Opposed to the film, rather than hunting down a robot, in Asimov's novel, Baley is paired with one as a partner in his murder investigation.
The robot character, going by the name of Sonny and played Alan Tudyk is undeniably the most interesting in the film, reliving us from the try hard self-indulgent wisecracks by Will Smith. And therein lies the problem. It took me well over twenty minutes to see past the cliché stereo type casting of Smith in the role of the robophobic detective and even till the end he was never quite Del Spooner to me. I found this a little disappointing, as I'm sure I would have enjoyed this more had Will Smith not acted so damn Will Smith, something that I know he can do from other movies I've seen him in. Nevertheless for most movie goers this will likely be a minor squabble and let's face it Will Smith being Will sells.
Proyas commendably directs this block buster debut with a distinct style all of his own and while not as dark or intelligent as Dark City, still quite effective. The camera work is great, connecting action and dialogue admirably with the CGI of the robots and the city providing for a realistic sense. It's easy succumb into belief that what we are seeing could potentially represent the future of humanity, despite the obvious current technological limitations and stumbling blocks as our scientist work toward making robots more human in terms of both movement and AI.
In summary, the plot in I, Robot doesn't represent anything overly complex nor as clever as one would expect based on the source material, that was supposedly the inspiration. However even being pretty simple it is still a lot better than most other corn infested Hollywood flicks out there, providing for a good solid 114 minutes of entertainment. I did enjoy several cross-references to different Asimov novels and ideas, which shows that the guys writing the screenplay were familiar with a good body of his science fiction work.
I wouldn't go as far as to say this was a brilliant film and I would very much like to have seen the initial screenplay for I, Robot made into a movie, backed by a decent budget. However this is unlikely, as while potentially being a great or even a brilliant film, I couldn't really see it do well at the box office. If he were still alive it would have been interesting to know what Asimov would have thought of this film. I do however have a niggling sensation that being the bon vivant and easy going person that he was he would have enjoyed it.
Still a bit less Will and a tad more Sonny and I, Robot would have been ever better, overall a good watch.
All in all 8.510 and a big well done to Proyas for not making this suck :).
Review by ozbandit from the Internet Movie Database.