Sunday, January 23, 2005

I, Robot

I, Robot
Directed by Alex Proyas
2004, rated PG-13
4 stars

Several sci-fi, robot-type, futuristic movies have been made in recent years. Some of them have failed, such as Steven Spielberg’s and the late Stanly Kubrik’s surprisingly dull AI, and others have flourished, such as the immensely popular and much copied Matrix, which spawned two sequels. This summer sees the release of yet another of these action-filled future flicks. I, Robot, directed by Alex Proyas, however, is more than your average mindless summer flick. With an interesting plot, twists and turns, good acting, and excellent graphics and cinematography, this movie rises above the typical stereotype sci-fi.

As with most movies, the opening sequence sets the tone of the movie. The movie opens with the three laws of robotics, around which the whole of the film revolves. These three laws basically state that 1) no robot can harm a human, 2) a robot must obey an order by a human, as long as it doesn’t violate the first law and 3) a robot must act to save itself, as long as the action doesn’t violate the first or second laws. This forms a perfect circle, completely fool-proof in its safety. Although these laws are repeated frequently throughout the film—about every 5 minutes, just in case we forget—this sequence showing the three laws really sets the stage for the film. The rest of the movie is just as artfully composed as the commencement. While audiences have grown accustomed to computer-generated stunts and images, the effects in this movie are truly stunning. From the dramatic high-speed chases down to the minute details of subtle robotic facial expressions, it’s easy to forget that it’s all digital. Audiences will enjoy the dizzying effect of a thousand-robot army standing in perfect formation, or the spectacular sight of a multitude of evil robots swarming up the side of an immensely tall sky scraper. In this computer-generated masterpiece, there is never a dull or aesthetically unpleasant moment.

As Del Spooner, a homicide detective, Will Smith returns to his typical role of the bring-em-down, underappreciated, cocky, average-guy cop. But if Smith has already overplayed this role, it can be excused, because in this film it fits; Smith has this act down to perfection. This cowboy cop has a serious chip on his shoulder toward the overly helpful, utterly logical, and perfectly safe multitude of artificially intelligent robots that roam the streets acting as servants and good Samaritans to the human race. Why Smith has this icy attitude toward these robot friends is part of the intrigue and moral of the plot, and gets fully explained later in the film. As Smith follows the trail of clues left for him by the death of robotics designer Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), he encounters the logical psychologist Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan). Moynahan’s acting can turn rather robotic at times; whether this is intentional or not is not revealed in this film. But where Moynahan lacks spark and charisma, Smith makes up for it in excess. Her lack of surprise or emotion is mirrored by his overabundance. These two extremes work, however, and the film still moves along nicely.

While the premise of the plot is intriguing, the way it was developed left something to be desired. Which is not to say that it was uninteresting. The concept of a flaw in apparently “perfect” logic could have been fascinating, had it been more thoroughly explored. What the movie seemed to explore more, however, was the threat of artificial intelligence, and the theme of evil robots taking over the human race has just been overdone in recent years. While the plot may not have been ultra deep or intellectually stimulating, the use of foreshadowing and the ultimate red herring was masterful. With thrilling images of robot dominance and not-so-subtle hints, the plot moves along at a pleasantly fast pace, and keeps the audience interested from one clue to the next, right up to the truly surprising twist at the end.

Overall, this is a thrilling summer movie that any audience could find enjoyable. The action-packed, sci-fi intrigue and the occasionally thought-provoking premise make for an extremely pleasurable summer film. Go get ‘em, Will.

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