Tuesday, August 02, 2005

I, Robot: The Movie

Tuesday, August 02, 2005
I hate to be a book snob when reviewing a movie, but when the title of the movie is "I, Robot" and is said to be "inspired by" the classic science fiction collection by Isaac Asimov, one would have a reasonable assumption that the movie would bear some similarity and passing understanding of the source material. Then, when the director of the movie is Alex Proyas, the director of the excellent "Dark City", there is a level of intelligence that is expected from the film version of "I, Robot".

I don't know what happened.

This is such a disappointment. Without spoiling a single plot detail I can reveal almost exactly how much this movie resembles the book: The Three Laws of Robotics, a couple of character names (most notably Susan Calvin), the title, and that there are, in fact, robots. That just about covers any similarity the astute viewer may find with the book. This is unfortunate because any one of a number of the "I, Robot" stories could have been used as a launching pad for an intelligent science fiction movie. Or, even the later Elijah Bailey Robot novels would have worked. But this? There is the barest framework of a plot, the barest scrapings of Asimov's ideas, and wrapped tightly around this is a silly action movie.

The problem is only half about the movie itself. By calling itself "I, Robot" there is a level of expectation of what sort of movie this will be and what it will be about. Imagine, perhaps if Peter Jackson made Lord of the Rings with Arnold Schwarzenegger as Gandalf and Gandalf ran around hitting the Orcs with moves you might only see in "Conan the Destroyer". That's a moderately fair comparison in making "I, Robot" into nothing more than a flashy action movie and how exactly Alex Proyas did this is completely beyond my understanding.

My guess is that the studio took a lot of control away from Proyas' vision. That's the only thing that makes sense to me. But let's think about "I, Robot" as something other than an offshoot of Asimov's work. How does it work as a mindless action movie? On these terms "I, Robot" isn't that bad. It's nothing special and we've seen it dozens of times. Will Smith does fine as a the wise cracking detective investigating a murder of a human where the only possibly suspect is a robot except a robot couldn't do it because of the three laws. Smith is actually quite a bit more serious in this role than one might expect. He cracks wise often enough, but overall is toned down and has a seething anger towards robots just under the surface. It works. The action probably works better on a larger screen than a smaller television, but for a simple action movie I suppose "I, Robot" can pass muster.

Forget that this movie is science fiction because it really isn't. Forget that this movie is inspired by Asimov's classic work because it really isn't. Forget that this should have been and could have been an excellent, intelligent and still entertaining movie, because it isn't. If you're looking for just a decent action movie with very few claims to be anything else besides some lip service paid to the plot...here you go.


Jerry Steele said...

Totally agreed on that movie...stuff blew up, good fight scenes, good special effects, but otherwise underwhelming.

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