Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:55 - Released 7/16/04

There is a scene in I, Robot where a scientist who specializes in robotic technology comes into the apartment of someone who could only be described as a new acquaintance, and immediately tries to turn on his stereo by voice command—only to find out that it is an old-fashioned stereo which must be turned on manually. She then does this (by accident), and immediately regrets it because the music comes on too loudly. She then tries to turn off the stereo by voice command, but the apartment owner turns it off with a handheld remote, saying, “It doesn’t feel too good, does it, having a machine you can’t control?”

This scene is there to emphasize to us, the audience, that the apartment owner (played by Will Smith) is an “old-fashioned type” who, though he lives in a time when voice-commanded robots and computers are used for every menial task imaginable (i.e., 2035), chooses to remain in the comparative dark ages (i.e., 2004), using household devices which must be turned on and off by hand, or at least by remote. The problem is, the scene is entirely unbelievable from a human nature point of view. Why would a woman walk straight into the apartment of someone she doesn’t really know and instantly try to turn on his stereo? Is the movie implying that society has changed so much in the intervening 30 years that it is no longer considered rude to use someone else’s personal stereo equipment without asking? Would a scientist in her mid-30s who specializes in technology really not know how to operate a 30-year-old stereo system? If stereos from 2004 are so outdated that an adult scientist doesn’t know how to operate them, then where did the apartment owner get such an antiquated system, and how does he maintain it? Shouldn’t it be in a museum, behind glass?

This, in a nutshell, is my problem with modern-day Hollywood screenwriting. In their very loose adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s famous I, Robot series of short stories, which surely contained no such idiotic behavior, this film’s writers (namely, Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman) have sacrificed believability of human nature for exposition. They feel, apparently, that viewers are too stupid to question this type of glaring inaccuracy, or simply don’t care to, because they really just want to see the robots. The sad truth is, for the most part, they’re right. Most moviegoers, especially American teenagers, do not care or notice the lapses in logic—the reason they shelled out their 6 bucks was to see the special effects. It’s a sad state of affairs, and it’s perpetuated every time a movie like this makes a hundred zillion dollars at the box office.

Don’t get me wrong. I, Robot, directed by Alex Proyas, is a fun movie, full of cool effects and interesting technology. The film once again ponders the familiar and yet fascinating question: If computer technology became so advanced as to begin thinking for itself, then how would it impact human society? It follows Smith’s character, a Chicago detective named Del Spooner, as he investigates the case of a noted robotic scientist (James Cromwell) who is apparently killed by a robot, despite that all robots are supposed to be equipped with software that prevents them from ever harming humans. He soon discovers that the new NS-5 robots, the latest model from the US Robotics company headed by an opportunistic and openly nasty CEO (Bruce Greenwood), are harming the hell out of humans all over the place, especially him. But since he seems to be the only one who is suspicious of robots, he has an uphill battle convincing people like Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), the stereo-ignorant scientist mentioned above (who acts more like a robot than any of the robots in the film), or his boss (Chi McBride), or even his grandmother (Adrian Ricard), of the problem, until they’re all in danger of being wiped out by the super-intelligent, super-strong, super-creepy cyborgs. Finally, it all comes down to Spooner accepting the help of one of these very same robots, named Sonny (voice of Alan Tudyk), to get to the bottom of the mystery.

The concept is intriguing. The story is adequate. The action sequences are exciting and fun to watch. But science fiction is supposed to be intelligent. Can’t we manage to produce a film which contains interesting special effects and believable human behavior? If not, maybe we should start having robots write movie scripts. **½

Copyright 2004 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

Current | Archives | Oscars | About | E-Mail