I, Robot - The Movie

After seeing the trailers I was positive this movie butchered Isaac Asimov's book, I, Robot, in spite of director Alex Proyas' reassurance he had stayed true to its spirit. The book was distinctly not a Will Smith action vehicle. When the movie started pulling in positive reviews I got curious and decided to check it out. I'm happy the trailers got it wrong.

Alex Proyas is as good as his word. I, Robot the movie does the same thing as I, Robot the book: It makes us think about the issues around people, artificial intelligence and robots. Unlike the book, the movie does it wrapped in an action story!

I, Robot starts with a death. Was it murder, or was it suicide? Or was it an industrial accident? Police detective Del Spooner (played by Will Smith) thinks something is up, but he's in a minority consisting of just himself and the dead guy! Solving the mystery propels our protagonist through the story as the stakes become increasingly larger. Because this is an adventure not a murder mystery, we get to see some great action sequences as Smith's character escapes and thwarts those who would deny him the answer.

The stars of this movie are the script and direction. The main plot line is standard action fare but it moves the story forward and provides a framework for the sub-plots. Woven through the story are explorations of people and their relationship to technology, especially technology that looks like us. With Asimov's 3 laws of robotics, it also explores our relationship to the letter and intent of the laws we make. The end revelation could just as easily apply to a liberal democratic government as robotics. These explorations are given with a light touch, don't highjack the story, and are easily ignored if you go to see Robot Smack-Down 2004. It's these explorations that make the movie true to the spirit of Asimov's book.

The best script in the world is useless if it can't be realized. Proyas struck the right balance between a lot of competing elements. As with Dark City, he combined both an optimism and realism on the human condition. His pacing of action and reflection serves both to enhance the tension of the action, there's more at stake, and our interest in the overall story, it isn't just a CGI demo reel.

Alan Tudyk's performance as the robot, Sonny, was awesome. Like Andy Serkis' performance as Gollum, Tudyk acted in a green-screen suit and was CGI'ed over in post production. Tudyk can clearly express himself non-verbally. His performance distilled to a simple robot face is more dramatic, not less. Tudyk, who played the fool in Knight's Tale, is a more gifted and versatile actor than I previously gave him credit for.

What stopped I, Robot from being an awesome movie was Will Smith and Bridget Moynahan. Smith gives a good performance, but his introspective moments seemed self-conscious and dropped me out of the movie flow. The puppeteers and CGI techs handling the NS4 and NS5 robots knew more about non-verbal acting than Smith. As soon as there was action he was back in the zone. Bridget Moynahan didn't do much better. She did well in the action scenes but didn't have the emotional range for some of the important one-on-one scenes. The chemistry between them was very good, even though they didn't completely pull off the serious moments.

The supporting actors deserve a lot of credit. James Cromwell as robot scientist Dr. Lanning, Bruce Greenwood as the head of USR, Adrian L. Ricard as Spooner's grandmother, and Chi McBride as Spooner's boss and friend all gave excellent performances. Though their individual screen time was small they provided a solid foundation for the main characters to play off. In particular, the story's credibility would have suffered if Cromwell and Greenwood's characters were unbelievable or weak.

I, Robot was fun to watch and left me thinking about it and the issues it raised long after I left the theatre. Worth paying full price.

Syndicate content