I wasn’t expecting much from I, Robot. The trailer was attached to damn near every movie released since last fall, which didn’t strike me as a positive sign. I had no expectations for Van Helsing, and came away totally disappointed. I had no expectations for Troy, and, save for Brad Pitt’s incongruous accent, enjoyed the film for what it was. I had no expectations for Chronicles of Riddick, and thought that had the film been content to be Space Macbeth it would have been halfway decent, but the whole prison thing felt like a leftover script from the Oz slush pile.
It’s not the art-house film Harlan Ellison wanted made lo those twenty years ago, but I, Robot isn’t bad. In fact, it might be one of the better genre films of the summer.
Remove all pretense that the film has something to do with anything Isaac Asimov wrote way back in the day. It does, but more as a variation on his themes rather than an adaptation of them. I was reminded a great deal of one of the Stephen Byerley stories–the name escapes me at the moment. Indeed, a time or three I wondered if the CEO of US Robotics should have been Byerley himself, conundrum to Asimov’s continuity though it may have offered.
There’s a great bit of misdirection on the film’s poster. “One man saw it coming.” One man, indeed. But it’s not who you assume, and what he foresaw isn’t what you think, either.
I have no real complaints with casting, though I think Bridget Moynahan wasn’t quite plain enough to portray Susan Calvin. She did, however, capture the stiff, socially awkward character that Calvin was. Will Smith was Will Smith, doing his Men in Black schtick in a different time and place. It works, to a point, though I must question the whole reason for his bias against robots because it seems too mundane, too unconnected to him.
My one major complaint is poor blue-screen work.
The final scene is a beauty. Asimov would have marveled, and possibly danced with joy.
In thinking about the film, it works quite well as a prequel to the Robot novels–The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, and The Robots of Dawn–albeit one set thousands of years in those stories’ past, serving to show why Terrans hate robots so, and why the Spacers–who needed the robots to terraform and maintain their worlds–are so dependent upon them. I doubt that was the filmmaker’s intent, but that they managed to hit that note, even inadvertently, shows that they did understand their Asimov.
I, Robot won’t change your world. It is, however, a good way to while away two hours and is genuinely enjoyable. It’s humorous when it needs to be, it’s thought-provoking, and it has a good mystery at its core. One could do far worse for summer movie fare.