I, Robot

written by Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman

directed by Alex Proyas

starring Wil Smith, Bridget Moynahan and Alan Tudyk


review by Stephen Notley


A Robot may not harm a Human being, or through inaction allow a Human being to come to harm.

A Robot must obey the orders given it by Human beings except when such orders conflict with the First Law.

A Robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

-- I. Asimov


With those basic ideas Isaac Asimov created a series of stories and novels that span thousands of years of human and robot development and could easily make kickass movies if Hollywood could ever pull its head out of Philip K. Dick's corpse long enough to realize there are millions of other awesome sci-fi writers and books out there. Asimov, with his stories of intelligent, rational beings who have no free will and thus are compelled to be heroic, helpful and self-sacrificing, would be a great corpse to go for some awesome sci-fi movie ideas.

In that spirit I wish I could say I, Robot was a great showpiece Asimov Robot movie, but it's kinda not. It's pretty much the dumb movie it looks like from the trailer, Wil Smith crackin' wise while blowin' away an army of computer-generated killer robo-bots.

The director Alex Proyas (whose Dark City was jam packed with crazy conceptual and visual ideas) had left room to hope I, Robot might have more up its sleeve than revealed in the trailer. Could there be a real Asimov Robot movie hiding in there? I, Robot starts with the Three Laws and then goes to Wil Smith as Del Spooner, a cop who hates robots on account of how one time a robot dove into a river and rescued him from his sinking car. What a dick that robot was, right? But what's Wil Smith supposed to do? He knows robots are no good but everybody else seems to love 'em so he's just gotta grumble about it until of course they go kerflooey and he's gotta clean up the mess.

And kerflooey they most assuredly do go, in most un-Asimovian style. It takes patience and discipline to craft an Asimov Robot story, carefully building a narrative around an apparent but illusory contradiction in the Three Laws; for less patient and less disciplined writers Jeff Vintar (Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within) and Akiva Goldsman (Batman Forever, Batman and Robin, Lost in Space), it's easier to just switch the Laws off when convenient. Poof! Instant killer robots!

A little too easy, really. I do appreciate that they try to develop Sonny, the robot murder suspect (digitally comput-o-played by Alan Tudyk, the pilot from Firefly), but since his Laws are switched off he's not a real Asimov Robot, thus utterly irrelevancizing Asimov's favoriter character robopsychologist Dr. Susan Calvin played by Bridget Moynahan. Instead of the icily brilliant unwinder of impossible situations Asimov created, the one miles ahead of everybody else in the room when it comes to robots, here she's a harried tag-along who Wil Smith has to scold for shooting with her eyes closed. Oh, Isaac.

How are the effects, the action? Well, they're pretty computery, those computer-generated robots, getting' crushed under the computer-generated wheels of computer-generated computer-generated robot transport vehicles... Yep… pretty computery… pretttttty computery….

So, in summary, as advertised, I, Robot is a dumb slam-action robot-shooting video game starring Wil Smith, kinda worth seeing if you like robots, kinda worth seeing if you like Wil Smith. But the great Asimov Robot movie has yet to be made. Hey! Hollywood! Caves of Steel! Naked Sun! Robots of Dawn! Do it. Do it!

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