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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

I Robot

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Judy Thorburn

I Robot

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A PUMPED UP WILL SMITH KICKS BOT IN “I, ROBOT”

Forget aliens from outer space.  We all know that when it comes to saving the human race from extraterrestrials, at least in the movies, Will Smith has been the man for the job.   He was the hero who fought to save the planet from an alien attack in that spectacular 1996 blockbuster, “Independence Day”, and was partnered with Tommy Lee Jones against troublesome creatures in the other mega hits, “Men In Black I and II”.   But, his new role doesn’t involve beings from another world.  This time Will takes on a high tech creation developed by man, himself, that could threaten the safety of all humans.

With his sexy, buff body and good looks, Will possesses star charisma that’s been showcased mostly in comedy and action genres.  However, performances in films such as “6 Degrees of Separation” and “Ali”, proves Will can tackle more serious roles.  In “I, Robot” he plays not only an action hero, but also a troubled character, a part that offered a “different twist” for him. It’s a nice mesh.

I, Robot, is suggested from a collection of short stories by master science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov.  Simply put, it means readers should not expect a straightforward adaptation.   Several of the concepts and ideas in the book are evident, but they have been blended together with sci fi mystery, Hardwired, by screenwriter Jeff Vintar, to create this new script co written by Akiva Goldman (A Beautiful Mind). The result is a re-imagined tale that, nevertheless, includes the one basic theme that was central to Asimov’s original works: “The Three Laws of Robotics” by which all robots are bound.

The date and setting is 2035 Chicago, and thanks to U.S. Robotics, a corporation run by billionaire, Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood), robots have become an integral part of society, acting as domestic servants, laborers, and caregivers for the populace. With the release of their latest model, the NS-5, Robertson’s goal is to have one robot for every family, assuring his company’s position as a world power.

When reclusive scientist, Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), known for “practically inventing robotics”, is found dead outside the company’s headquarters, homicide detective Del Spooner (Will Smith), is sent in to investigate what is thought to be a suicide.  Troubled by a traumatic past experience and a strong dislike for what he sees as “emotionless” robots, Spooner quickly comes to believe one of the new high tech robots, named Sonny, murdered the doctor, who though, when apprehended, insists he didn’t kill his “father”.  Unlike any others of his kind, Sonny is unique in that he possesses the abilities to feel emotions, make decisions and even dream. In any case, murder by a robot would seem improbable.  It is against the First of the Three Laws, ingrained in their program which states: a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.”

USR head, Robertson fearing that the implications of a serious robot malfunction could destroy his empire, wants to keep this information under wraps.  But, the company’s own psychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), whose personal connection was to make the robots seem more human, decides to join up with Spooner in his investigation after giving him a tour of the facilities and some insight into the project. With her knowledge of the robots, and the clues left by the hologram image of Dr. Lanning before he died, they set out to uncover the truth about his death and find out why a robot revolution is about to start.

I, Robot works as a good sci fi thriller on many levels. Visionary director, Alex Proyas (Dark City) has meticulously delivered a dazzling world of the not so distant future complimented by stunning art direction and realistic CGI effects that are seamlessly integrated with real live actors and surroundings.  Following the technique used for Gollum’s character in Lord of the Rings trilogy, the visual effects team for I, Robot, lead by Oscar winner John Nelson  (Gladiator) digitally recorded the performance of actor Alan Tudyk, through the use of motion capture to create the completely computer generated robotic character, Sonny.  Each detail from the wonderful expressive face to fluid movements and simple characteristics evoke a persona that comes across as totally credible.

The plot involving technology versus man is nothing new.  We’ve seen takes on the “machines” revolt played out with H.A.L. in 2001 A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner and the recent Matrix Trilogy.  I. Robot is another film in the sci fi genre that is not only a visual wonder; it challenges you to think about the philosophical issues being raised.  And, like the Matrix, it is laced with religious symbolism, especially at the end.  What is obvious is the product placements cleverly slipped into scenes of dialogue or background such as Converse sneakers, Ovaltine, Audi cars, and JVC. The only thing I could have done without is the obligatory tunnel car chase.  Must every movie have to include this?  And if so, at least make it somewhat believable, which in this case, is definitely not.

Let me summarize. There’s Will Smith, an interesting, inspired sci fi story, eye candy, and ideas to ponder.  Sure sounds like a cool reason to go to the nearest Cineplex these hot summer months.  Add some popcorn and what more can you ask for? As humans, we have a choice.