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I, Robot (2004)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc released: 3/11/2008

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/14/2008

Loyalty and reverence abound in the science-fiction community and sci-fi fans are arguably the most dedicated and opinionated in the world. (Just mention Star Wars or Star Trek to a fan and let the fun begin.) Thus, when a beloved piece of sci-fi history is tampered with, fans become very distraught. (Once again, just say ďStar Wars DVDsĒ and the complaints will rain down.) Iím not familiar with the ďI, RobotĒ stories by author Isaac Asimov, but I certainly heard the grumblings from fans when it was learned that his well-known short stories were being turned into a film with Will Smith. While I canít tell you how the movie compares to the stories, and whether or not it sullies their reputations, but I can say that I, Robot is a decidedly mediocre movie.

I, Robot is set in Chicago in the year 2035. In this time, service robots are a standard sight and U.S. Robotics (AKA USR) is the leading manufacture of these machines which serve humans in many capacities. The robots are controlled by the "Three Laws", which essentially state that robots cannot hurt humans. Most everyone loves the robots are at worst, takes them for granted, except for Detective Del Spooner (Will Smith), who doesnít trust robots. Spooner is called to USR headquarters when itís learned that Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), the father of modern robotics, has committed suicide. Spooner is an acquaintance of Lanning and assumes that he was called to the scene for that reason. There, he meets Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood), the president of USR, and Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), a robotics engineer. Everyone at USR is on-edge, as they are about to roll-out their latest model, the NS-5. While checking the crime scene, Spooner and Calving encounter Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk), a robot who appears to be capable of violence and who may have killed Dr. Lanning. After questioning Sonny and searching Lanning's home, Spooner begins to suspect that there may be a conspiracy happening at USR and that the NS-5s may be a threat to humanity.

As I understand it, fans of Asimov's stories were concerned that the filmmakers would take the serious sci-fi tales and transform them into a standard Hollywood action movie. Once again, I know little about the original stories, but I can say that I, Robot definitely leans more towards Hollywood action film than science-fiction film. That's not to imply that the movie is a complete disaster, but the odd mixture of players behind the scenes most likely effected the final film. On the one hand, we have the Asimov stories, which are loved by millions and applauded for their logic, and director Alex Proyas, the man behind The Crow and Dark City. These factors have been blended with big-budget action film star Will Smith and, for lack of a better word, Hollywood. The result is a movie that has a nice look and a story about robots, but also contains many clichťd set-pieces and a truly baffling story.

I, Robot is a film where itís truly easy to point out the highs and lows. The first 2/3 of the film work very well, as the movie combines elements of a murder-mystery played against a science-fiction background. But, as the audience learns more, we realize that we really donít know whatís going on. Even when the explanation is given, it still rings very hollow and Iíve now seen the film twice and there are at least two scenes which make absolutely no sense to me. But, thatís OK, as I, Robot is a film where the story is simply a motivator to set up action scenes -- and some of them work rather well. The CGI fx in I, Robot are very good and some of the scenes, such as the car-chase, look great, but have the hollow feeling of watching someone else play a video game. Will Smith tries very hard to bring a dark edge to Spooner and to be a character that we havenít seen from him before, but he cracks one too many jokes to pull of this act. And the shot where Spooner is flying through the air wielding two pistols, in slow-motion no less, will surely receive a rolling of the eyes from many audience members. Proyasí experiences on Dark City clearly taught him how to shoot CGI and the movie has a good look, but thereís really nothing here to set it apart from other films of this genre, unlike The Crow and Dark City. I, Robot is an ambitious film, but it tries to please too many people at once. Hardcore sci-fi fans wonít like the low-brow Hollywood aspects of it and action fans may find the story confusing. So, the film is certainly worth a rental, but donít expect a mind-blowing experience.

I, Robot strives to be human on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 31 Mbps. The image looks fantastic, as the picture is very sharp and clear. There is no obvious grain here and no defects from the source material. The film is somewhat monochrome, but the colors, such as the glowing red robots, look fantastic when they do arrive. This dark film is never overly dark and the action is always visible. I spotted no video noise or artifacting issues. The audio track on the disc is a DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless track which runs at 48 kHz and 1.5 Mbps. The sound here is terrific, as the dialogue is always clear and audible. The stereo effects are highly detailed and really add to the experience. During the action sequences, especially the "car wreck", the surround sound and subwoofer effects are outstanding.

The I, Robot Blu-ray Disc contains a host of extra features. There are three AUDIO COMMENTARIES. The first features Director Alex Proyas and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman. The second one, entitled "Legacy & Design Commentary", has screenwriter Jeff Vintar, production designer Patrick Tatopoulos, edtitor Richard Learoyd, visual effects supervisor John Nelson, associate producer John Kilkenny, animation supervisor Andrew Jones, and visual effects supervisor Erik Nash. The "Music Score Commentary" features composer Marco Beltrami. "Day Out of Days: I, Robot Production Diaries" (76 minutes) is a 10-part series of vignettes which focus on various aspects of the film. This is comprised of interviews with Proyas, intercut with massive amounnt of on-set footage. This focuses on location shooting, effects work, green-screen work, fake cats, practical effects, real cats, and more. "CGI and Design" (22 minutes) again features comments from Proyas, as well as Patrick Tatopoulos. We get to see a lot of production art for the city and Sonny. There is a discussion of set design and motion-capture. In "Sentient Machines: Robotic Behavior" (36 minutes) we here from real-life workers in robotics, who discuss where robotics are today and the reality of the film. "The Filmmakers' Toolbox" (9 minutes) gives examples of how various effects elements were used to create key scenes. "Extended & Deleted Scenes" (7 minutes) contains two alternate endings, the second of which is in animatic form only. The "Annotated Guide" is an in-movie feature which offers pop-up trivia.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long