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Fox Home Entertainment presents
I, Robot (2004)

Calvin: What happened to you? Do you ever have a normal day?
Spooner: Yeah. Once. It was a Thursday.

- Bridget Moynahan, Will Smith

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: December 13, 2004

Stars: Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Bruce Greenwood, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk
Director: Alex Proyas

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for for intense stylized action and some brief partial nudity
Run Time: 01h:54m:38s
Release Date: December 14, 2004
UPC: 024543151906
Genre: sci-fi


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-AA- B-

DVD Review

If you think the sci-fi blockbuster I, Robot is a faithful adaptation of Isaac Asimov's classic novel of the same name, think again. To satisfy summer movie fans eager for escapist adventure and some Will Smith attitude, director Alex Proyas and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (who won an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind) transformed Asimov's musings on man's relationship with humanistic machines into a high-octane futuristic mystery. That's kind of like watering down fine wine to make it palatable to children, but if you can stomach the fact that I, Robot is merely "suggested by" Asimov's stories and accept the film on its own thrill-ride terms, you'll be rewarded with a fun, involving, and surprisingly introspective experience. For beneath all the technical wizardry and Smith's caustic one-liners, I, Robot possesses more depth than most movies in its class, nicely balancing thought-provoking issues with mindless action.

The time is 2035; the place, Chicago. Lake Michigan has become a landfill and robots peacefully coexist with and selflessly serve humans. They also abide by three unbreakable laws, all of which are hard-wired into their circuitry. Rule #1: "A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm." Rule #2: "A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the first law." Rule #3: "A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second law." U.S. Robotics, the manufacturer of these heavy metal yet eerily lifelike machines, keeps upgrading the models, the newest of which taps into an independent energy source known as V.I.K.I. (Virtual Interactive Kinetic Intelligence) to receive daily program updates.

Society has adapted to and embraced this new way of life, but Del Spooner (Smith), a cynical homicide detective haunted by a past traumatic episode, distrusts robots and doubts their altruistic motives. Stubbornly retro (he wears vintage Converse hi-tops from 2001 and runs his stereo system by an archaic remote control instead of voice activation), Spooner resists contemporary technology, and can't wait to pounce on the merest hint of a robot misstep.

He finally gets his chance when the author of the three laws, Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), seemingly commits suicide. Spooner, however, smells murder, and even though such an act would violate their stringent code, he's convinced a robot is the killer. Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), one of Lanning's colleagues, initially scoffs at Spooner's theory, but changes her tune when a renegade robot exhibits guilty behavior. The robot—who calls himself Sonny—also displays human emotions, such as fear and anger, which causes both Spooner and Calvin to question the integrity of the robotics industry, and wonder whether these "harmless" machines might be plotting something sinister.

Smith is perfectly cast as the robo-phobic Spooner, a jaded, disillusioned offshoot of Agent J, the character he portrayed in Men in Black. A quiet confidence replaces the youthful swagger, and the wise-ass remarks, though still humorous, possess an edgier bite. Few movie stars today exude as much charisma as Smith, and the actor easily inherits the action hero mantle. Yet one caveat sets him apart—Smith's mind is as beefy and toned as his muscle, and it's that intelligence, accented by self-deprecation and an endearing vulnerability, that makes his persona so attractive.

Dr. Calvin, however, is Spooner's opposite. Leery of humans, she prefers the company of metallic beings to those made of flesh and blood. Moynahan (The Sum of All Fears, The Recruit) nicely conveys Calvin's mechanical coldness, as well as her gradual thaw when she realizes she's misplaced her trust. She and Smith make an appealing pair, often hinting at sexual attraction but never succumbing to it, and the screenplay subtly depicts their slow bonding and grudging mutual respect.

Proyas and Goldsman use action and mystery to suck us into the futuristic environment, then drop seeds of substance to exercise our brains. And while the chase scenes are stylishly conceived and executed, it's the ideas simmering beneath that string us along. The relationship between man and machine has been controversial and complex since the dawn of the industrial age, and I, Robot paints an unnerving scenario of what might occur if we can't stay a step ahead of our own technology. Like Frankenstein's monster, the creation just might destroy its creator if it becomes too advanced and independent. I, Robot puts a smart spin on that age-old theory, and earns kudos for its ambiguous ending, which lends the story resonance and may spark discussion and debate. Such an untidy finale is rare for a summer action movie, and it's a refreshing touch.

