Retro Review: I, Robot

Director Alex Proyas, helmer of such cult favorites as “Dark City” and “The Crow”, steps into the Hollywood limelight with his first attempt at a mainstream Hollywood blockbuster.

“I, Robot” chronicles the life of Detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) who has a techno-phobic view of the world’s newest appliance, a life-like robot created by the world’s leading technology giant US Robotics. A link in Spooner’s past is linked to his phobia of the automaton movement sweeping the nation. According to US Robotics, there will be eventually 1 robot to every 5 humans.

Spooner is called to the offices of US Robotics when a leading scientist (James Cromwell), with a secret link to Spooner, has apparently committed suicide. His death seems to have mysterious circumstances which could link to a robot. With man’s complete trust in the new robot technology, it seems too ludicrous to every one except Spooner.

As the mystery deepens, Spooner unravels the very fabric of the robotic giant, locks horns with CEO Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood) and learns more about his automated enemy with the aid of scientist Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan). Through the course of these events he may learn more than he could ever imagine.

It is hard to defend a film like “I, Robot” but I am going to try. For sci-fi purists, Isaac Asimov’s legendary work about the robot and how he will intricate into our society has filled the minds of readers for over 50 years. But the similarities between the film presented here and his work are few and far between. Kind of like last week’s release of Jerry Bruckheimer’s “King Arthur”. Both films take sacred subject matter and re-invent it with a new twist. I would have to say that “I. Robot” is better in a lot ways.

At the core of “I, Robot” beats the soul of Asimov as his 3 laws regarding robots are sacredly left intact and the film does abide by them. Also a lot of the characters have similar names to the people in the text. It is almost like taking Star Trek’s “prime directive” and some of the now classic characters and setting them in a new idea of the future. The core is left intact but in some ways it has been updated and refreshed.

The story, special effects and extremely zealous direction, however, all seem to be brought forth by the collaborators who cobbled this film together. There are influences of “Robocop”, “Short Circuit”, “Blade Runner” and even the classic comic-book series “Magnus: Robot Fighter”. Each of these robot influences echo back to what makes “I Robot” so intriguing, a joy to watch and memorable.

Sure the story does have a lot of sci-fi influences and clichés aside from robot films including “Star Wars” and “Planet of the Apes” but don’t these benchmark sci-fi films influence everything coming down the turnpike these days. It even has the classic sci-fi cliché of the social outcast claiming there is an invasion coming except no one believes him. But that is not what should bring us into the film.

You really need to give credit to director Alex Proyas because it is his magic as a filmmaker that holds this film together. He knows where to play it straight and where to let his lead actor bring on the charm. Also you really have to admire the man’s technical ability. His brilliant inter-laying of robots into the photography is astounding. Proyas is an A-list director in the making and “I, Robot” shows that he can deliver a big Hollywood film.

I also give credit to Will Smith who starts out being very unapproachable with his character but as the film goes we really become fond of his hero. Smith’s Spooner does have a lot of his previous sci-fi heroes inter-laced into Spooner but it comes off as more of a homecoming than an annoyance.

In some ways I think Proyas had something to do with that especially in the chase down scene towards the beginning of the film. It almost felt like “Men in Black” again.

As for Smith’s co-stars, Cromwell’s Lanning is a throwaway character used mainly for effect, Moynahan is timid and sometimes robot-like but it is a sturdy performance and Greenwood is menacing and a good match to face off against the rebellious Smith.

The reason I was so fond of “I, Robot” is because for once it was a summer film that didn’t apologize for trying to be entertaining. The special effects, the performances and the direction are all what people want to see in the summer and this film is loads and loads of fun. It is a great giant popcorn film with a light layering of message.

My only small problem with this film was that it is supposed to be set in Chicago in 2035. I didn’t buy it but if it was 2135, then maybe.

Sure the film doesn’t pave new ground but why does every film have to. It is pure summer fun and what is wrong with that.

If you want Asimov and sci-fi purism then you can always read the novels. Stop apologizing and most of all stop belly-aching, just give the film a chance. If you like science fiction films and want to be remembered how much fun they used to be then this picture is the perfect ticket for you.

4.25 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer.

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