A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 258 – I, Robot

I, Robot – November 13th, 1010

Tonight I asked Andy to pick me out a dumb action movie, because that’s what I was in the mood for. Now, I don’t know if it’s because I really was in the mood for dumb action, or if it’s because I’ve only ever brushed up against Asimov’s stories, never gotten into them (I got sucked into Niven’s stuff for sci-fi, sorry), or maybe I’m still sick and that’s doing something to my mind. But I didn’t hate this. Oh, I’ve got problems with it, but I didn’t hate it. Don’t worry, I won’t try to defend it. But I am going to try and figure out why it is that it’s so universally lambasted and yet I rather enjoyed watching it.

So, problems first. I’ve got two major ones and neither one of them is the plot. The plot has minor problems in comparison. My major problems are the horrific product placement shoehorned into the movie (haha, shoehorned – see what I did there?) and the totally pointless comic relief character played by Shia LaBeouf. Product placement first. It is egregious to say the least. The very worst of it is the Converse placement. Now, I have no problems with Converse sneakers. I like them myself and had several pairs in high school. But there is no way I needed that much attention paid to a pair of them in this movie. They’re a recognizable brand. It’s not like they needed Will Smith putting his foot up on a chair and proclaiming his vintage 2004 Converse All Stars to be like the second coming. How much did Converse pay for that? And were they ticked at how very obvious it was? I expect product placement in movies. I kind of look for it, because I like to know when I’m being sold something. So cars, billboards, soda, I know that will all be in there. I do not expect the movie to pause for a commercial without actually pausing.

Now, I suppose that given how soon this was after Holes it’s possible that Mr. LaBeouf’s involvement could be said to be product placement for him as an actor, and given his later casting in the Transformer movies, mission accomplished? I’m utterly serious here. His character has no real point in the overall scheme of things in this movie. He shows up what, twice? And both of those appearances are, at most, to give Will Smith’s character a little bit of dialogue and flavor. It is nothing that couldn’t be accomplished with the rest of the cast. It’s not like we need to see the guy telling some random kid to stop acting like a fool. It adds nothing. And yet there he is, tossing a basketball at Smith and heading up the crowd of humans during the riot at the climax. My theory is that his agent got him into the film somehow as a bid to try and make him marketable in more action-oriented roles. I’ve got nothing against the guy, really. But his character in this movie is as superfluous as the All Stars.

The reason those things are my major problems with the movie are that they are bizarre distractions. Yes, the plot has holes. Yes, it has logical flaws. No, it is not really based on Asimov’s books, as indicated by the “suggested by” credit given to him. But for all its high talk about the soul and emotion and having a purpose, it’s a dumb action movie about robots rising up against humans. I don’t really expect it to be intellectually stimulating. It’s not actually Asimov, after all. And if I’m going to watch a dumb sci-fi action movie I expect a couple of things. I expect good special effects. I expect some worldbuilding to set me in the future. I expect a baddie who has way more power than he or she should have. I expect the hero to be fighting against insurmountable odds. And well, this movie delivers all of that. And then it goes and has all this crap muddying it up and that just ticks me off.

Now, normally I like Will Smith, and I did enjoy him in this movie, but I’ve got to say that this isn’t my favorite of his roles (that would be Hancock). His character is actually the weakest part of the movie for me, aside from the stuff I talked about above. The problem is that his motivations are poorly stated and unclear, his background is hinted at but never given much solid stuff to work with and his character takes these odd turns where he seems to be setting something up and then isn’t. Now, none of this is Smith’s fault. Detective Spooner is written that way and there’s not a hell of a lot one can do when one’s given lines about an ex-wife and said ex-wife never shows. It’s an example of Chekhov’s Gun never getting fired. Spooner’s boss, the police chief? Fine. He plays Spooner’s spoiler, having to reign him in for perfectly reasonable issues even though we as the audience know that Spooner’s right. Dr. Calvin, the movie’s female lead and Spooner’s eventual teammate in taking down the baddie? I actually really like her. Bridget Moynahan does a good job taking her from antagonistic to sympathetic to enthusiastic without taking her from shrew to mommy to girlfriend.