So take heart, Asimov fans. I, Robot may play fast and loose with the author's stories, but it leaves his ideas intact, and exposes them to a brand-new and impressionable generation.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: These days, sci-fi movies tend to sport a dull, muted color palette, and I, Robot is no exception. The film's visual style and production design strangely resemble Minority Report, with grayish-blue hues predominating. The image on this widescreen anamorphic transfer remains sharp throughout, although an antiseptic sheen—appropriate to the subject matter—limits depth. Contrast is well-modulated, and rich black levels and natural skintones enhance the presentation. Best of all, no imperfections or edge enhancement muck up the picture.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0French, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes
DTSEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: I, Robot includes both DTS and DD 5.1 options, and although the DTS track isn't as active or detailed as I would have liked, it still supplies potent, crystal clear audio. Ambient effects are used sparingly, but during action sequences—such as the frenetic car chase—the track fires on all cylinders, with plenty of surround activity and rumbling bass. Gun fights maximize the multiple channels as well, and dialogue is always easily understandable. Marco Beltrami's score is also given first-class treatment, with solid fullness and depth.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 39 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Arrested Development
3 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Alex Proyas and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman
Packaging: clear plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 01h:01m:59s

Extra Extras:
  1. Still gallery
Extras Review: Action blockbusters usually bubble over with extras, but I, Robot sadly bucks the trend. To quote Spencer Tracy, there may not be much meat on the disc, but what's there is "cherce."

An involving audio commentary with director Alex Proyas and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (recorded six weeks before the film's theatrical release) kicks things off, and the pair's enthusiasm and lively manner keep us engaged. Proyas begins by claiming he set out to make "the definitive robot movie," then examines the differences between Asimov's book and the finished script. He also talks about the creation and personality of robots, especially Sonny, and how the film chronicles the rediscovery and birth of emotion in Spooner and Calvin, respectively. Proyas pulls no punches over his battle with Fox executives regarding the vague ending, and how he wants people to leave the theater talking about the film. Goldsmith, whose comments were recorded separately, sings Smith's praises, calling him "profoundly smart," and marvels at how effortlessly the actor turned "clunky" scenes into "elegant" ones. He goes on to discuss his attraction to "damaged" characters, and how he sees Asimov's stories as "healing metaphors." He also outlines the similarities and differences between some of cinema's greatest scientific creations, namely V.I.K.I., HAL (from 2001: A Space Odyssey), and Frankenstein's monster.

The disc's only featurette, The Making of I, Robot, mirrors the film's energetic, rapid-fire feel, but remains maddeningly superficial. Interviews with Smith, Proyas, Moynahan, and a number of creative personnel are intercut with standard film clips and on-set comparisons. All involved briefly analyze the story and characters, while Proyas addresses the challenges of adapting a non-cohesive work. The 12-minute piece then progresses to the film's technical aspects, with sequences on vehicle design and digital enhancements. We also witness how humans wearing fluorescent green suits acted as stand-ins for the robots, and how actor Alan Tudyk (with the help of computers) brought Sonny to life.

A still gallery comprised of 30 color images runs the gamut from robot design drawings to behind-the-scenes candids and publicity portraits. Also included on the disc are teasers for The Day After Tomorrow, Man on Fire, and Alien Vs. Predator, and a trailer for the Fox TV comedy, Arrested Development. Oddly, a trailer for I, Robot is nowhere to be found.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

A cautionary tale of technology run amok, I, Robot satisfies our senses with plenty of flashy action, but feeds our intellect as well. Thought-provoking themes concerning man's relationship with machines and our common future raise Alex Proyas' absorbing and visually stunning film to a higher plane than typical sci-fi blockbusters. Fox's pristine transfer and dimensional audio enhance the experience, and help make this disc easy to recommend.

 


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