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July 2004

By Julian Roman

I, Robot

Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Director: Alex Proyas
Screenwriter: Akiva Goldsman, Hillary Seitz, Jeff Vintar
Cinematographer: Simon Duggan
Composer: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Bruce Greenwood, James Cromwell, Chi McBride, Alan Tud



Alex Proyas has a gift for making superb science fiction films. He has that intagible skill of being able to blend complex storylines with state-of-the-art special effects. He is quite simply a master of the genre. He first gained notoriety with the brilliantly dark thriller, The Crow. Which was aptly followed by the epic Dark City; a film that I consider to be one of the best films ever made. I, Robot is the first big budget action film he has directed. It is not nearly as edgy as his previous work, but it is amazing to look at and moves at an astonishing pace.

The film is a compendium of the I, Robot short stories by Isaac Asimov. In 2035, robots have become a routine addition to human life. They clean the house, cook, walk the dog, deliver packages, generally making life easier for the average man. Robots are kept under control by the rules that dictate their existence. First, a robot can never harm a human. Second, a robot must always obey a human unless directed to harm a human. Last, a robot must protect itself, as long it doesn't conflict with the other laws. These are the mandates that every robot must follow and have hastened their integration into society.

Will Smith stars as Detective Del Spooner, a man that harbors deep suspicions about robots. An event in his past has left him mistrustful of robot kind and everything they represent. US Robotics is the largest manufacturer of robots. They are on the eve of the largest robot rollout in history. Their NS-5 model will replace all older robots, greatly narrowing the human to robot ratio. Soon there will be one robot for every five people. A few days before the NS-5 deployment, Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), US Robotics lead scientist, is murdered at their corporate office. The suspect is a robot that Lanning designed differently from the other NS-5's, Sonny. Spooner must team up with robotics engineer, Susan Calvin (Bridgitte Moynihan), to find out why Lanning was murdered. They will discover that Lanning's death was just a precursor to a robotic revolution.

Science fiction paranoia about machines conquering man has been a prevalent theme for years. I, Robot basically retreads what better written science fiction stories and films have done. There are some surprises to the story, but it's more or less a standard summer blockbuster plot. The film attempts to have depth, but sacrifices it for the action scenes. What makes I, Robot good is that it is tremendously entertaining. There are no dead spots. The film moves crisply, one of the hallmarks of Alex Proyas. His storylines never get tired or overused. I was worried that Will Smith would go overboard with his goofy spiel, but that is thankfully kept to a minimum. He has a good physical presence and spends a majority of the film kicking robot ass.

The robots are impressively done. They seemed unoriginal in the trailers, but are pretty well conceived. They have a dynamic fighting style. Proyas uses great camera work during the robot fight scenes. He incorporates slow-motion to exaggerate their fluid movements. It looks very cool. It has the feel of the bullet time effect from The Matrix, but doesn't copy it all. I would guess that motion sensors were put on real people to simulate movement. The visual effects team should be commended for such a fantastic job.

I, Robot is more of a popcorn film than hardcore science fiction. The studio probably insisted Proyas deliver a film that was more mainstream. He's done that, but his flawless directing style is evident in every frame. The result is a slick action film with a decent story. I, Robot could have probably been better, but is enjoyable enough to warrant another viewing.