This week reviews a really shitty movie. cgi is going to be the death of moviemaking. And we're not just talking about mass battle scenes that will make the word "epic" passe. We're talking about mundane things like proper lighting, props, set decoration, etc. No longer will directors wait for "magic-time" to get that really magical dusk shot. They'll just cgi it in. The same for sets, where matte paintings were used extensively, now virtually nothing will be real.
At the same time, this is going to up the ante in "amazing" the audience. Really, when was the last time you want "wow!" at a special effect? Well whenever it was, it may have been the last. Now "real action" movies can have the same effect as Wile E. Coyote cartoons. The 'art' of special effects is rapidly going the way of silent movie titlecards.
Although some critics hail this and the burgeoning "digital" revolution, where anyone with a video cam and digital editing software can make a movie, we guess it will just up the number of shitty movies foisted upon the public.
Which this movie is of a different genre. Its "Hey, we have a great cgi technique, let's make a movie around it!" and its correlary, "Hey, who needs a script?" or at least a plausible and well written one. Which all brings us to:
I, ROBOT :: the review
Ok, I guess most every has heard by now about the 3 robot laws Asimov came up with in the mid-50's, heyday of the sci-fi pulp fiction. They are pretty much all that the producers of this movie used when they were "inspired" by Asimov, because nothing of the movie reflects that great series of robot stories he wrote himself based on the laws. It seems like the movie's internal universe could have credited the laws to Asimov instead of Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), supposed inventor of the robots, but anyway:
Law #1- A robot cannot harm a human being, nor through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm
Law #2-A robot must obey a human being, except when it conflicts with the first law
Law #3-A robot must strive to protect its own existence, except where it conflicts with the first two laws.
Chicago, 2035, and star Detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) of course is the immediate focus. In a real stretch for Smith, he's a wise-cracking, rebellious character with no respect for authority, but he gets the job done better than some namby-pamby type who actually goes by the book. Gee, what a novel idea for a police detective!! These writers sure have a handle on originality and characterisation! They go for the quick establlshing scene so its on to the 'what makes Will tick scene' where he hilarioiusly tackles the robot getting the lady's meds, thinking its a purse snatcher. What a merry mixup!
It quickly establishes his mistrust of robots, which will pay off later I'm betting. And we get some fast interaction between our star and the expensive CGI. Which btw, is it just me or what, but considering the budget of this pic and the state of CGI these days, do these robots suck or what? They look incredibly cartoonish and unbelievable. You get zero impression of mass or weight from them the entire movie, which seriously fucks with any suspension of disbelief of verisimilitude (gesundheit).
So next he's off to the precinct house, where his crusty boss, John Bergin (Chi McBride) yells at him for being an idiot. I mean how unreasonable, to just knock the thing down and keep it from getting the life-saving drugs to its owner, instead of professionally assessing the situation first. But we wouldn't want to break the movie trope of the hard-nosed but lovable topcop- every irrepressable non-conformist-but-gets-the-job-done-better-than-stodgy-professionals rebel cop needs one.
So the plot proper begins with a call from Lanning (his hologram actually) who is in the Robot research building. Apparently in the future, when anyone is killed, a hologram, triggered by God knows what, will appear and give cryptic clues as to how you died. I don't see why, with all this fantastic technology, the hologram can't just say what happened instead of playing word games, but I guess then we'd have no movie, so for the script's purposes, hologram says that it has limited function and Spooner has to ask the right questions. Spooner asks why Dr. Lanning would commit suicide, to which the hologram replies “That is the right question,” and shuts itself down. Wow, all that expense and trouble for something any old-fashioned cop from the ancient 20th century might naturally ask when someone falls eight stories to his death, but it does make better visuals. The future truly is an amazing place to set a movie, when you want to show off some cool CGI hologrammish effects.
Spooner does some actual police work with real living people and finds out that Lanning was apparently well-liked so that pretty much shuts the book, it had to be suicide. But of course Spooner doesn’t believe it, or he'd have to move on to a less action-oriented case with less opportunities for utilizing the robots the art department has spent a lot of time and expense designing for the movie. Plus we already have an inkling Spooner doesn't like/trust robots so he goes with that gut instinct to make the intuitive leap that a robot killed the guy, since every person in the world loved him. Looks like a case of police profiling here! As a black man you'd think Smith would be more careful about bigotry like that, but there we are.
Spooner continues his crack police work, visiting Dr. Lannings lab, conveniently next to the window he crashed through to fall to his death, is a copy of that heart-warming fairy tale of child abandonment and cannibalism, Hansel and Gretel.
Spooner thinks nothing is particularly peculiar with a brainiac scientist reading fairytales until later when his saintly grandmother brushes crumbs off of him and says that she could find him by following the crumbs he'd leave behind. LIGHTBULB MOMENT!
Spooner comes up with this whole "breadcrumbs" theory where Dr. Lanning couldn't tell him what happened, but left him "breadcrumbs" to follow to the answer. Why he couldn't have just left a note or something isn't explained, but hey, IITS (its in the script) so he has to work with what he has here. Any time after this that he's talking to the female lead about whether something matters, he's like, "Breadcrumbs," until you wish someone would push him into an oven.
