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