I, Robot

"I, Robot" is based loosely (the movie terms it "suggested by" in the credits) upon a collection of short stories by Isaac Asimov. It's been a while since I read the book, but I remembered the basic elements of Asimov's universe and the questions he raised in the book. Based on that recollection, the movie version successfully captured the flavor of Asimov's work, raising many of the same questions, but doing so in a single coherent action-adventure rather than a short-story format that would have translated poorly to the screen. (On the other hand, that format could work very well as a TV series -- movies are expected to have an overarching plot, TV series can get away with an episodic format).

I would not classify this as an adaptation of "I, Robot" for Asimov purists. Rather, it's an action-adventure set in Asimov's universe that happens to draw upon some of the characters from the stories. But as a stand-alone story, it's remarkably well done, better than most of what Hollywood produces by leaps and bounds. If the success of Lord of the Rings inspired this movie to cash in on the perceived new market, it worked and it worked well.

The plot is rather more complex than the standard action-movie ideal. It's fairly well thought out and has a number of twists and turns. Most of them were mildly predictable but not obvious. The tension between the main characters was well-handled, but wasn't terribly subtle in the area of robotic behavior and psychology -- I think that was a concession to the audience. The SF fans already know the subtleties, and the general public would be bored by them. Most of Asimov's themes and concepts are there or at at least briefly referenced, but not dealt with in-depth.

The CGI robots are absolutely stunning; smooth, detailed, expressive, and both human and not human at the same time. Most of the fight scenes are well done -- not exceptional, since they aren't the focus of the movie, but very well presented. The director abandoned the usual "slice and dice visuals" for this movie, presenting instead a number of long, detailed sequences -- each one complete in itself. Gone was the choppy, confusing, distorted feeling far too many films have embraced; give me the slow lingering shots with a beginning, middle, and end please! There was one particular fight between two robots, hand-to-hand, that was absolutely perfect and reeked with authenticity.

The only somewhat disappointing part of this film was the politics. There wasn't a lot, and it was fairly subtle, but there's a moment in the film when it is clearly obvious that the villian is speaking lines from the Bush administration's War on Terror, and the protagonist's struggle to resist is intended for the public to identify with. I don't disagree with the message, I just think that it was intended to BE a message, and that grates a little bit. It's a minor sin and it fits into the movie perfectly, though, so I'm not too worried.

On a more subtle note, there was a noticable lack of firearms in the hands of anyone other than the police, even in situations where most people would have pulled out the shotgun in the closest or the like. The police are running around with fully-automatic weapons that never need reloading, of course.

Some minor flaws... There were two absolutely, completely, totally blatent product placements. They don't detract from the movie, really, but they are awkward moments clearly placed there for commercial opportunity. There's a car chase scene that temporarily shattered my suspension of disbelief.

Whether you're an Asimov fan or not, go see the movie: it's very well done and very much worth it.

This entry was published Thu Oct 14 13:48:06 CDT 2004 by Matthew and last updated 2004-10-14 13:48:06.0.

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