I, Robot (2004)

(In theaters, July 2004) I truly hope that die-hard Isaac Asimov fans blow a fuse while watching this film. No, it’s not even near a adaptation of Asimov’s short stories. This is Hollywood, what do you expect? A faithful but dull collection of vignettes? Please; simply think of the film as iRobot, an average sci-fi action film that happens to have a few cool winks and similarities with Asimov’s work, including the Zeroth Law. As such, it works fairly well: The bright futuristic landscape is delicious and the action scenes can be spectacular. (Robot-to-robot bullet-time combat! Roadway rampages! Chi McBride with a shotgun! Rotating cameras! Sweet!) Sure, the film doesn’t make much real-world sense: The mechanics of the NS-5 roll-out are unbelievably dumb by any business standards, physics are routinely humiliated (advanced machinery isn’t a substitute for F=MA) and the variable scope of the story is frustrating. Throw in some silly stuff like fully-furnished houses being scheduled for destruction scant hours after the death of the owner (huh?), plus some obscenely blatant product placement, and it’s hard to take this very seriously. And yet it works. Will Smith turns in an unexpectedly dramatic role as a policeman with cybernetic issues, bringing along his usual considerable charm. Bridget Moynahan is a good-for-Hollywood Susan Calvin (no actress in Southern California is plain enough to play Asimov’s Calvin) with a believable arc from cold scientist to fluffy action heroine. But frankly, the robots are the star performers of the film: Even as we’re supposed to be too jaded for modern special effects, those in I, Robot still manage to impress. All in all, a satisfying film. But don’t expect much fidelity to the original material. And that’s a good thing.

(Second viewing, On DVD, March 2005) I’m in the minority on this one, but if you’re looking for an action SF film, you can do much worse than I, Robot. Sure, there are plot holes big enough to accommodate a robotic house-wrecker. But on the flip side, the film is competently directed, has at least one or two levels of subtlety, can rely on a likable lead (Will Smith, scoring another hit as an action hero) and even includes one or two nods toward the original material. Not bad, and hearing SF geeks scream their betrayal is actually part of the film’s attraction. It holds up well to a second viewing. The DVD is a bit thin on the “making-of” side, especially given the fantastic CGI work. The commentary instills some respect for the complexity of the script. Wait; did I just qualify the I, Robot script as being “complex?

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