ninth symphony films - movie reviews

I, ROBOT (2004)

DIRECTOR  -  alex proyas

RATED  -  pg-13

GENRE  -  sci-fi

LENGTH  -  115 minutes

RELEASED  -  16 july 2004

DISTRIBUTOR  -  20th century fox

OFFICIAL SITE  -  i, robot

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $105,000,000
i, robot - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from i, robot at

buy the dvd from i, robot at

in the year 2035 a techno-phobic cop investigates a crime that may have been perpetrated by a robot, which leads to a larger threat to humanity.

in the year 2035 a techno-phobic cop investigates a crime that may have been perpetrated by a robot, which leads to a larger threat to humanity.


picture from i, robot

picture from i, robot

picture from i, robot

picture from i, robot


three out of four possible stars

In a beautiful visual realization of Isaac Asimov's series of futuristic robot stories, I, Robot is a heavily special effects laden creation which, if not for the grounded presence of lead star Will Smith, might have become completely buried in its visual stunnery (yes, I'm pulling a Lewis Carroll with that word, but I think it fits). Whether based in fantasy, present day realism, or the distant past, summer blockbusters nowadays seem to carry the weight of the "incredible CGI" requirement. What is a summer blockbuster without a CGI budget that probably equals that of the rest of the production?

Though a spectacular set of special effects paints nearly every frame of this film, it is not a visual look that will so easily be forgotten by audiences. Because the film takes place in the future, the production designers and costumers had to consider what Chicago's architecture would look like thirty years into the future. There are usually two directions in which the designers can go: a sleek, technological and sterile future or a sparse, dirty, and post-apocalyptic look. In an interesting move, the look of this film encompasses some of both these approaches.

The appliances, newer buildings, cars, and robots that fill the film are clean, refined, and modern. Many of the houses though resemble those of today. Will Smith's apartment, his grandmother's house, and the streets in the urban residential areas have dirty sewers, graffiti, and plain-clothes citizens filling the streets. The separation of the rich and the poor is still a factor in the future (this idea being one of the themes presented in the film) and this is reflected in the production design and character development.

I, Robot tries to incorporate several weighty issues concerning humanity and ethics and by and large, it succeeds more impressively than many hastily crafted summer features (such as the feature film disaster The Hulk, for example). Most of this success is the result of a well-rounded performance from Will Smith. He has proven himself in the arenas of just about every genre of film and with Robot, he inserts his trademark dry sense of humor with an inner strength that makes his character practically jump off the screen and into the viewer's lap.

There is an inner struggle inside the robot-hating character of "Detective Del Spooner," and with Smith behind the wheel, that character is a striking presence. Likewise, Alan Tudyk, with the help of a crack digital effects crew, portrays Smith's robot foe, "Sonny," with quiet grace and strength. The actor is even able to infuse some humor into his performance, despite the fact that his actual visage never appears on screen. In increasingly creative performances, Tudyk improves his reputation again with this performance through an astonishing use of his voice to convey character emotion.

As his character is usually an entirely digital creation (the filmmakers employed the technique used by the creators of the "Gollum" character in the Lord of the Rings trilogy), Tudyk's task was a difficult one. But the actor has created a strong force for the emotional battle that occurs between Sonny and Detective Spooner and his personification is never overshadowed by the technology used to create his character's physical appearance or by the extensive special effects that litter the rest of the film.

In smaller yet vital roles, James Cromwell's few minutes on the screen will be highly valued by viewers as will Adrian Ricard's scenes as a loving (if somewhat stereotypical) role as Detective Spooner's grandmother. Chi McBride also inhabits a mildly cliché role as a police lieutenant, but actually gives the role more life than is usually seen in the typical African American police lieutenant role whose only attributes are usually an angry temperament and a short fuse. McBride is smoother than his predecessors that have taken like roles and his effort to change the too often seen stock character is admirable.

The only piece of casting which could be called into question is that of Bridget Moynahan in the role of robotic scientist "Susan Calvin." It is particularly diverting to note the lack of inflection in her voice (a characteristic that has covered her every performance thus far) and how that flat personality is actually required for the character. Moynahan is not particularly believable in her recitation of dialogue and were it not for . Perhaps Moynahan's relative freshman status in the film world should serve as her excuse, but whatever the case, in I, Robot, Moynahan shows the audience the weakest contribution to the cast.

As the special effects element in this movie are so integral to the plot, the very idea of technological innovation and its effect on the general populace being the main theme of the film, it should follow that the computer generated elements such as robots, skylines, and extensions of indoor locations would be created with a strict eye to detail and perfection. Though not all of the digital effects are seamless (there are times when the computer generated environments don't mesh fully with the living human characters), the film overall is still a sleek and beautiful one. The legions of robots that are in nearly every scene of the film are especially impressive and the ideas and robotics in Asimov's stories are well honored by the film's realistic robot element.

Will Smith is a proven commodity in the world of summer blockbuster films, but there is a reason his participation is so highly valued. He is able to tackle the "everyday Joe" appeal of his characters, but is also able to pull off the larger-than-life persona of a true Hollywood action star. I, Robot is a well made entry into the science fiction genre and although the balance between Asimov's deft creative storytelling and modern cinema's bombastic approach to plot is not so easy a path traveled in this film, the filmmakers should still be proud of an entertaining creation. This movie is fast paced, contains a welcome jolt of humor, and inserts deftly into the production some interesting moral and ethical questions about the future of humanity.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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