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MOVIE REVIEW: I, Robot

REVIEW SUMMARY: No, it’s not a faithful adaptation of Asimov’s short stories, but this film is still fun.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Robot-hating detective Del Spooner investigates the apparent suicide of robotics expert Dr. Alfred Lanning.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Superb scenery and special effects; the robot rebellion story line in the second part of the film.

CONS: Some predictable parts.

BOTTOM LINE: Good sf action flick.


Back in July 2004, I wrote:

“I suspect if Asimov fans go in thinking of this as a robot rebellion movie, as opposed to a direct adaptation of Asimov’s short stories, they will like what they see. Maybe then the Asimov references (the 3 Laws, Susan Calvin) will seem more like an homage or an in-joke rather than a poor ripoff.”

I finally saw the movie and judged for myself. I forgot about the robot rebellion part of the movie but for sure I was not expecting a faithful adaptation. It turns out I enjoyed the movie.

In a near-future Chicago, U.S. Robotics is set to unleash the biggest set of consumer robots, the new NS5 model, in history. All of this is good news for USR CEO Lawrence Robertson and Dr. Susan Calvin. The chief roboticist on the other hand, Dr. Alfred Lanning (played by James Cromwell – That’ll do, Daneel, that’ll do.) doesn’t have time to get excited – he’s apparently committed suicide. Enter detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) who harbors an anti-robot prejudice for reasons of his own and thus suspects murder.

As a murder mystery, the story was OK if somewhat predictable in places. Spooner suspects the seemingly harmless robot named Sonny of committing murder, something the Three Laws of Robotics could not allow. Is Spooner right or is he just exercising his prejudice? There are the obligatory scenes where Spooner’s boss thinks he’s off his rocker and CEO Robertson tells him it’s impossible.

About midway through the film, though, the thrust of the plot changes from murder mystery to robot rebellion. This was much more exciting and science-fictiony than the murder mystery part. Seeing the army of new robots fighting the old models and the people was just plain cool.

The special effects here were really top-notch. The brief glimpses of cityscapes were well-done and the animation of the robots was very believable. The occasional glimpses of future technology (the cars, single-swipe money cards, auto-parking) were also fun. The robot faces were a little creepy, though. And there was one chase sequence in a tunnel that stretched the laws of physics a bit, but hey, it’s an action flick, right.

As far as faithfulness to the book, the movie credits wisely say “suggested by” the Asimov stories. I would say that’s accurate. This movie is set in the Asimov world of robots and succeeds not as an adaptation, but as sf action flick. Yes, the story of the film lacked the puzzler quality of the Asimov stories (which I last read about 5 years ago), but I still found the movie was to be watchable, especially the latter half. (As we know, the script for I, Robot, directed by Alex Proyas of Dark City fame, emerged from a script for a movie called Hardwired.) Anyway, the book is a collection of short stories stitched together by brief interstices; how do you film that?

I have a copy of Harlan Ellison’s I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay. I plan on reading that to see if Ellison did a better job of adapting the Asimov stories, but for now I, Robot is still a good sf action flick.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

4 Comments on MOVIE REVIEW: I, Robot

  1. I too enjoyed this movie although I did watch it on a plane trip back from Vietnam about a month ago. The question would be whether I would expend the money to rent it – and I would have to say yes as it was not bad as far as movies go. It was done summer blockbuster style, but I liked the way the story played out.

  2. Bah, you guys are flaming I, Robot fanboys.

    What’s next? Judging a movie after you see it? It’s the apocalypse I tell ya…

  3. “flaming I, Robot fanboys” – I would not talk Mr. JP! You just cannot admit that had you actually watched the movie – you would actually like it and thereby become the more flaming fanboy for this picture. Fiend!!! Ruffian!!!

  4. I thought it was enjoyable if you know nothing about Asimov, but being a fan of Asimov since I was 15 I was about to murder somebody for this movie until the end. When they made sure to save themselves from dirtying Asimov’s three laws. That being said, I guess its too much to ask for them to make an Asimov movie that is ya know mostly based on an actual story that Asimov wrote himself. Well at least one of the adaptations of Darkfall gets its mostly right, but then again that wasn’t done by Hollywood either. Overall its just your generic Hollywood sci-fi with the same old story.

    What Asimov needs is a producer to champion for his stories to be told, and be told at least close to the way the story teller intended. Ya know like the producer who champions everything Philip K. Dick. AS Philip K. Dick is the most successful science fiction author to have his works translated into movies. Too bad he was dead long before he could make anything of it. That being said, if you want an awesome robot movie, you can’t go wrong with Blade Runner.

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