Film Reviews

I, ROBOT

By • Jul 16th, 2004 •

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QUOTE: Aesthetically dazzling.

According to the London-based Anti-Slavery International (ASI), the world’s oldest human-rights organization, there are at least 27 million people enslaved. (This literally means bought and sold and treated worse than chickens – it does not mean low wages and no access to the Internet.) ASI states: “There may be more slaves in the world than ever before.”

We are not allowed to own slaves in the U.S. (unlike Sudan), and with Fox News Bill O’Reilly always fuming about illegal aliens crossing our borders and abusing all our tax-funded free services, what is left but for a future technology to create human-like robots to work for us and worship us?

Yes, these robots will do lawn work, baby sit, and clean a house.

This will ensure no feelings of guilt (it’s like having a pet that obeys and does chores), yet will still appeal to the human need to subjugate others. If this was not the base instinct being appealed to in I, ROBOT, why give the NS-5 robots human-like faces and kind voices?

(An aside: Alexander the Great* was infamous for his ruthless selling of tens of thousands of prisoners into slavery to replenish the Macedonian treasury. His wholesale deportation and enslavement of the Thebes population, after slaughtering 6,000 in battle, “realized 440 talents, or, on average, 88 drachmas per head.”) You do the math.

Yes, I have snapped at my vacuum cleaner, but I haven’t given my computer a name yet.

It is 2035 and sexy (great shower scene!) Chicago Det. Del Spooner (Will Smith) has just gotten his vintage 2004 Converse sneakers. I thought the amount of time spent on these sneakers meant it somehow fit into the plot and was a clue, but no, it was just a major product placement endorsement.

(Hey, Converse, I wear a women’s size 8 ½.)

The New Slaves are machines that look like idealized humans (lean males without sex organs and feminized faces) and have been programmed with “3 Laws Safe” to serve and worship their human masters. All owners have to do is issue one word commands. When the creator of the technology, Dr. Miles Hogenmiller (James Cromwell), “falls out” of his laboratory in the incredibly high tech building where he is “ensconced,” Det. Spooner is called in to investigate. Spooner quickly assesses that the inventor was murdered. He pins the crime on a robot.

I have to say I was soon on the side of the robot.

I kept thinking about what these robots would look like in a wig and nurse’s outfit. Or, for that matter, wasn’t there a soldier model? What would the implications of that be? The accused robot, Sonny, denies he killed his “father.” The huge USR conglomerate, run by Dr. Lance Robertson (Bruce Greenwood), intends to roll out enough robots so that one in five families will own the domestic version. A robot who has broken the No. 1 “3 Laws Safe” Law against harming a human would mean that there was a flaw in the hardware thereby ruining the worldwide domination of USR.

I found it troubling that so many black people in I, ROBOT, even Det. Spooner’s kindly aunt, owned robots. You would think…, ah, never mind.

USR scientist/psychologist Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan) is assigned to show Det. Spooner around headquarters. Tall and very lean, she is the model of corporate piety: The robots show more emotion. Until she goes to visit Det. Spooner at his apartment and she lets down her hair. This is a cinematic signal that she is now on our hero’s side.

To go further discussing the storyline would enrage readers who complain about reviewers giving away too many plot points. Therefore, I will say the story flips several times. But still, I stayed on the side of the robots. The script raises many philosophical questions left for the audience to ponder: The nature of consciousness and the dark side of the story. The mistreatment of human-like robots is never addressed.

The sterile world of the future as envisioned by director Alex Proyas and his design team, headed by Production Designer Patrick Tatopoulos, is fantastic. Everyone wears grey. It is the national color. Only Det. Spooner, glowingly filmed in those orangey-gold colors favored by Beyonce and Eve, stands out as a hair-trigger individual. Proyas and Tatoploulos have designed a world we would be proud of. It is sleek with massively built structures that overwhelm the populace. Chicago is a showcase for excess and the diminishment of the individual. Everyone behaves.

Will Smith hits the right tones. He has created a cinematic persona that is anti-hero yet engaging. He even has a sensitive acting scene! His Det. Spooner is given enough varied characters to play off of so that many different levels of his personality shine through. The scenes with major scene-stealer Bruce Greenwood are noteworthy and he shows real chemistry with Moynahan.

I, ROBOT is a serious, thought-provoking sci-fi thriller with plenty of glamour and brilliant visuals. And the triumph of the robots? Like I said, I sided with the machines.

*”In Greece and Asia alike, during his lifetime and for several centuries after his death, he was regarded as a tyrannous aggressor, a foreign autocrat who had imposed his will by violence alone. When the news of his death in Babylon reached Athens, it was the orator Demades who crystallized public reaction. ‘Alexander dead?” he exclaimed. ‘Impossible; the whole earth would stink of his corpse.’ From “Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C. A Historical Biography” by Peter Green. This, and Alexander’s (and his father’s!) public homosexuality, ought to make Oliver Stone’s “Alexander the Great” a fascinating movie!

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