I(‘m not impressed with), Robot

I’m giving I-Robot a B-.

The story is decent, focused, stronger than I expected. The film is basically a collision of Minority Report, A.I. (Artificial Intelligence), and Enemy of the State. It’s not as good as any of those movies, even though its has a more solidly constructed plot than A.I., and a more satisfying conclusion than Minority Report. It doesn’t hold a candle to director Alex Proyas’s previous foray into science fiction, the brilliant Dark City.

The special effects are inconsistent, and often severely unconvincing. The car chase is especially weak. The city, especially in the transportation tunnels, looks way too slick, with a stainless steel and chrome glow to it that mimics Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography in Minority Report but is never as good as that. But I eventually came to accept the artificiality of the whole thing, the way we come to accept the simplistic environments of Tron, even though in that film, the artificial environments are supposed to look like a video game, where here they’re supposed to blend seamlessly with real footage. In spite of the animators’ efforts, Detective Spooner (Will Smith) looks like a real man trapped in an computer-generated reality in this film, and there’s just no denying it. (Plus, that speeding Audi looks like some kind of Tron car, so that kept reminding me of that film.)

I actually felt sorry for Will Smith during this film. Both the actor and his character seem like a real, thinking, intelligent, and sad individual surrounded by very very dumb people and a lot of machines. His only real friend is his grandmother. We get a lot of shots of his pumped-up body, which only serves to remind us that he worked very very hard in training for Ali, and yet still hasn’t been accepted as a lead dramatic actor… he’s still stuck in early-July sci-fi flicks, firing big big guns at things that aren’t really there, running from government conspiracies (Enemy of the State).

Everything Detective Spooner (Are you tired of that name yet? I am!) says prompts responses to make him look like “the only sane man on earth.” The fact that he has very few truly clever quips and virtually nothing very intelligent to say only makes matters worse.

This is one of those films where the hero’s conversations with people go something like this:

BAD GUY OR SCIENTIST: We hope to [insert long, convoluted techno-speak.]

SMITH: Yeah, yeah, whatever. Tell me in plain English!

BAD GUY OR SCIENTIST: We’re going to build robots.

The film will play well with people who are intimidated by educated people, scientific people, technology-savvy people. It will play well with people who don’t like cops, and who love to see law enforcement shown up as stupid and ignorant.

But the conspiracy theorists and Michael Moore fans to whom the film preaches the loudest probably won’t go for it. As it gets to the end, undeniably “RELEVANT” lines start coming our way: “We decided to take away some of your freedoms in order to protect your freedom.”

Sounds a little funny, such a countercultural commentary coming from a film that is unapologetic about its product placement (Audi, JVC, Converse). It’s also funny considering that, after making such a blanket statement about the way technology and corporations are sticking it to the little guy, the answer that the film comes up with is a vigilante who walks like a gangsta and totes a really really big gun even when his badge has been taken away.

I’m ranting.

My colleague Peter Chattaway notes on the Arts and Faith board:

I was disappointed with this film as a whole, actually, since its sleek visual look (and two-dimensional hologram effect!) and exploration of security-type themes were very reminiscent of Minority Report, yet the film felt rather weightless, both visually and thematically, compared to Spielberg’s effort. And this, despite the fact that Minority Report had a script that made No Sense Whatsoever, whereas I, Robot kinda-sorta held together, at least comparatively.That said, I also have to say that this film completely reverses the thrust of Isaac Asimov’s book — and I couldn’t be happier! Asimov’s quasi-utopian idea that machines will take over the world and make life better for us gave me the willies (see the relevant earlier post of mine above), and it was fascinating to see this film explore the more nightmarish side of that — though in order to do so, the film has to COMPLETELY jettison the subtlety of Asimov’s book. There’s no, no, no way the machines in HIS story would have been jumping en masse onto vehicles and smashing their windows while moving at high speeds, etc. There are much subtler, more logical, more effective ways of manipulating the world.

The film admirably sticks to its full-speed ahead narrative. It’s entertaining enough to pass as a Saturday matinee in the summertime, if you just want to take some friends to a movie and take a break. It’s no Wild, Wild West, thank goodness… but then again, it’s not nearly as satisfying as Men in Black, or even Enemy of the State, either.

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