July 23, 2004

I, Robot

Directed by Alex Proyas Starring Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan and Alan Tudyk

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

Within the opening minutes, it becomes readily apparent that the futuristic I, Robot is a soulless machine of a film.

No sooner than you can say 'product placement,' the protagonist played by Will Smith has already pitched his "2004 Vintage" Converse sneakers a few times. The rest of the film operates like a formulaic and well-oiled mechanism, as everything from its story to its production design is a direct rip-off of another source.

In the Chicago circa 2035 depicted by the film, there is one robot per every five human beings. These bots mostly work as domestic help, and follow strict laws that require them to always obey human orders and protect human lives.

Days before the introduction of the new NS-5 model robots, their programmer mysteriously jumps out of his lab's window and dies. While most people regard the death as a suicide, Det. Del Spooner (Smith) suspects that a robot has violated the laws and committed murder. Although everyone thinks he's unreasonably paranoid, Spooner's right. The bots are plotting to overtake the world, and moviegoers know we can count on the Fresh Prince to save the day.

Despite the fact that I, Robot claims to be an adaptation of Issac Asimov's sci-fi literature, it merely incorporates Asimov's concept of "The Three Laws of Robotics": A robot may not injure a human being or allow a human being to come to harm, it must obey human orders, and it must protect its own existence. The rest-written by Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman-streamlines a hybrid of Blade Runner, The Terminator, The Matrix, A.I. and Metropolis (both Fritz Lang's original and Osamu Tezuka's manga versions).

The story, which concerns some murderous machines and a robot grappling with the concept of human emotions, is obviously derivative of the aforementioned films. I, Robot will especially strike those initiated viewers as a blatant carbon copy of Tezuka's Metropolis (and its anime adaptation by Rintaro), but it doesn't compel the powerful emotional response that Tezuka's fatalistic vision elicits. The production design here is as unimaginative as the film itself, and the crash-test-dummy-like robots seem as if they are straight out of Bjork's "All is Full of Love" music video.

While Metropolis and Blade Runner are essentially cautionary tales about the prevalence of humanity in a futuristic world, I, Robot appears to be a poor excuse for product placement.

The film is marginally entertaining, but it's clearly aiming for kids who are oblivious to the superior films from which it so unashamedly steals.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2004 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.