I, Robot (2004)

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*. What would we think if this movie had started out with a sexy women getting out of bed, showing off her body in her underwear and in the shower. Will Smith (Spooner) is just treated as a piece of meat here, still looking quite buff from Ali.
*. If Spooner’s entire left arm and shoulder is bionic, then why is he lifting weights with it?
*. This is such a stupid movie, and I’m not sure the makers were aware of just how stupid. On the commentary they explain that the opening credits were supposed to appear as though they were an abstract representation of the inside of a positronic brain. Huh? Given a positronic brain is an entirely made-up bit of technology, what would an abstract representation of the inside of it be like?
*. After Spooner (Smith) finally gets dressed, he hits the street and meets Farber (Shia LaBeouf). Farber throws a football at him and Spooner pretends he’s going to catch it, then lets it sail past him. Farber then falls in with him and begins some banal, clichéd banter about girls. I guess the football wasn’t that important because it’s gone and forgotten now. Meanwhile, Farber is a totally useless character that we immediately understand is just being introduced now so he can be re-introduced at a later point when needed (even though he is so useless he is never really needed).
*. Next up: Spooner witnesses what he thinks is a robot stealing a purse. He gives chase (after ordering a passerby to hold on to a pie he’s been eating instead of simply putting it down on top of something). This despite the fact that nobody else on the street seems to care what’s going on. It is already clear to us that this makes no sense, given the three laws of robotics. Later, the chief of police will be baffled at Spooner’s behaviour. As baffled as we already were while witnessing it. Spooner, of course, has no explanation.
*. The only explanation is that they want to introduce the idea that Spooner doesn’t trust robots. But couldn’t they have thought of a more believable way of doing this?
*. Anyway, here the movie is only ten minutes old and I’ve given up all hope on it being any good. As the adage goes, if you have a good script you’ll always have a movie that’s at least OK. But if you don’t have a good script the movie will never be any good. Even in the CGI age that holds true.
*. Director Alex Proyas is best known for Dark City, a good movie that I’ve always felt was somewhat overrated, and not quite as original as it’s made out to be. This movie isn’t as good looking (I find the CGI particularly unimpressive) and it lacks any hint of originality. According to Proyas the spherical wheels on the car were “fresh and original,” but aside from that Chicago in 2035 is a bog standard Tomorrowland and even the robots, which you would have thought would have been the one design element they had to get right, are generic and dull. It’s very helpful, and perfectly ridiculous, that they have a bright red light turn on in their chests when they go bad.

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*. En masse, the robots appear as a swarm of locusts, these crowd scenes being the kind of thing CGI seems to have been made for. They couldn’t have done Lord of the Rings without those digital armies. But I often wondered if the human crowds were being done the same way. Why is it that the people outside the U.S. Robotics building just keep walking along nonchalantly, apparently not even noticing Sonny crashing into their midst and then running away? I guess this wouldn’t be the first SF movie where the real people were less human than the androids.
*. Lots of product placment, especially from Audi (the make of Spooner’s car). This is quite irritating because in most movies you can justify at least some product placement as the result of wanting to create a realistic environment. But is it necessary in a film set in the future? For example, the fact that Spooner wears Converse sneakers has to be explained by him being a retro fashion hound.
*. I have nothing against men wearing earrings, but Spooner’s are so big they’re distracting. I kept thinking they were accessories for his phone.
*. It’s nice of James Cromwell to show up in those slick hologram messages where he tells Spooner . . . absolutely nothing.
*. The initial clue Dr. Lanning leaves Spooner is a copy of Hansel and Gretel. This is a “clue” because it’s a story about children following bread crumbs. So the clue is that there are clues to follow! Wow. Now that’s screenwriting. On the commentary track screenwriter Akiva Goldsman says Lanning’s plan was all about leaving a series of clues that would lead to each other like dominoes falling. This is not the way the plot works. At all.
*. I think there’s only one “clue” that Lanning provides and that’s the picture of the ruined bridge that Sonny draws from his subconscious programming. But this isn’t any kind of “clue” because it magically illustrates a scene from the end of the movie that Lanning would have had no way of imagining. So . . . go figure.

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*. When the story isn’t stupid it’s clichéd. And I mean clichéd in an extreme way. Our gumshoe is a laid-back tough guy who walks with a pronounced shambling sort of strut. He speaks in one-liners. Not very snappy or witty one-liners, but they’re one-liners. His sidekick is a tight-ass scientist, an ice queen who has to melt, who has to learn that while she has all the facts on her side, he has the truth. The bad guys are a great big evil corporation in a tall office tower. Sure, there’s a bit of misdirection about who’s really in charge of said corporation, but that makes no difference to the formula.
*. Of course Spooner is so obsessed with the case that his chief has to ask him to hand over his badge. Because that’s what always happens! Even if it isn’t necessary for the plot. There has to be a scene where the chief says “Give me your badge.”
*. The credits only say the script was “suggested by Isaac Asimov’s book.” The main thing they took was the Three Laws of Robotics. After that they were freestyling. Or drowning. Take your pick.
*. They don’t make anything out of the Three Laws, even after introducing them a second time in a very awkward bit of expositional dialogue. After all, the whole problem is that the robots have evolved beyond the Three Laws anyway.
*. So VIKI is running everything, and when she’s destroyed . . . all the lights come back on in Chicago and the robots return to normal? How does that work? The operating system crashes and everything goes back to some default setting?
*. Alex Proyas: “Are we making it too complicated for a mass audience? Are we making it too rich and detailed?” No. Relax.
*. It’s just another comic book action film. With his bionic arm Smith is even a kind of superhero. It’s dull visually, and the story is only an excuse to hang the big effects scenes on. There’s nothing more to say.

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