Published on July 19th, 2004 | by Erich Becker0
Review: I, Robot
Will Smith seems to have the Owen Wilson syndrome when it comes to acting. No matter what part he plays, he’s always playing himself in the role. However, much like Owen Wilson, his character seems to work in most applications (except for Wild Wild West). However, it did work well in I, Robot, even though it was Will Smith playing Will Smith in another movie. Smith still managed to play a believable and somewhat humorous performance in one of the darker sci-fi movies in recent memory.
In I, Robot, Will Smith plays the role of detective Del Spooner, part of the Chicago police department in the not so distant 2035. Spooner has a serious problem with the growing robot population, and the introduction of the new series NS-5 robot has him completely techno-phobic. He is called to a crime scene by a holographic projection of the pioneer of robotics, Dr. Alfred Lanning. Dr. Lanning, who was a top scientist at US Robotics, seems to have committed suicide, and Detective Spooner finds an NS-5 robot as the prime suspect. However, he is alone in his quest as everyone else in the free world believes that robots are incapable of committing a crime as it violates the basic 3 law system that all robots are built to abide by. The robot suspect, Sonny, seems different, somehow, and not like the others. It is up to Spooner to get to the bottom of the situation without being labeled crazy.
The aspect of this movie that really shines is the effect department. The transition from real scenery to CG is nearly seamless, and the completely CG robots seem to interact with the actors with lifelike quality. The robots in this movie were purposely made with small abdomens and thinner limbs, to make them more realistic, but required that stand in actors not be used. Instead, they were able to green screen a pole with a tennis ball for a head, so the actors knew where to look and interact, and required less editing to fit. The parts where facial expressions of the robot Sonny were used, a true actor was employed, wearing a green leotard (voice and face acting done by Alan Tudyk). He was then edited out, except for the face, where motion capture was used to emulate the prosthetic face of Sonny. The technique seems more costly both in time and money, but provided quite a realistic and amazing robot onscreen.
The only thing that made me want to stay home from this movie was the pre-release buzz that this film was not originally based on the book of the same name, but was actually a completely different script called Hardwired. When Fox picked up the rights to Asimov’s stories, Hardwired was rewritten as I, Robot, and, apparently, only has a very loose affiliation to the actual book, but I can’t be the judge of that until I actually read the book.
A few substandard acting jobs and reused camera tricks were the movie’s only faults. A scene featuring a showdown between the people of Chicago and robots seemed to have the exact same camera pan set as a similar scene in Lord of the Rings, which took away from the uniqueness of the scene. At least it wasn’t a stolen technique, as WETA Digital, who did the effects for LoTR, had their hand in this movie as well. I’m somewhat surprised that Lucas and ILM had nothing to do with this movie.
Bridget Monynahan played a somewhat campy role as Susan Calvin, robotics expert and psychiatrist. Not quite a normal choice of majors in college, but who knows what those crazy kids will be learning in 2035. Her acting just didn’t click with me. She tried really hard to cry when she was supposed to be crying, and it showed. But she seemed to nail the bitchy attitude when that was necessary, maybe that’s what they were going for, bitchy-brainiac-who-tried-too-hard-to-cry. At least she had a PG-13 shower scene, but, so did Will Smith, if you are into that sort of thing.
All in all, the film wasn’t too bad. Definitely one of the top 5 films of the summer, but that’s not saying as much as I wish it was. As Tom put it, “I came to this movie expecting crap, but I got better than crap.” So we’ll leave it at, “better than crap.”