Case Number 05925


Fox // 2004 // 114 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // January 10th, 2005

The Charge

3 Laws Safe...

Opening Statement

Much like the disdain felt for The Time Machine (2002), I, Robot received a similarly chilled reception from those familiar with the "source material" by Isaac Asimov. And much like my take on The Time Machine (2002), I, Robot will receive similar praise and be defended against the liberties it took. When the audience watches I, Robot, they must be fully cognizant that this movie is not an adaptation of the short stories written by Asimov. It was never intended to be the definitive film of the stories; no, it merely uses the central tenet of Asimov's three robot laws as a springboard. In the words of Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City), I, Robot was meant to be the "definitive robot movie." Does it accomplish that?

Facts of the Case

Detective Del Spooner (Will Smith, Independence Day, Bad Boys) distrusts robots. It's an illogical distaste for the ever-present machines, for they have never done anything against any human in the entire world. Nothing at all. This is due to the core laws imprinted in the code of every robot that comes off the assembly line:

(1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
(2) A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders conflict with the first law.
(3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second law.

These three laws form a perfect circle of logic and protection for humans. All robots are deemed "3 laws safe" from the instant they roll off the assembly line. Regardless, Spooner believes that with nearly one robot for every four humans on the planet, trouble is a hair away. And when his friend Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell, Star Trek: First Contact) commits suicide, a series of events unfolds, crystallizing Spooner's darkest fears. It appears that Dr. Lanning, the father of robotics, was murdered by a prototype of the latest generation robot, an NS-5 named Sonny.

But no one believes that a robot could commit a crime, let alone a murder. As Spooner investigates this death, he is given the assistance of Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan, The Recruit). She was a friend and coworker of Dr. Lanning at U.S. Robotics, the leading manufacturer of the automatons. The two work together, following a trail of breadcrumbs into the possibility of a problem with the new NS-5 robots.

The Evidence

To be able to enjoy this film at all, you must acknowledge that it is not Asimov's work. You have to toss out any expectations that the various short stories have been put to film in this blockbuster starring Will Smith. Further, you have to accept that many liberties have been taken with that source material in crafting I, Robot. But, if you can do all that, then you'll find a reasonably entertaining, fluffy, sci-fi, summer blockbuster. I, Robot is nothing more than that. If you want to see a mindless action flick, then this movie will fit the bill.

I did enjoy I, Robot, probably because I am a sucker for mindless summer entertainment. I went in hoping for some decent action, a tolerable script, and good special effects -- and that's exactly what I got. There aren't as many action sequences in the film as I would have liked, but the handful that are there are nicely done and offer an occasional slight, fresh twist. A few more quality explosions would have really been the icing on the cake, but the chase down the freeway tunnel was nearly satisfying enough to make up for that lack.

Today, any good action sequence needs excellent special effects and I, Robot is overflowing with them. At the top of the list is the NS-5 robot, Sonny. Using the same technology that brought Gollum to life in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Sonny was first played by Alan Tudyk (Dodgeball) and later replaced by a CGI robot. It's easy to believe that Sonny exists, thanks in combination to Tudyk's acting and the special-effects wizards. All the robots blend into the scenes, looking like they belong there. Additionally, the slightly futuristic Chicago (circa 2035) is a believable progression of architecture and technology. While there are a few awkward blue screen moments, this Chicago looks almost entirely real.

I had a moment of surprise when I learned that Akiva Goldsman had a hand in drafting the screenplay -- as he says it, he's the "final screenwriter." Known and hated throughout the movie community, Akiva is infamous for his dumbing-down of scripts and overall lack of skill when putting together a screenplay. Luckily, I didn't know about his participation until the commentary track, so I wasn't tainted by the thought -- though, personally, I don't hold that much against him. I mention all this because as mindless this summer flick is, there are also moments of intrigue and craftiness along the way. In fact, some clever thinking underlies the entire film in laying out the trail of breadcrumbs. For a change, I, Robot wasn't as obvious as most big-budget monstrosities today. I, for one, didn't have the film figured out in the first five minutes, although I'm sure many others did. I was able to sit back and be entertained and led along the way as Spooner tried to figure out what was going on with Sonny. It's certainly not Shakespeare, but the script does have its moments.

As you would demand, this DVD looks and sounds great. The 2.35:1 anamorphic print was transferred without any flaws. Colors are bold, blacks are deep, and details pop right off the television. You won't have any complaints when watching the movie. That is also true for the audio transfers, which offer a choice of DTS 5.1 or Dolby Digital 5.1. I watched the entire movie with the DTS track, and it sounded great: The dialogue is crystal clear, effects jump at all sides, and the subwoofer kicks in for nice emphasis. It's not the best DTS track I've ever heard, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. As for the DD 5.1 mix, I only listened to it during a few scenes but noticed no problems. It sounded like a winner if you're not lucky enough to have a DTS decoder at your disposal.

The glaring weakness of this DVD is the paltry special features. All that's included is an audio commentary with Alex Proyas and Akiva Goldsman, a twelve-minute "making of" featurette, a photo gallery, and a trailer for Arrested Development. I found this lineup extremely weak for a film with the potential for many other in-depth features. Further, what's there is boring. The commentary put me to sleep twice, the "making of" piece is too thin, I don't care for photo galleries, and why would I care about Arrested Development on this disc? Tell me more about "adapting" Asimov's stories to the film. Tell me more about the special effects. Just tell me more. And where are the deleted scenes? Akiva couldn't stop talking about all the things left out of the movie.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

I, Robot isn't a perfect movie. A few things are quite awful and slow the pace to a halt. For example, the wasted time spent on Spooner's "foul-mouthed" friend (whose name is never mentioned). Granted, he's only onscreen for two brief scenes, but his inclusion is completely irrelevant to the plot. Perhaps a bigger problem is the climactic battle at U.S. Robotics. If you've seen the trailer for the movie, then you've seen a brief snippet of this battle. Simply, Spooner fights a whole bunch of NS-5 robots. In a word: impossible. I'm not going to believe that a mere flesh and blood man could physically fend off a robot, let alone a horde of them. Still, it was a good-looking, fun fight.

Closing Statement

A scene towards the end of the film beautifully captures what I, Robot could have been: Spooner is walking around the old robot storage area, and the NS-5s start to come after him. As he runs away, all the older robots (being held in storage there) exclaim "Human in danger!" and rush to protect him. That scene shows the missed opportunity at humanity and delving into Asimov's message from his original short stories.

For what it is, I, Robot is a nice popcorn movie, yet it doesn't live up to Proyas's hope of becoming the definitive robot film. If you like science fiction, then you'll find some redeeming qualities in here. If you can forgive the slight to Asimov, then you'll enjoy this movie. But if you want something deeper, then stay away from this one. I'm giving it a solid rental recommendation only; I can't tell you to buy this disc because it is whim of a movie and it's sorely lacking bonus features.

The Verdict

I, Robot is hereby found guilty of breaking the fourth rule of robotics: A fully functional robot cannot lose a hand-to-hand fight with a human. It is sentenced to complete a level-one diagnostic.

Case adjourned.

Review content copyright © 2005 Eric Profancik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 95
Audio: 95
Extras: 40
Acting: 80
Story: 85
Judgment: 88

Perp Profile
Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)

* English
* Spanish

Running Time: 114 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Distinguishing Marks
* Audio Commentary by Alex Proyas and Akiva Goldsmith
* The Making of I, Robot
* Still Gallery
* Trailer for Arrested Development

* IMDb

* Official Movie Site

* I, Robot Now