Spooner visits Lawrence Robertson, the president of the robot making company, and posits the theory a robot killed Lanning. Not surprisingly, the president has serious issues with the idea that product he's invested billions in developing and the source of all the company's profits is defective. Plus he's probably thinking of all the class action lawsuits that will invaribly arise once former ambulance chaser and President John Edwards II passes the Robots Lawsuit Act. But since Spooner is there he wants to look around, so Lawrence calls him an escort. Cue female lead.
The escort is Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), and wouldn't you know its a white woman! With all the talented Africa-American sisters we have today why the bigoted bastard Hollywood execs cast a stringy-haired ofay as the love interest for a proud black man like Smith just shows the prejudice and pig-ignorance of the movie establishment today. The sisters in the audience were understandably put out by this development.
Moving on, Calvin is a psychologist for robots (wtf??) who creates programs that help the robots act more human. Now why you would want that is beyond me. You want them as slaves with no personal ambition or self-worth or needs. You get robots acting too human and they will eventually start asking for wages and more vacation time, plus the fact being robots you could make them do all the shitty and disgusting tasks you don't want to do yourself because you are, in fact a human and they are just stupid, unthinking robot, but that's just my opinion I guess.
Moving on to the next plot point, Susan shows Spooner VIKI. a "positronic brain", one of Dr. Lanning’s first and most brilliant creations, which handles all security in the building, as well as programming updates to the new NS-5 designs. She also plans the menu in the commisary, hires the entertainment for the annual company Christmas party and as office manager is presumably up on all the company gossip. We can immediately see that VIKI will figure into the script here in a big way. Since office managers usually know all the dirt going down, Spooner could do worse than ask her what's up with Lanning's death, but I guess it doesn't occur to him because the opportunity is squandered.
Spooner and Susan do attempt to access the digital visual security data from Lanning's office but the image is blank. VIKI claims that the data has been corrupted (how convenient). The digital surveillance for the hall outside the office shows no one has gone in or out since the suicide, but inside there's plenty of inactive robots in various stages of completion. Hmm, jeez who could have pushed the old guy through the hardened safety glass? Once again the robot-obsessed Spooner suggests that the killer is a robot and is probably still in Alfred's office. Well Susan rightfully tells him "Nigga, that's wack!"
Then OMG who'd a thunk it, but a robot jumps out from a parts bin, knocks down Susan and seizes one of Spooner’s two guns, points the gun at Spooner and Susan and will not respond to any commands given to it – clearly violating at least 2 of the 3 laws!
But for some odd reason it doesn't waste both of them then and there and end our misery, but instead jumps out the window while Spooner shoots at it. He and Susan find its silvery robot blood and surmise it went to the robot factory for a transfusion. This sets up the 'thousands of robots cgi matte shot' we all know and love from the trailers and tv teaser spots.
Spooner and Susan go into the chamber full of rows upon rows of robots, which by the way look like the pear-shaped headed silvery, non-threatening alien design that's become popular in movies now a days. Susan does a scan and says that there are 1001 robots in the room, when there should only be 1000. Doing some quick math, Spooner figures the fugitive robot is in the room.
Since the robots in the room are programmed to obey commands, Spooner figures if he tells the robots to do something the unprogrammed robot will be quickly exposed. He tells them to all stand perfectly still and sure enough the evil robot runs out of the building into the waiting clutches of the cops outside. Spooner 1, robot 0!!
Cut to the police station where the robot is under interrogation. Spooner says "Just give me five minutes alone with this tin can, I'll get a confession," but his captain, knowing how Spooner hates dem dam robots, is leery. However, even though he's supposed to wait for the U.S. Robotics team and their lawyers, the captain allows Spooner his five minutes. Spooner, puts on his favorite interrogation brass knuckles and enters the room with the robot to start "persuading" him to confess.
The robot says his name is Sonny (!) and reveals that he has emotions and fears just like the rest of us, and only ran away U.S. Robotics because he was afraid. Spooner scoffs at the claim of robots having emotions and asks Sonny if he murdered Dr. Lanning, openly scorning Sonny's 5th amendment rights. In Sonny's Oscar® clip big moment he hams it up robot-style; "I did not murder him!!" and slams his two widdle wobot fists on the table, denting it and damaging police property. Now he's got looking at an additional charge of hooliganism.
Spooner quips, “We call that emotion 'anger'”, in another of his string of witty rejoinders. I should comment here he keeps up a running patter of drollery in almost every situation, no matter how inappropriate. The reason is that Smith is basically playing Will Smith's movie persona, in the manner of most of today's stars, who no longer create a performance to fit a character they are playing, instead directors, scriptwrites and producers all collaborate with the 'talent' to cater to his 'strengths'. so that Smith basically plays the same guy from Wild Wild West, Independance Day or MIB, who just happens to be investigating robots in this situation. No real acting chops or stretching of talent is necessary since Smith never really deviates from wise-ass action guy in anything he does. He's making mucho dinero and garnering plenty fame so more power to the guy, but I do have to snicker when I see reviews touting his so-called 'acting ability'. I haven't seen him do anything more taxing than the mose intense episode of "The Fresh Prince" in his entire acting career.
