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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Action > Thriller > Robots > I, Robot (Widescreen)

I, Robot (2004/DVD-Video)


Picture: B     Sound: B+     Extras: C+     Film: B



Admittedly, when word got around that Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, a collection of short stories that added up to one of the all-time classics of Science Fiction literate was finally going to come to the big screen explicitly, many wondered what could be done with it.  So much of the book had already surfaced in bits and pieces in just about every cinema classic in the genre, after all.  When it was announced Will Smith would be cast in the lead, many were unhappy since Smith’s past forays into the genre were action/comedy, even extending somehow to the extremely misguided Wild, Wild West retread.


However, Smith had just come off of a triumphant performance in Michael Mann’s Ali (2002) and the director would be Alex Proyas, who had much credibility in such genre films with Dark City (1998, reviewed elsewhere on this site) and the first The Crow (1994).  Few had seen his remarkable Rock Music Comedy Garage Days (2002, also reviewed elsewhere on this site), so Proyas too was in great form at this time.  Like James Cameron before him on Aliens (1986, also reviewed on the site), Jeff Vintar just happened to be working on a screenplay that Fox liked and said they would like to see the work melded with a name work.  Cameron was in the military Starship Troopers mode, while Vintar was doing a futuristic tale about robotics.  Akiva Goldsman then added to the screenplay, melding the two further together.


Many pointed out that the film was not too similar to the book, but in real life, Asimov’s book is such a giant piece of literature, it is impossible to do anything on robots without working in its shadow.  Critics missed that point, which is why they are critics, not filmmakers.  Then the film arrived, and when it was done, everyone was shocked how good it was and it was yet another hit for Smith.  One reason simply is that it seems to do all the things right Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report (2001) got wrong.


Moreover, whereas the idea of a minority refers to biochemistry in that film that failed, Proyas’ I, Robot deals with the actual issues of prejudice, discrimination, and adjustment disorders from technology much more in the tradition of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and all of its giant predecessors.  Smith is Detective Del Spooner, who is quickly established as a character who is not integrating at all well with technology.  Besides robots in his nightmares, he listens to music on old CD players, CDs that have R&B classics, and retro shoes that also conjure up the 1970s.  This helps him stay in his element and down to earth.


He is called by an old friend, Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), who has just been murdered in what his employer United States Robotics tries to write off as a suicide.  Not impressed with their “detective work” by any means, he is shown around by Lanning’s assistant Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan, already interesting in Roger Donaldson’s The Recruit) and quickly realizes that his friend was killed, quickly anxious to label it the first murder of a man by robotic machine.  Then there is Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood), the head of USB, who just might know more than he is saying.  Could this be more than a simple case of a robot breaking the Three Laws Of Robotics?


The new robot series due to replace the older “wooden soldier” like models is called the NS-5, which has a human-like face and a choice of four eye colors, skin colors and other customizable features.  The “N” means Nestor Class and class is the operative word here.  As in Blade Runner with its replicants, do the various models of robots represent something akin to a new race, species, class, and/or group of beings?  When Stanley Kubrick was making A.I. – Artificial Intelligence, he hired the great commercial and Music Video director Chris Cunningham to design the robot child, before Kubrick abandoned the idea that this could work.  The menus on this DVD even emulate another Cunningham video, Second Bad Vibel, which you can read more about in the Work Of Chris Cunningham DVD reviewed elsewhere on this site.  Spielberg took the project over and hired actor Haley Joel Osment to fill the part, leaving the Kubrick vision and Cunningham visual design relegated to a nervous female robot in a brief nightmare scene before her possible annihilation.  Cunningham did one better, using a more fully realized version of the design for the All Is Full Of Love music clip from Bjork.  These Nestors look so similar, that our nickname her at the site for this film has been I, Bjork.


With that out of the way, though not totally the child Kubrick envisioned, one specific NS-5 seems to be a bit more independent than the rest.  That model is the one Spooner goes after to seek the truth.  His fears about technology and its ability to kill are confirmed as machines constantly get into his way and try to get him out of the way.  Between its great action sequences, surprising good acting, great production design, more clever than it first seems humor and the questions it asks throughout, it is hard to believe I, Robot is just another commercial film coming from Hollywood.  However, it offers more than your usual, typical, tired, formulaic, empty, overdigitized film that slaps a Science Fiction label and look on it when it is just a bad action film.  I, Robot is the real thing, an all too rare big budget production with heart and soul that actually gets better with each viewing.


In speaking of viewing, the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 x 1 image on this Widescreen Edition of the film is one of the best on a recent film with so many digital effects we have seen to date.  Cinematographer Simon Duggan skips the outright cliché of drained color that is very long past played out and goes for various tones of metallic blue that really works for this picture.  The digital visual effects still tend to match this seamlessly for the most part without the naturalistic films being compromised, while the digital has to be better, because that color draining is a way films cheat so they do not have to bother doing any serious graphic matching.  This originated in Super 35 and still shows those limits, but the film manages to distinguish itself enough on a visual level, and that is not easy these days, especially with digital effects all over the place.


As is always the case in all Alex Proyas films, the sound design is top notch, presented here with a terrific score by Marco Beltrami (who did an underappreciated score for the very entertaining Terminator 3 – The Rise Of The Machines) delivers an even smarter score here.  The sound mix is not only available in 5.1 Dolby Digital, but an even more impressive DTS 5.1 mix that offer more fullness and detail.  Proyas fans from the 12” LaserDisc era know that the DTS copies of The Crow and Dark City offered some of the best sound mixes in either that format or on DVD.  Disney/Miramax botched the DTS on the DVD reissue of The Crow and those 12” platters are still hot collector’s items.  Fox, a great supporter of DTS, has given us a fine option here as the DTS offers detail that brings the film home.  For 2004, this is up there with The Incredibles for exceptional multi-channel work.  French & Spanish 2.0 Pro Logic Dolby is also includes.  That is a combination that will make this one of the top DVDs and DVD demo discs for the next few years.


Extras are not huge in number, but what is here is good.  You get stills, a making of featurettes, and an exceptional audio commentary by Goldsman and Proyas that is up to both of their usually high standards.  Compare to Proyas’ commentaries on Dark City and Garage Days and you have got one of the best director commentary series around.  These are mandatory for serious film fans, and also fun.  All in all, I, Robot delivers and is a must-see if you missed it.  Be sure to see the Inside Look previews, as these films look promising.  Those who had mixed feelings the first time they saw it should give it a serious second chance, because it accomplishes many of the things Proyas was trying to pull off in Dark City and how good it really is has yet to be recognized.


For more on the film, try these links:





Special Edition DVD




-   Nicholas Sheffo


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