I, Robot review by Mike Long

Loyalty and reverence abound in the science-fiction community and sci-fi fans are arguably the most dedicated and opinionated in the world. (Just mention Star Wars or Star Trek to a fan and let the fun begin.) Thus, when a beloved piece of sci-fi history is tampered with, fans become very distraught. (Once again, just say Star Wars DVDs and the complaints will rain down.) Im not familiar with the I, Robot stories by author Isaac Asimov, but I certainly heard the grumblings from fans when it was learned that his well-known short stories were being turned into a film with Will Smith. While I cant tell you how the movie compares to the stories, and whether or not it sullies their reputations, but I can say that I, Robot is a decidedly mediocre movie.

I, Robot is set in Chicago in the year 2035. In this time, service robots are a standard sight and U.S. Robotics (AKA USR) is the leading manufacture of these machines which serve humans in many capacities. The robots are controlled by the "Three Laws", which essentially state that robots cannot hurt humans. Most everyone loves the robots are at worst, takes them for granted, except for Detective Del Spooner (Will Smith), who doesnt trust robots. Spooner is called to USR headquarters when its learned that Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), the father of modern robotics, has committed suicide. Spooner is an acquaintance of Lanning and assumes that he was called to the scene for that reason. There, he meets Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood), the president of USR, and Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), a robotics engineer. Everyone at USR is on-edge, as they are about to roll-out their latest model, the NS-5. While checking the crime scene, Spooner and Calving encounter Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk), a robot who appears to be capable of violence and who may have killed Dr. Lanning. After questioning Sonny and searching Lanning's home, Spooner begins to suspect that there may be a conspiracy happening at USR and that the NS-5s may be a threat to humanity.

As I understand it, fans of Asimov's stories were concerned that the filmmakers would take the serious sci-fi tales and transform them into a standard Hollywood action movie. Once again, I know little about the original stories, but I can say that I, Robot definitely leans more towards Hollywood action film than science-fiction film. That's not to imply that the movie is a complete disaster, but the odd mixture of players behind the scenes most likely effected the final film. On the one hand, we have the Asimov stories, which are loved by millions and applauded for their logic, and director Alex Proyas, the man behind The Crow and Dark City. These factors have been blended with big-budget action film star Will Smith and, for lack of a better word, Hollywood. The result is a movie that has a nice look and a story about robots, but also contains many clichd set-pieces and a truly baffling story.

I, Robot is a film where its truly easy to point out the highs and lows. The first 2/3 of the film work very well, as the movie combines elements of a murder-mystery played against a science-fiction background. But, as the audience learns more, we realize that we really dont know whats going on. Even when the explanation is given, it still rings very hollow and Ive now seen the film twice and there are at least two scenes which make absolutely no sense to me. But, thats OK, as I, Robot is a film where the story is simply a motivator to set up action scenes -- and some of them work rather well. The CGI fx in I, Robot are very good and some of the scenes, such as the car-chase, look great, but have the hollow feeling of watching someone else play a video game. Will Smith tries very hard to bring a dark edge to Spooner and to be a character that we havent seen from him before, but he cracks one too many jokes to pull of this act. And the shot where Spooner is flying through the air wielding two pistols, in slow-motion no less, will surely receive a rolling of the eyes from many audience members. Proyas experiences on Dark City clearly taught him how to shoot CGI and the movie has a good look, but theres really nothing here to set it apart from other films of this genre, unlike The Crow and Dark City. I, Robot is an ambitious film, but it tries to please too many people at once. Hardcore sci-fi fans wont like the low-brow Hollywood aspects of it and action fans may find the story confusing. So, the film is certainly worth a rental, but dont expect a mind-blowing experience.

I, Robot comes to DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film is coming to DVD in two separate releases, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the image is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, and looks very good. The picture shows no grain or defects from the source image. The colors look great and the picture is never too dark. There are trace elements of edge-enhancement, but there are no overt occurrences of artifacting and the picture has a great deal of depth. The disc carries both a DTS 5.1 audio track, as well as a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, both of which sound great. The dialogue is clear and audible and is no distortion on either track. The tracks are full of great surround sound effects and the subwoofer action is nearly constant. Both tracks sound great, with the DTS having a slight edge for sounding somewhat cleaner.

Given the fact that I, Robot was a box-office success, there are surprisingly few extras on the DVD. We start with an audio commentary from director Alex Proyas and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman. This track is pretty good, but the speakers jump around too much, never focusing long enough on a specific scene, or a topic, such as story, shooting, FX, etc. Also, Goldsman does the majority of the talking. And while hes somewhat interesting, being a fan of Proyas work, I wanted to hear more from him. Proyas went solo on his commentary for Garage Days, so I know that he can speak at length if necessary. The Making of I, Robot is a 12-minute featurette which offers comments from the cast and crew, behind-the-scenes footage, and a look at how actor Alan Tudyk was integrated into the film as Sonny. A still gallery is the only other extra. It's disappointing that the cool teaser trailer for the film isn't included. In the past, when a hit film has come to DVD with only a few extras, that meant that a double-dipping is eminent. But, you never know.


5 out of 10 Jackasses

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