Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Alan Tudyk, James Cromwell, Bruce Greenwood, Adrian Ricard, Chi McBride, Jerry Wasserman
Isaac Asimov (short story), Jeff Vintar, Akiva Goldsman
One man saw it coming.
In the year 2035, technology and robots are a trusted part of everyday life. But that trust is broken when a scientist is found dead and a skeptical detective (Will Smith) believes that a robot is responsible. Bridget Moynahan co-stars in this high-tech action thriller that questions whether technology will ultimately lead to mankind's salvation ... or annihilation.
$52.179 million on 3420 screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
Spanish Dolby 2.0
French Dolby 2.0
Runtime: 114 min.
Release Date: 12/14/2004
• Audio Commentary with Director Alex Proyas and Writer Akiva Goldsman
• “Making Of” Featurette
• Photo Gallery
• Arrested Development Trailer
• “Inside Look”
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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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I, Robot (2004)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 23, 2004)
One danger involved in the adaptation of a well-known book revolves around complaints from the novel’s fans. Anything that alters the tone of the original usually receives negative attention. When trailers for I, Robot made it look like pretty standard sci-fi action fare, many fans cried foul and judged the movie as brainless summer nonsense before it ever hit the screens.
Since I never read the original, I can’t directly compare the two. Does Robot accurately replicate the source? Maybe not, but it offers a sporadically entertaining action flick.
Set in Chicago circa 2035, the film immediately tells us of three laws related to robots. They can’t harm humans whether by action or inaction, they must always do what humans tell them, and they must act to preserve their own existences. The second law functions only when it doesn’t conflict with the first, and the final one can’t happen if it’ll mess with the other two.
In this setting we meet Del “Spoon” Spooner (Will Smith), a homicide detective with a decided anti-robot bent. We see this in action when he views a robot running with a purse. Spoon assumes it’s a thief and pursues it but discovers it was simply rushing to bring an asthma inhaler to its owner. Spoon’s chief Lt. John Bergin (Chi McBride) chastises him, which allows us to learn that no robot has ever committed a crime. Their interaction also alludes to a personal tragedy in Spoon’s life, and we later find out what happened there and its ramifications.
Spoon gets a call that leads him to US Robotics. There we see that Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell) apparently killed himself, but a holographic image with which Spoon interfaces hints that somethjng else might be at work. Spoon then meets with the company’s chief, multijillionaire Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood), and chats about the incident. We find out that Lanning was a genius who essentially acted as the father of robotics.
Spoon and Robertson don’t exactly hit it off, partly due to the detective’s dislike of robots. Although everyone thinks Lanning killed himself, Spoon doesn’t totally accept that and he pokes around to investigate. Sexy Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan) escorts him. We learn that USR will soon make a huge robotic distribution, so this isn’t exactly good timing for them.
Since the detective doesn’t accept that his friend killed himself, he thinks a robot might have done it. His suspicions start to make sense when one pops up out of the blue and flees against orders. Spoon gives chase with Calvin along for the ride, although she continues to push the robot’s innocence since she doesn’t believe a droid could act to harm a person.
Eventually Spoon tracks the robot in question, and the authorities bring it into custody. Against his chief’s better judgment, he allows Spoon a chance to interrogate the droid. He finds out that the robot is a prototype that Lanning was teaching to experience emotions, and he also has a name: Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk). Sonny denies that he killed Lanning, but his attitudes indicate something weird’s at work.
Spoon becomes even more suspicious when Robertson comes back to claim Sonny. He indicates they’ll decommission the robot after a quick inquiry, and that piques Spoon’s curiosity. The rest of the movie follows his continued investigation and the twists that occur along the way.
Smith seems miscast in the role due to the anger and pain that should inform the part. He’s just too naturally genial to convey those emotions, at least as enacted here. It feels like Smith went into “summer blockbuster” mode and couldn’t tap into the role’s darker side. He falls back on old comic book habits that make him charismatic but inappropriate for this kind of haunted, unhappy character.
Actually, I suppose I shouldn’t blame Smith, as director Alex Proyas delivers a consistently comedic tone throughout the movie. This occasionally works, but on other times, it comes across as forced and inappropriate. When the movie does attempt to get more dramatic or philosophical, we don’t buy it since we’ve already seen the flick as such a light experience. The movie often feints as though it wants to give us something deeper, but then it bounces back with comedy to undercut those movements.
It doesn’t help that the plot tries so desperately to throw us off-course. The flick beats us over the head with the concept that Robertson’s the villain. It does this so heavily that it becomes virtually inevitable that Robertson isn’t the baddie. Any movie with so many obvious red herrings gets tedious. The mystery keeps us slightly interested just to ultimately figure out what really did happen, but even the resolution proves unsatisfying since it comes out of left field.
