i, ROBOT Review
The year is 2035 - The U.S. robotics industry is flourishing and the eve of a mass produced line of robots (with one intended per family) is upon us. Detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) is a tough cop, a man of old sensibilities who enjoys the music and fashions of yesterday and whose hatred for modern technology is self evident. Worst of all he has little passion for the day to day robots that freely walk amongst society, due to personal reasons that are reflected in his nightmares.
When the creator of these machines, Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell) is found dead after an apparent suicide, Spooner is called to the crime scene and given a clue in the form of a hologram that the good inventor has left behind. This leads Spooner to believe that Lanning's prize robot, Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk) may be responsible for his murder, but his new acquaintance and robotic psychologist, Susan Calvin (Bridget Maynahan) thinks otherwise.
Once again we have a tale that thinks it is projecting a unique commentary on future society but in actuality is just part of a bigger line up of films trying to justify themselves as being a lot more clever than they think are. In the past few years how many times have we been made to sit through storylines that ram some kind of social or moral message in our face? In recent years I can think of several; Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Equilibrium, X-Men and its many imitators, but one thing these films have in common is that they're thoroughly entertaining and while delivering a message can be important in a film it can also be very dull if it is one that we've heard time and time again. Forget for a moment that i, ROBOT is more conceited than we'd probably like it to be and focus on its worthier aspects and what we have is a film that packs in a solid amount of action and some of the best special effects work from any recent blockbuster.
i, ROBOT almost shoots itself in the foot within the first five minutes as Will Smith slips on a pair of Converse, tells us they're a thing of beauty and then gratuitously advertises the 2004 line-up. Did I fold and buy a pair? Hell no. Once this is behind us, along with a 5-second shot of his JVC player and the stylised Audi drives past us for the first time everything falls to the back of the mind. As much as I hate product placement (with the exception of Josie and the Pussycats) I find that it has just become a part of movie making and it's got to be expected and accepted at some point. But anyway, with my concerns out of the way I can happily talk about the good things that the film has going for it.
Alex Proyas has impressed me a couple of times in the past. I'm sure some of you would agree with me that The Crow and Dark City were visionary masterpieces and when looking at i, ROBOT I could almost say the same thing. While it doesn't strike me as being anything as noir-ish as the films already mentioned and further more surprising since the detective/noir aspect is something that Proyas is admittedly in love with, it does route itself more believably in what it shows. I'd say straight off the bat that Blade Runner is the greatest realisation of our immediate future but as time roles on the likelihood of flying cars (and androids) in 2017 is a bit low and this was something that Alex Proyas wanted to steer away from. Seeing as the film is set just 30 years away from now this future of robotic servants also seems perhaps too much, but then with Japan leading the way in robotics it isn't one we can rule out. This amuses me somewhat as naturally according to this film America will lead the way in the robotics industry, but then that isn't really a surprising attitude to adopt is it?. Spooner's world feels like a place we could be living in now, it's practically a typical American society and with this setting Proyas gives us a firmly set environment.
And what of the story itself? Well, it's a decent one when not trying to shake things up too much. The problem with Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman's script is that it has too many confounding moments resulting in either obvious twists or some genuinely clever ones. Several moments arise that cannot be deemed as predictable but then just as the story starts to pick up again we are given another plot element that seems boring and superficial as opposed to being effective. Had i, ROBOT concentrated more on its noir like elements and structure and less of its demanding, in your face twaddle then it might have come across as being a whole lot more memorable. To add insult to injury we are given a lead character whose hatred for the robots he's up against isn't as justifiable as the story wants us to believe. This only makes a later twist even more obvious as Spooner is presented as an evolving human being, reflecting a similar essence found in the synthetic life forms that he chooses to ignore.
You have to hand it to 20th Century Fox, when they want a big film they get a BIG film and i, ROBOT serves up an assorted plate of goodies, which if it were food it would be sushi. Films as heavily reliant on CGI can often fall flat and in the case of this one much of it is justified, and a lot is blatantly showing off for kicks. Still I can't really fault anything onscreen as for a flick purporting to be a thinking man's film it sure does deliver its load in the way of several fantastic set pieces, making it more exciting than many pure popcorn bags of entertainment. Credit to Proyas and his technical team, while getting their full budget's worth they give us some incredibly lifelike robotic figures and a slew of chase sequences that should keep the most hardened genre fan happy, unless they're a fan of Asimov's work in which case they may be disappointed by how it is handled onscreen.
As far as book adaptations go you're never going to get what you expect and the filmmakers make no false pretences about borrowing Asimov's ideas. This film is similar in its laws of robotics and that only. By taking Asimov's three laws the production crew have designed an altogether different kind of film, one that is either going to be loved or hated. Personally I think it is a very well handled piece that might get overbearing in places but manages to entertain highly on a number of occasions.
20th Century Fox present this Region 1 release as a standard one disc affair, containing fewer features that its Region 2 counterpart but enough to satisfy. The armaray case comes with an outer plastic slip cover, featuring Will Smith that when placed over the armaray sleeve sees him imposed against an army of robots.
Presented in an anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio i, ROBOT looks almost perfect. The film is pleasingly sharp and detailed and it’s particularly nice to see that edge enhancement has been kept to a minimum, almost posing no problems at all. There are a slight few soft moments that tend to crop up for distant shots but otherwise this is a fantastic presentation, with strong and natural colours, great shadow detail and black levels and even though the film largely consists of computer generated imagery they hardly ever seem too obvious.
Fox have gone all out again to provide two stunning English audio options as well as Spanish and French tracks. Choose from either Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS, for this review I went for the latter. This is a film that really benefits from such a track as there are many moments of high intensity that can be perfectly complimented here. I, ROBOT excels during its action, getting full effect from the front and rear speakers, with the DTS option having an edge through the subwoofer, offering a very aggressive track. Dialogue comes across crisp with good separation for Marco Beltrami's score.
Audio Commentary with director, Alex Proyas and screenwriter, Akiva Goldsman
For the duration of this commentary it never feels like the two are in the same room as they take turns in discussing different aspects of the film without interacting with each other. At times it can be interesting and other times it is plain dull. There's a little bit of technical information thrown in and Goldsman obviously talks up his script but as commentaries go this is not an essential listen.
Lasting for just 12-minutes this featurette doesn't offer much insight into the production. Most of it brings us a rundown of the film's events as Will Smith discusses the plot progression. The latter half shows us how Sonny's character was achieved through similar technology used in The Lord of the Rings trilogy but overall this is a very light piece that no doubt could have packed much more in.
This contains 30 stills, ranging from early conceptual art to behind the scenes stuff. There are some nice designs on display but again this is too brief to really appreciate.
Promotional Trailer for Arrested Development
Fox seem very keen to get this one advertised as much as possible as it once again pops up in one of their new releases.
Another Fox special, this shows us clips of upcoming features; Mr and Mrs Smith, Robots and Elektra.
I really wasn't expecting much from i, ROBOT but I was pleasantly surprised. What it lacks in some areas it makes up for in others. Will Smith once again gives us a good performance and Alex Proyas delivers enough visual flair to pull off what could otherwise have been a considerably duller film.