Saturday, October 1, 2011

I, Robot (2004)

CGI, Robot

- I am usually of the opinion that too much CGI in a movie is not a good thing. However, there are some exceptions to this if the CGI is excellent and artful: The Lord Of The Rings, Iron Man (2008), Star Trek (2009), and the John Adams (2008) miniseries are great examples of CGI working for a production rather than working against it. I would say that Will Smith's rocking and thoughtful 2004 sci-fi action flick I, Robot can be included in the list of worthy CGI-filled films. Director Alex Proyas (Dark City (1998)) obviously wanted to create a widely-appealing and entertaining Will Smith outing with I, Robot but he also manages to toss some cinematic quality and surprisingly thoughtful aspects into this big blockbuster.

Loosely based on Isaac Asimov's collection of short stories also entitled "I, Robot," Will Smith stars as Chicago detective Del Spooner (here's were the "loosely based" part already comes into play, as there is no Del Spooner in the short stories). The year is 2035, and the United States (at least) is filled with robot help. These robots walk, talk, assist, and follow three rules:

1.) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2.) A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

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

Sounds simple enough, yes? Well, Det. Spooner does not buy it since robots have played a negative role in his past. He flat-out does not trust them and certainly is not crazy about the new NS-5 model of robot hitting the streets. His suspicions are further solidified when Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), the mastermind behind the creation of these robots, is murdered in a way that rules out any human's doing. Spooner encounters Lanning's personal NS-5 creation named "Sonny" (Alan Tudyk) and immediately suspects him. However, with the help of robot specialist Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), Spooner begins to unravel the mystery and comes across some dark and dangerous findings.

I, Robot is a very good movie, but it does have its shortcomings. The plot is character based and interesting but Spooner wakes up and understands what each clue means one scene later than the audience already has. Admittedly, the story and mystery all ends up working out in the end, but one still wonders how Spooner did not see the OBVIOUS clue right away. Some of the supporting performances could be better as well - Bridget Moynahan is a little too dry even for her character and cannot cry without making the audience laugh and Shia LaBeouf is easily the worst part of the film, squeaking and scrambling around, just being annoying every time he is on screen. The film also has a few "huh?" moments such as an embarrassing sequence with an asthmatic black woman and Spooner getting made fun of by other cops.

The film suffers here and there but nothing really hurts the film too much. Where there is some weak acting there is the great acting. Will Smith gives one of his best performances ever in I, Robot - right behind his Oscar nominated performances in Ali (2001) and The Pursuit Happiness (2006) if you ask me. Smith shows that Spooner has some ghosts of his past that continue to haunt him but also creates a very likable character - he is no slouch when it comes to the action scenes either. Bruce Greenwood also makes a very good showing as Lawrence Robertson, the mysterious head of the robotics industry, and Alan Tudyk is terrific as Sonny. One might think they are watching an entirely-CGI character but, just like Andy Serkis' Gollum in The Lord Of The Rings films, Sonny is entirely Tudyk's charming and quiet performance.

I, Robot is not perfect but it works on many levels: as a big-budget blockbuster, as a mystery thriller, and as a sci-fi film. Where there are chases, fight scenes, shoot outs there is also character development, atmosphere, and thoughtful ideas and themes. I, Robot is not the traditional blockbuster-for-big-bucks, it has brains and quality too.

CBC Rating: 8/10

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