Ever since 1982's cult classic "Blade Runner," the notion dispelled was that
robots were more human than humans. Along with 2001's underrated Steven
Spielberg film, "A.I.," the other notion was that robots want to become human.
"I, Robot" takes the idea even further - robots want to feel human emotions and
consider themselves human because their human creators intended it that way.
Set in Chicago, thirty years from now, Will Smith plays Detective Spooner, a
brash, motor-mouthed cop who despises robots. You see, in this near-future,
robots handle duties and jobs that most humans would have (is this an
indication of the migrating U.S. jobs to Mexico, China, etc.)? These robots
(who look like walking iPods and have the metallic sheen of iMacs) deliver
Federal Express packages, handle household duties, protect humans from harm,
throw trash into garbage trucks, and so on. There are the famous Issac Asimov
Laws of Robotics (suggested, not based, on Asimov's book of the same name),
which include that robots protect and never kill humans. As Spooner says, "All
rules are made to be broken." The creator of U.S. Robotics, Dr. Landing (James
Cromwell), apparently committed suicide, but Spooner knows better. He feels a
robot had killed Landing who is now on the run. Spooner receives help from Dr.
Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), an employee of U.S. Robotics whose job is to
make these robots look as human as possible. Lo and behold, somebody might have
messed with the robots' circuits. The robot fugitive on the run, known as
Sonny, feels anger and can mimic human expressions. If he feels anger, he might
use it to kill. Or he may just pound his fists on the table.
What "I, Robot" has is a sleek, unique look, and director Alex Proyas ("Dark
City") eschews the subterranean look of his earlier pictures for a glossy
facade, mainly due to shots of metallic surfaces that emanate a glow from
reflective lights. Most scenes are shot in daylight hours, and the city of
Chicago looks more densely populated with skyscrapers, including the
ultra-modernist U.S. Robotics building that seems to have an upwards slope.
Photographically speaking, the overall effect is of a metallic glow that can be
gleaned from every frame. Even Sonny, often shown in profile, seems to be
subtly glowing (understandable when there are Biblical allusions throughout the
film) and he seems more real than anyone in the entire film.
As for story and in-depth characters, "I, Robot" falls somewhat short. One too
many holes exist in the plot, especially when dealing with the robots and their
new and improved counterparts. For instance, if robots are performing menial
jobs (instead of illegal aliens or legal workers), what do the humans do for
work? We even see one robot bartending! The only available jobs are for robot
scientists? Apparently, the city is full of humans, so what the heck do they do
for a living?
As for the human characters, we have Will Smith's Spooner who may as well have
sprung from both "Bad Boys" and "Men in Black" - he has his share of
one-liners, even to a cat! He is mostly an angry man and detests robots (at
least his explanation of why he hates them is rather touching) yet loves
listening to Stevie Wonder's "Superstition." Moynahan's good doctor seems more
concerned with the future of robots than humans - though intentional to be
sure, we never glean much insight from her. And the most underutilized
character is Dr. Landing, always shown as a computer image, whose actions are
never clear and quite suspect.
Proyas invested an existential edge in "Dark City," a sort of retro-1940's noir
where everyone is at the service of evil aliens in trenchcoats. This time, the
familiarity of city life seems corrupted, and humans are hardly the threat of
the future anymore. Since Kubrick's "2001," the overriding theme has been that
anything computerized or electronic is not to be trusted. Robots are the threat
and they want to take over. The humans are the supporting characters.
"I, Robot" is entertaining and slight, shunning many of the late Asimov's moral
themes for high-powered action scenes and sporadic one-liners. Though some
useful ideas slip through this typical Hollywood summer blockbuster, one
expects Alex Proyas to dig much deeper.
Copyright © 2004 Jerry Saravia