With the end of the school year comes more free time to not only watch new upcoming movies but also to reflect on and rediscover past hits. One definite must-watch is the 2004 sci-fi action flick “I, Robot,” which stars Will Smith as tech-phobic detective Del Spooner, in a futuristic setting where robots are depended on in one’s everyday life.
The plot starts off dramatically akin to a crime drama– famed scientist and father of robotics Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell) has supposedly committed suicide and Spooner’s job is to investigate the details behind it. But Spooner believes it is not a suicide but a murder committed by–guess what?– a robot. So the movie follows the ever generic theme of the creator being destroyed by the created.
He follows the clues with the help of robot-loving psychologist Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), and long story short, it turns out a robot is attempting to take over society and Spooner was right all along.
Yet the movie’s plot is nowhere near that of another Sherlock Holmes or the typical thriller one might expect. It is thought-provoking. In the film, all robots are made according to three laws: the first, to never harm a human or let them come to harm; the second, to always obey a human’s orders unless conflicting with the first; and third, to protect themselves unless the first and second are violated. Yet, ironically, it is these three laws, designed to protect humans, that lead to the robot takeover.
How come? As the mastermind robot VICKI (Fiona Hogan) says, humans have been creating a path towards their own extinction (i.e. pollution, wars, etc.) and to follow the three laws and protect humanity, she must take the willpower out of humanity and establish a robot state. For the first time, one gets a robot destroying humans not out of pure greed or evil, but, oddly enough, out of pure benefit for humanity. Intriguing.
More intriguing is Sonny (Alan Tudyk), a robot built to defy the three laws. In one scene, Spooner repeatedly claims that Sonny is not human but “just a machine. An imitation of life.” Yet everything Sonny does seems to defy that very notion– he can feel things, he can think, and he can act independently. At times, he is even more human than the human characters, often asking deep philosophical questions such as “What is my purpose?”, questions probably more useful to Spooner and Calvin. All this brings into question, what does it really mean to be a human?
But besides the interesting concepts, this sci-fi film stands apart in its comedy, thanks hugely to Will Smith’s superb acting of, well, Will Smith himself. There is no trace of a detective persona at all in his acting; he is simply Will Smith. But that probably works better.
Then the romantic tensions between Spooner and Calvin are evident and spice up the atmosphere. It’s what transforms Calvin, initially stoic and unfeeling, into a more emotionally open, attractive women. Spooner, on the other hand, is the underdog, constantly having to fight against an environment where everybody thinks him insane but ends up right. All these provide an emotional level to the film, something generally ignored in most sci-fi movies.
Of course, like the rest in the genre, the action excites. The smooth effortless splicing of live action and computer-generated imagery provides a mental escape, along with the action-packed scenes of car-crashing, burning, and gun-shooting. Just the image of thousands of robots swooping down Chicago starting a revolution sends adrenaline rushing through my nerves, and oftentimes, one forgets Spooner is even a detective and more like Indiana Jones.
Ultimately, I, The Robot is the one to watch; it’s funny, intriguing, action-packed, and most importantly, a science fiction film that stands out from the rest.
I, ROBOT (PG-13, 114 minutes) — Contains computer digital violence and maybe a mild flash of nudity.