When Robot avoids all its philosophical and emotional trappings and just engages in action, it does well for itself. The movie’s climax works nicely, and a few other set pieces also manage to bring the beast to life. It helps that the film’s effects are very well-executed. The CG robots are truly believable, and the elements manage to create a smooth futuristic setting.
I wanted to like I, Robot, as I figured it might provide a kicky sci-fi action flick. Occasionally it manages to do so, but too much of the movie doesn’t go anywhere. The film doesn’t get into its story well or develop much else, and that renders it inconsistent.
The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio A (DTS) A- (DD)/ Bonus B-
I, Robot appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I figured Robot would look great, and the DVD didn’t disappoint me.
Sharpness appeared crisp and well defined. At no time did I discern any examples of soft or hazy images; the movie always seemed very accurate and clear. Moiré effects and jagged edges caused no concerns, but I noticed some light edge enhancement at times. I saw no signs of print defects; the film appeared free of grain, scratches, speckles, grit, hair or other flaws.
The world of Robot went with a clean, bright setting that accentuated whites. Colors tended to be subdued due to this, but they always looked appropriately rendered within those confines. A little Matrix-style green also popped up occasionally. The tones seemed concise and well-developed. The DVD transmitted blacks in a deep and dark manner. Contrast appeared strong, and shadow detail was quite clear and appropriately opaque without any excessive heaviness. Overall, I, Robot provided a very distinctive picture that was always a pleasure to watch.
Even better were the film’s soundtracks. The DVD included both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes. While both worked well, the DTS track seemed stronger. I’ll cover my feelings about it first and then relate why I felt it outdid the Dolby edition.
The soundfield appeared very broad and engaging throughout the movie. All five speakers got a strong workout as they displayed a lot of discrete audio. This made for a convincing environment as we heard plenty of atmosphere and objects swirl actively and appropriately about us. Segments like the car chase in which the robots attack Spoon stood out as particularly dynamic, but a mix of action sequences kicked things into high gear. All these elements created excellent feelings of place and brought the material to life well.
Sound quality also appeared very good. Dialogue was crisp and distinct. Speech showed no signs of edginess or any problems related to intelligibility. Effects were always clear and dynamic, plus they displayed virtually no signs of distortion even when the volume level jumped fairly high; throughout explosions, crashes, and various elements, the track stayed clean. Music sounded appropriately bright and accurate and portrayed the score appropriately. The mixes featured some pretty solid bass at times, and the entire affair seemed nicely deep.
So how did the DTS mix outdo the Dolby one? It seemed like a more involving effort. While the Dolby track was consistently smooth and engaging, the DTS version took those factors to a higher level to make the material better connected and integrated. As often occurs with DTS tracks, bass response also seemed a little tighter and more forceful. The Dolby mix remained quite good and earned a solid “A-“, but the DTS track ratcheted things up a notch for its straight “A”; if you have the capability to play it, the DTS version is definitely the way to go.
Despite the film’s high profile and reasonable level of success, I, Robot comes without many extras. The main attraction gives us an audio commentary from director Alex Proyas and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, both of whom sit separately and have the results edited together for this track. A nice mix of topics pops up here. We get a lot of information about the story’s evolutions and various changes, characters and their development, and a few comparisons with the original text. We also learn a bit about the production itself, with notes about sets, locations, visual design, and effects. The track covers the movie well and provides a good overview of the flick’s major issues.
Next we see The Making of I, Robot. The 12-minute and 35-second piece offers the standard combination of movie clips, shots from the set, and soundbites. We hear from Proyas, producers Topher Dow, Wyck Godfrey and John Davis, co-producer Steven McGlothen, visual effects supervisor John Nelson, robot movement consultant Paul Mercurio and actors Will Smith, Bruce Greenwood, Alan Tudyk and Bridget Moynahan. They discuss the story and also go into elements such as shooting the Sonny sequences and other robot-related issues. It’s not much more than the usual promotional fluff, but a few of the sequences add a bit of useful information.
A Still Gallery presents 30 images. We get the usual shots from the set as well as some detailed looks at the robot designs. The latter make this section worth your time.
Finally, we get a trailer for Arrested Development. A general ad for Fox DVDs opens the disc, and Inside Look offers a trailer for Mr. and Mrs. Smith. It also includes a preview of upcoming computer animated flick Robots. It features comments from director Chris Wedge as he gives us a quick glimpse of the story and characters. It remains a glorified trailer but it’s fun if the movie interests you. Also, we get a look at Elektra with remarks from actor Jennifer Garner.
Although I, Robot occasionally aspires to some philosophical and emotional depth, it doesn’t have the spirit to follow through on its goals. This makes it an erratic flick, one with some good action segments but not much else. The DVD presents very strong picture and audio. Only a few extras pop up, but at least we get an interesting and informative audio commentary. Robot shows a few signs of life but lacks the consistency to make it genuinely entertaining.
Viewer Film Ratings: 3.6666 Stars
| Number of Votes: 60