Back to the (sigh) movieplot, the U.S. Robotics team and takes over, allowing Spooner and the captain to have a philosophical convo back on Spooners favorite obsession, the essential evilness of robots. When Spooner asks what is robots can, in fact, break the laws and kill humans, his captain, John, answers with some Immortal Dialogue from the dime philosopher's school; "Then we’re going to miss the good old days- when humans were killed by other humans and not robots." Hoo-boy that's some heavy shit dewd.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch... Im mean later that night, Spooner takes a ride out to look for more clues at Lanning's mansion. For some odd reason they apparently demolish your house when you die in the future. I guess they don't want the relatives squabbling over the will or something.
Spooner scans his badge at a demolition robot to find out when the house is scheduled to be knocked down, and the screen clearly shows 8 am the next day. The only reason he does this is so that when he enters we are shown the timer on the demolisher switch is set at 8:00 pm tonight! Oh no! Another stupid contrivance to show how the robots are lying and advance the plot. Why else would he bother to check? You can see where this is going as he checks out Dr. Lanning’s computer. Good thing noone in the movies ever puts a password on their computer or hides files. You'd think that sensitive info about cutting edge robot technology would at least have a modicum of security anyone who looks at pr0n and doesn't want the wife to know would use, but no, he just boots up and finds everything he needs quick and easy.
Alloversudden we loud clanking noises outside signal its time for an action sequence. A vid clip on the computer shows Lanning talking about the robots evolving almost independently due to random bits of code in the programming and the someday perhaps we will have robots who dream dreams. Now that the house is falling down around his ears, Spooner, waiting until the last second for maximum movie excitement, makes a run for the door and just barely makes out in time! Pshew! I thought maybe our star was going to get kilt and end the movie with an hour's running time left!
This little contretemps makes Spooner even more suspcious something is wrong with USR’s robots, but he cannot prove anything yet. Its just a hunch he has. Call it woman's instinct, but he just feels something is amiss. Susan checks the demolition time and finds out it had just inadvertantly been updated to 8:00 PM, and calls him a Nervous Nelly and a WorryWart and other alliterative appelations. But in her heart, she suspects just maybe he's right. After all, he is the star of the movie.
In other news, Susan says she's has been ordered to "decommission" Sonny the next day by injecting him with nanobots that will erase the information in Sonny's positronic brain and leave him unable to learn, remember or think, rendering him effectively dead. You still see Courtney Love walking around but apparently robots are different in this respect. So that's it for Sonny, he's gone and we won't be seeing him anymore in the movie, which seems a shame after they developed his character and we've sorta become fond of him, but waddayagonnado?
To top it off, in her research (when was this anyway?) Susan has found that Sonny, unlike any other robot ever, really does have emotions. Lanning also equipped him with an extra brain which allowed him to choose not to obey the three laws if he didn't feel like it, plus he's made from a stronger alloy than the rest of the robots. With all these optional extras built in, it just seems a damn shame to decommision the poor guy but orders are orders and Susan destroys him.
Yeah right. But before we move on to that obvious sitch, we have to do some exposition and more plot points.
The next morning Spooner is out for a joy-ride and he sees the new robots rolling into the showrooms and consumers snorking them up. Alloversudden and without warning a big truck full of robots bursts open and a gang of robots jump out and start kicking Spooners car's ass. In typical fascist cop fashion he shoots first and asks questions later. Big production scene here with Will Smith battling robots and acting in the most exciting action hero manner.
A helpful feature of the robots is when they are evil they glow red. The entertainment continues as he shoots the bots and they comically fall to the roadbed, smashed to pieces as they are run over. This is a pretty shrewd innovation by the moviemakers, plenty of action and violence, but no actual humans getting killed so non-violence nuts can't really bitch about the equivalent of shooting up a bunch of toasters or TV sets. On the minus side, there's no entertaining blood and guts you get from offing human badguys.
Unpredictably and in a truly innovative end to the scene, the truck explodes and destroys the remaining robots.
Now prepare to be stunned. Spooner's car wrecks and he gets major road rash, skinning the flesh off his left arm, but lo and behold, he is not screeching in agony because it turns out HE'S A ROBOT TOO!!!
Well no, but his arm is a robot. The one robot left unsmashed starts attacking him, and its a good thing too because it gives us a chance to see just how powerful and tough his robot arm is! It takes a beating and keeps on repeating, just like a big Timex watch. Anyway sirens blaring, the cops show up and the robot scarpers off (some robots do seem to have the emotion of cowardice).
And wouldn't you know it- cleanup machines show up outta nowhere and start picking up all the damaged robot parts. By the time the cops actually pull up there's no sign of the big fight with robots, plus wouldn't you know it again, not one car went by that whole time with witnesses to the attack!. John, the chief of police views the chaotic scene and as there are no robots remaining doesn’t believe Spooner’s version of what happened. Apparently the official dispatch to police headquarters said he ran the two trucks off the road. Spooner is asked for his badge and throws it at John in a fit of rage. He storms from the scene refusing medical treatment.
and it goes on from there