In fact, I’d like to make an aside here and give this movie an unreserved high five for not making Spooner and Calvin romantically involved but also keeping Calvin a sympathetic and likable character. Good fucking job, movie!

Okay, back to the plot and characters. As I said, I like the good guys. And I like the bad guys too. Once I got past seeing Bruce Greenwood not as Captain Pike (and stopped laughing at this movie having Aaron Douglas on the side of the robot-makers, given his role in BSG) I thought he did a good job as the main antagonist, even if his role in it all is one of the movie’s holes. And I really liked the movie’s enigma, Sonny, as played by Alan Tudyk. And yes, I count him as having played Sonny entirely, given the motion capture process used for the character. I love Alan Tudyk, and I think he did a great job with Sonny. And when it comes to the plot, he drives a good deal of it. So it’s too bad that Spooner’s so ill-defined, because he drives the rest and a lot of the time he seems to be fishing for something, anything, please!

The bigger issues in the movie, with the robots rising up and the nature of the soul and whatnot, well. They’ve all been done. Probably by Asimov, but personally I’ve seen a hell of a lot of it done in Star Trek (see all of Data’s character arc), Battlestar Galactica and Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex. And all of those did a lot more meandering through the topic in greater depth, partially because as series, two of which are focused precisely on said topic, they had more leisure to do so. But also because they weren’t trying to deliver an action thriller to summer blockbuster movie audiences and sell sneakers and up-and-coming actors while doing so. If the movie had maybe skipped on the selling products and sold me on Spooner’s character background instead maybe the movie would have been more solid and I could feel better about having enjoyed it. Because really, despite it all, I did.

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


  1. I didn’t find this film so horrible either — the imdb ratings aren’t bad so perhaps the haters are simply very vocal — haaha… Every novel/story adaptation changes the original. Just look at all the Philip K. Dick stories which are drastically modified for the screen — Blade Runner, A Scanner Darkly, Next, The Adjustment Bureau, Paycheck, Screamers, etc…

    Comment by Joachim Boaz | November 14, 2010 | Reply

    • Eventually we will watch one of my very favorite book-to-movie adaptations, which I think is absolutely brilliant even though it’s drastically altered on the screen. I’m fascinated by the process of transitioning a story told in written format to a story told in visual format and how some really work well while others are such painful failures.

      Comment by ajmovies | November 14, 2010 | Reply

  2. The Asimov book is a collection of short stories from the 50’s all around a progressive set of themes involving the relationship between humans and robots. In it, Asimov posited the Three Laws of Robotics,(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Laws_of_Robotics) which many others have adopted outright and which occur in only slightly adapted form as “The Repo Code” (http://www.lukefisher.com/repo.html) in Repo Man, which I MUST assume you have seen. The stories deal with what happens when different parts of the programming are emphasized and which are de-emphasized. I have avoided the movie because I love the book so much.

    Comment by John Banderob | November 14, 2010 | Reply

    • It is probably a very good idea to avoid the movie if you love the book. I can think of several excellent book-to-movie adaptations but even not having read the book I am certain this is not one of them.

      Comment by ajmovies | November 14, 2010 | Reply

  3. Considering this was probably the first movie I had seen Will Smith in since Men in Black 2 which was AWFUL in ways of product placement, I simply assumed that was the type of movie he was doing. Thankfully it mostly stopped with this movie, so I think I was more desensetized to it than I should have been.

    Comment by zennihilation | November 14, 2010 | Reply

    • Ouch, yeah. I know Andy was irritated with the FedEx stuff and the Audi stuff in this one too, but it was the Converse that hit me the most. The others just didn’t seem as overdone.

      Comment by ajmovies | November 14, 2010 | Reply

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