I, Robot

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     I just finished reading the book, I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov about two days before I saw the new movie entitled, I, Robot. I was expecting, after seeing the trailers for the movie and reading the book, that the only thing they had in common might be the title. But it's not that bad. The movie version of I, Robot is "almost but not quite entirely unlike" the book. They are both stories of a future with robots, governed by the Three Laws of Robotics which are designed to prevent robots from hurting humans. Both stories involve a robo-psychologist named Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan) who works for US Robotics, a company that makes robots with positronic brains. Otherwise, the storylines are very different. But in some  ways, the movie has caught the "point" of the book which describes how robots struggle to live with the three laws. For instance, the main character of the movie, a Chicago police detective (Will Smith), has a robo-phobia because he was involved in an accident where a robot had to choose which of two human lives to save. Both robo-phobia and the choices that robots have to make figure prominently in the book. In the book, robots are never allowed on Earth because people are afraid of them. They are only on other planets. But other than a scene where a robot hides from Smith among a large group of identical robots, the plot of the movie is all new. In particular, no one is murdered in the book. However, there is some similarity between the plot of the movie and a sequel to I, Robot, The Caves of Steel.

    All of the above being said, I, Robot is an entertaining movie. In addition to Smith and Moynahan, the cast includes, the president of USR (Bruce Greenwood), Smith's police lieutenant (Chi McBride) and the scientist who created the robots (James Cromwell).  Sonny, the main robot character is voiced by Alan Tudyk (Firefly, A Knight's Tale). The cast is very good.  This is the kind of movie like Men in Black and Independence Day where Will Smith really shines. These Sci-Fi, all-special-effects movies need a character who reacts to all the strangeness around him and makes jokes about it. And Will Smith has it down to an art. Moynahan is good too. She seems to be getting typecast as the brainy type. She was cast as an M.D. in The Sum of all Fears, and in The Recruit, she played a CIA agent. This is an improvement on her part in Sex and the City as Big's fiancee, (a.k.a. the idiot stick figure with no soul). Even though he has only a small part in I, Robot and his character is dead, James Cromwell still steals the scenes that he is in. Chi McBride plays basically the same character he played in Boston Public. Bruce Greenwood, Atom Egoyan's favorite actor (The Sweet Hereafter, Ararat, Exotica), has a one-dimensional role as the USR president.

    One of the fun things about the book, which was written about 1950 and is set in 1998, is how its predictions have come out. Asimov predicted the positronic brain which we still don't have, but his robots are huge, heavy monstrosities full of tubes and gears since he didn't envision miniaturization. The movie version is strangely retro. It is set in 2035 but very little of the movie is futuristic. Chicago has a few new buildings and the cars look like DeLoreans. The only big change from now is the presence of robots everywhere. I, Robot moves along nicely and the special effects are so good that the robots just seem like they are really there.  The star robot, Sonny, is done very well and gives a good performance thanks to Tudyk's vocalizations. He and Will Smith have a good chemistry together which is impressive since Smith's scenes were all done with a blue screen. The director, Alex Proyas, has directed a couple of cult classics (The Crow, Dark City) but has never done a "major motion picture." He did a good job with I, Robot although there are plenty of shots stolen wholecloth from the Terminator and Star Wars movies.   And, the script is pretty good, helped along by Smith's droll delivery. Anyway, this movie shouldn't be called I, Robot but maybe Asimov isn't spinning in his grave. It's a nice summer blockbuster.