"We made a few changes from Asimov…"
Production Designer, Patrick Tatopoulos quoted in SFX # 121
Robot is to literary science fiction as Battleship
Potemkin is to film studies. Both occupy that hallowed
ground of 'classic' and both remain not as well revered as
they should be. Issac Asimov may be considering several hundred
quiet rotations in his cramped, underground, wooden apartment
but let's take some stock. Turning I, Robot into a movie (after all, it’s a book of short stories)
was going to be akin to making a quadratic equation as mass
audience-friendly as a rubber duck.
somewhere, someone has done something right because against
every single odd, I, Robot works as both
a bone-headed, summer action picture and for the most part,
a scientific enquiry into the nature of artificial sentience.
Let's not get carried away. It's still a Will Smith vehicle
after all (an Audi as product placement is so proud of drilling
into our skulls even in the goddamned close ups). But he does
play a small fraction against type and the script is witty
and literate enough to pass on Asimov's immutable robot laws
course, hundreds of millions of dollars are not spent to satisfy
ageing sf aficionados. The oh-so familiar elements are in
place. Will Smith is a cool, young cop (man in black, robots
in white – I, Mac almost) whose prejudice towards
robots sets him on a trail of breadcrumbs to a robot revolution.
- Robot done Will wrong.
- Robot Supremo (Will's buddy) apparently slain by robot.
- Will's tenacity leads him to be No. 1 hero.*
which he overcomes any trace of personal darkness and emerges
blinking having got over his dramatic arc.
someone inform Hollywood? People don't really have arcs.
Only movie characters. Oh, so I guess that's OK then. There's
not much more to summer 'event' movies is there?
the heart of the picture is Alan Tudyk, the actor who brought
'Sonny' to life on set the way Andy Serkis served Gollum
so well. His CG doppleganger's performance is graceful and
nuanced (even if its design is shamefully close to those
in the Björk video) which means that the animators
have done an extraordinary job interpreting what must have
been a fine performance from Firefly’s
favourite (and only) pilot. Tudyk's voice has been electronically
treated but the heart of the performance is intact. To praise
an oft damned element of modern films in general (oft damned
by myself, I might add), the CG characters and FX are superb
and I, Robot is one of the very few films
where the FX have integrated so well, you just accept them
as if they were shot 'live'. That makes a big difference
– a very big difference – in my appreciation.
Smith is a star who wants to be a real actor but who's offered
only star parts. When you're six two, pugnaciously handsome
and have the physicality of an immensely confident cat,
there are few non-star roles to play. Detective Spooner
fits Smith very well. The character takes him out of his
audience-favourite star persona just long enough for the
rougher edges to register. It's such a shame that those
rough edges are smoothed down so quickly by the good guy
robot (it's that arc again). When Spooner shoots a robot
in an attempt to reveal his quarry amongst hundreds of identical
figures, it made me think of (strangely) a matter-of-fact
execution in Schindler’s List, which is perhaps giving
it more weight than it deserved.
it affected me. Smith has rarely had to do something so
dark in his entire career. If we forgive the travesty that
is The Fresh Prince (how that show makes
my toenails grow in), Smith's career has been generally
trading off his more adult, confident guy in the street
(just not a Bel Air street please). He's likeable without
being cloying and all he needs now to cement a path out
of $15 million star roles is to be favoured in an Oliver
Stone movie. Michael Mann served him well (and vice versa
in Ali) but Smith still occupies a very
hallowed place in the land of Hollywood demography.
black – duh, (so apparently appeals to a black audience)
but he’s also mega-white friendly (I mean, he rapped
on TV without cussing). Isn't that like being a sober alcoholic?
He was also the Smith to Tommy's Jones in one of the biggest
movie hits of all time, Men in Black. Will
Smith is the demographer's dream and all power to him. If
ideas can voyage from one brain to another and the conduit
is Will Smith, I'll thank the man personally. For the record,
he was also Executive Producer. Once stars adopt that largely
meaningless title (except when it comes to getting one's
own way) we know they are attempting to do something they
care about. I, Robot looms large on the
screen but it also convinces that someone loves it.
action based climax (the second half is nearly all action)
contains vertiginous whip pans that actually make you wince
as the robots converge on our heroes. Where is it written
that movie sets have to have a multi-storey drop as a sort
of default setting for… uh, sets? I knew (I really
knew as in box-office knew) that Will and female partner
would win out in the end so was surprised that I cared so
Robot hinges on the willing suspension of disbelief
that a white, blue-eyed character could possibly be regarded
as anything but the good guy. And that's just the robot.
Tudyk's 'Sonny' is not on screen for enough time to make
the philosophical questions resonate. He barely has time
for a "What am I?" and for a toaster with legs,
that's still quite an achievement (before he scurries up
the walls to freedom).
Robot is good entertainment. If it passes on a
smidgeon of Asimov's ideas along the way then the world
is richer for it.