A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

I, Robot

November 13, 2010

I, Robot

This is the movie that showed me that even a great director can somehow end up making bad movies. I’ve talked before about my love for Alex Proyas. Dark City is one one of my favorite movies of all time. The Crow is awesome fun, and I can’t wait to watch it again. I was even pleasantly surprised by Knowing. There is no way, however, that this movie can be construed as anything but a bad, bad movie. How I wish I could say otherwise.

I did enjoy some of Isaac Asimov’s robot stories. They’re all sci-fi mysteries that can be solved if you understand the premise that the logical choices made under duress by the robots made perfect sense to them but didn’t seem to make sense to humans. They’re cool thought experiments about the difference between rational thought and common sense. But how do you make a big budget effects laden Will Smith movie about a clever thought experiment? Sadly, the answer is: you don’t. Or at least, even if it can be done this is not it.

Instead this is a clumsily written boondoggle “suggested by” Asimov. I postulated two “twist” endings to this movies based on the previews, which I saw about seven hundred times while working at Suncoast. One of them was right. I really should not be able to guess a movie’s entire plot arc from the previews. But that’s the sort of movie this is.

This movie also features some of the most notoriously awful product placements of all time. Particularly the Converse bits. When I think product placements in movies I think of this movie, Wayne’s World and Demolition Man. In that order. There’s the FedEx robot, the almost ridiculous love granted to Will Smith’s “vintage 2004” shoes and the many, many shots of the Audi logo on his futuristic car. It’s rare that you see product placement so blatant and poorly done that it throws you so violently out of the movie.

Smith plays detective Del Spooner, a man with some bizarre hatred for all robot-kind. Everybody knows that robots are incapable of doing any harm to humans, and everybody knows that Spooner is a crazy nut-case who thinks robots harbor some secret plot or actually can be made somehow to do harm. (I had to stop my brain working when his commander in the police force asks him “How many robots in the world have ever committed a crime?” and my immediate thought was “couldn’t a robot be ordered to smash open a bank vault and steal all the money as long as it didn’t harm any human being in the commission of the crime?” The movie just doesn’t go in that direction.) When the genius designer who created the three laws and pretty much invented the robots of this world dies under suspicious circumstances Spooner gets involved. He also meets the pretty but emotionally cold Susan Calvin.

A quick note about the wardrobe that Bridget Moynahan gets to wear as Calvin: it’s awesome. All constructed from different shades of gray with nifty color blocking. Indeed most of the production design in this movie is great from the costumes to the cars to the robots themselves. (Product placement notwithstanding.) The next-gen robots of the film all share a sort of semi-translucent look that reminds me of the iMacs from around 1999. Very nifty.

Of course there actually IS some kind of conspiracy that involves robots, and Spooner and Calvin get caught up in it. There are a whole lot of scenes involving robots attacking Spooner, his car, a house he’s in, the police department, the entire human race… stuff like that.

For all its faults I will say that this movie does have a lot of great special effects. The armies of robots depicted throughout the film are all CGI creations, and the’re blended perfectly with their human co-stars. Alan Tudyk gives an Andy Serkis-style performance where he was motion captured and digitally replaced with the mysterious rogue robot Sunny. (Amanda mentioned while watching this that she wished Alan could have appeared as himself in a dual role, which would have been fun because he’s a funny guy and always enjoyable to watch.) There are a couple very complex and physically impossible swooping camera shots that are used to pump up the action. Indeed as a completely silly Will Smith action movie this whole thing actually works pretty well. I just wish it didn’t have the I, Robot connection.

I don’t know. I have issues with a lot in this movie. It holds absolutely no similarity to the I, Robot stories in tone or attitude. It features an implausible premise (with a single corporation holding an absolute monopoly on robot manufacture.) It has the feel at times of being more a commercial for sneakers than a serious movie. And it just doesn’t feel worthy of Alex Proyas – with whom I associate more cerebral or at least stylish fare. But it has some fun action, and some sort of standard witty action-movie banter. We put it in tonight because Amanda was in the mood for a “stupid action movie” and it perfectly fits that bill. Maybe I’m just too hard on it. I’d recommend, however, that if you’re looking for a cool sci-fi mystery with a premise about over-mechanization you should watch Surrogates instead.

November 13, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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