I, Robot: 2-Disc Special Edition Review
I, Robot is a film that has the misfortune of mirroring the personality of its android characters: it’s efficient, inoffensive but ultimately banal. It fails to create a strong impression and despite a modicum of directorial style and flair, it ultimately feels hackneyed and stale.
The Plot: Del Spooner (Will Smith) is a robot-phobic cop who’s trying to shed the last vestiges of paranoia that a particularly tragic trauma involving a robot inflicted upon him. When the old sage (James Cromwell) who created the robots commits suicide in the foyer of his company - entitled U.S robotics - Spooner lays the blame at the door of a particularly humane robot (appropriately enough named ‘Sonny’) that single-handedly seems to be more erudite and agreeable than the rest of the cast put together. Of course, a robot could only kill a human by contravening the three unbreakable robot laws, surely an impossible feat to accomplish? Spooner – using typical cop thinking – suspects that something treacherous is afoot at U.S Robotics and despite the protestations of his colleagues, continues to investigate with the aid of suitably attractive (albeit gratingly taciturn) Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), a worker at the mysterious company.
Neither as intellectually provocative as it would like to think it is nor as visually unique as it aspires to be, I, Robot never rises above the level of merely being moderately engaging with action sequences that are laboured to the point where they barely pique one’s interest. Will Smith gives a performance that is at best perfunctory, enlivened only by a handful of genuinely affecting moments and the odd one-liner that doesn’t sound utterly risible. Though he’s known as a mainly comic actor, Smith’s most successful scenes are those that comprise of serious drama rather than contrived wisecracks and though I’ve little doubt that he’s a capable leading man, his performance failed to make an impression. Bridget Moynahan is given little to do as the female lead; her character is brittle and seemingly emotionless, though I’ll give the scriptwriters the benefit of the doubt, presuming that the intention was for her persona to be barely distinguishable from that of the automatons she works with. To her credit, Moynahan makes the most of her meagre role, though her efforts to flesh out an essentially cardboard cut-out character are met only with failure.
It seems perversely appropriate therefore that the actor who elicits the most interest and sympathy is Alan Tudyk as Sonny, the coyly intelligent robot who might be, or might not be, a psychopathic killer. Indeed the ‘may or may not’ plot technique is endemic throughout I, Robot’s narrative arc, relying heavily on jolting plot twists to sustain the action. Some are effective, others are pitifully obvious. Overall, this dependence on perpetually twisting the narrative thread is frustrating because the surprises often fail to be as ingenuous as they purport to be and there is little else to compensate for it.
Ever since X Men 2 it seems to have become the latest cinematic fad for popcorn movies to essay a sub-textual social conscience – here the moral issue is prejudice; specifically Spooner’s hatred of the robots, though mercifully this idea is downplayed to the point where it ceases to be of any relevance. The visual pastiche of the film would be remarkable, but after a string of sci-fi special effects bonanzas in recent cinema history, it’s difficult to be awed by the visuals the film creates. The moral and ethical implications of a society creating lifelike androids is treated with equal brevity, there’s no examination even in the mildest forms of how we gauge our humanity and whether we can truly claim moral superiority to a machine that mimics our behavioural patterns but is free of our vices. No, I wasn’t expecting Blade Runner but I’d fleetingly hoped it might manage Minority Report’s blend – however uneven – of thought and action, but regrettably all we receive is a film that in spite of its occasional bursts of inspiration remains strictly generic.
Picture: I daresay that if you scrutinised the 2.35:1 image carefully enough, you’d find some miniscule flaws. From what I saw however, some minor shimmering aside, the video transfer is nigh on perfect.
Sound: I can’t comment on the DTS soundtrack (I know this is tantamount to blasphemy, but my system doesn’t support DTS), but the Dolby 5.1 matches the image almost beat for beat in terms of quality.
I can’t fault the quantity, but though there is quality to be found here the rather desultory assembling of extras makes for a rather over-indulged feel: some concision would have been very much appreciated in the documentaries.
Director Alex Proyas and Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman – Probably the best feature on the disc, the commentary is sufficiently informative and anecdotal and the repartee between Proyas and Goldsman is jovially cordial.
Production Designer Patrick Tatopoulis; Editor Richard Learoyd; Visual Effects Supervisor John Nelson; Associate Producer John Kilkenny; Animation Supervisor - Andrew Jones of Digital Domain; Visual Effects Supervisors Brain Van’t Hul & Joe Letteri of Weta Digital; Erik Nash of Digital Domain; Dale Fay of Rainmaker; Lead CG Supervisor Eric Saindon of Weta Digital and Erik Winquist of Weta Digital – If you want to know about all the special effects and other aesthetic features of the movie, you’ll enjoy this. If, like me, you do not, then you will find it a distinctly wearing experience.
Commentary by composer Marco Beltrami – Much of the same is applicable here for Marco Beltrami’s commentary.
The Making of I,Robot (12:36) – Little more than an extended trailer peppered with suitably obsequious sound bites from various members of the cast and crew.
Still Gallery (30 Images) – Much as you’d expect really, of moderate interest to some I imagine.
Day Out of Days: The I,Robot Production Diaries (96:1) – No stone is left unturned in this comprehensive following of the film from its inception to completion, but the majority of it is on-set footage that seems in serious need of an editor. There’s some worthy material here but be prepared to wade through a lot of footage to find it.
CGI and Design (34:24) – Quite interesting look at the production design is counterbalanced by a rather dull insight into the special effects.
Sentient Machines: Robotic Behaviour (35:07) – A rather redundant extra that examines real life advancements in robotics, though the feature is predominantly comprised of an abundance of talking heads rather than actual footage.
Three Laws Safe: Conversations about Science Fiction & Robots (30:30) – Goldsman talks about how Asimov and other sci-fi writers have influenced him…and boy does he keep on talking, in a feature that (like the majority of this disc) is a decidedly mixed bag in terms of quality.
Deleted Scenes (6:38) – None really bear watching again.
Visual Effects breakdowns (14:15) – Every major special effect sequence is covered here, in a brief (30 seconds or so) deconstruction of the development of the effect.
Those who have seen the movie, I daresay, have already formulated their own opinions and are fairly confident about which edition of the film they want to buy. For the rest, I’d chasten you to either rent the film first or buy the single disc edition, since that contains the DVD’s most enlightening feature and is more cost effective.