Movie Review: I, Robot

Posted by Arlo on Jul 19, 2004 under Movie Reviews

I, Robot Movie PosterI have seen the future and it is gray. The buildings, the cars, the robots. All gray. In the future, everything will be faster, too. Freeways will be crowded with cars traveling at absurd speeds and elevators will actually propel themselves downward faster than gravity would otherwise let them descend. Baring some leap in psychological evolution, you would expect the average human to scream in abject terror when faced with the prospect of actually traveling somewhere. Or when standing next to the low, ineffectual glass railings of the buildings’ balconies, 40-or-so stories above the ground.

I’m talking, of course, about the world of I, Robot. Judging from the movie, Chicago will be a very different place just 31 years from now.

I went in to I, Robot expecting to hate it. I’ve got nothing against Will Smith (except, perhaps, Wild Wild West), but I rarely trust Hollywood to handle a science fiction book adaptation well. Either because I had such low expectations, or perhaps because I’ve never read the Asimov robot books, I found myself thoroughly this movie! (Not reading Asimov’s works ahead of time might be the only way to enjoy it – it was listed in the credits only as “Suggested by an Isaac Asimov book!”)

It took me awhile to warm up to it, though. At first I couldn’t get over Will Smith’s hat. Throughout the first third of the movie, he insisted on wearing a tight leather toque, pulled down to the eyebrows, consistently covering only one of his two ears. That sort of thing drives me nuts. Would you do that with a baseball cap? A 10-gallon hat? I don’t care how cool you think it makes you look, we’re symmetrical for Pete’s sake – Wearing your hat over only one ear is like getting an extended foot massage on only one of your feet; it’s bound to mess up your balance somehow!

Okay, admittedly that was a minor quibble. Trying to look past the protagonist’s hat, I began to evaluate the character himself. Police officer, hates robots, of course. I suppose that later, when the shit hits the fan and the robots start going crazy, no one’s going to believe him because of his well-known, bigoted viewpoint. How lame. I can’t imagine that the characters in the book were this shal… hey now, waitaminute. Could I be wrong?

That’s the thing that got me in I, Robot. The writer and/or director did a great job of leading me down the wrong path. At times (and certainly by the look of the previews), I believed that I was in for an action flick, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover a decent suspense movie instead. Once the story got rolling, I had a hard time guessing what kink would pop up next. I was surprised to learn the robots’ motivations, and I misjudged who the main antagonist was at several turns. Those are good things, by the way. Hollywood can be so formulaic sometimes that I enjoy the occasional, unexpected twist.

Besides the story unfolding to my enjoyment, I also loved watching the special effects. Alan Tudyk, who I knew from Firefly, was fun to watch as the robot, Sonny. In fact, all the robots in this particular movie looked pretty darn good. Although obviously CGI, they seemed very there. They were animated to walk very much like humans with realistic weight and balance, but when it was time to get their groove on, they took advantage of their superior speed and power to pump out superhuman jam. Well, all except for the older robot models. They plodded along jerkily, but that was also pretty cool in its contrast.

I’ll bet one of my favorite effects in the movie, though, was one that probably escaped most people’s attention. There’s a scene where Will Smith is trying to get out of a house being demolished by a huge robot. The hallway’s crumbling under his feet, walls and ceiling are being absolutely pulverized as he’s sprinting for the door. In the middle of all this mayhem, the camera view switches to his pumping feet as he reaches down to scoop up the housecat racing along beside him.

Can you imaging how difficult it must have been to get that shot?

Trivial Thought: Poor cat. Left to die in a car trunk. (UPDATE: I have been informed that Grandma got the cat. Hmm. Guess I missed that.)
What did I find worthwhile about the movie? Surprisingly, er, surprising plotline. Plus, with the exception of the very last pull-away, I thought that the SFX were quite good (if a little too high octane for the script.)
Would I recommend the movie? Yes, except maybe if you’re a big Asimov fan. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that you’ll be disappointed.
Will I buy it on DVD? Tough one, but there’s a good chance, yeah. Especially if it comes with some good extras.

Overall Summer Movie Ranking
Spider-man 2
Shrek 2
I, Robot
The Day After Tomorrow
The Terminal
The Chronicles of Riddick
Van Helsing
The Stepford Wives