I, Robot

Director(s): Alex Proyas

Writer(s): Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman

Cast: Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Alan Tudyk, James Cromwell and Bruce Greenwood

Reviewed by: Ian Evans on

Release Date(s)

Jul 16, 2004 - Wide

I, Robot, inspired by the classic science fiction short stories of Isaac Asimov, has at its core Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. If you’re a little rusty on your robot ethics, those three laws are:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

I, Robot takes a look at what would happen if those laws were to suddenly be circumvented and wraps a thrill-packed action film around a classic sci-fi premise.

Director Alex Proyas (Dark City) takes us to the Chicago of 2035, far enough in the future that robots are now household appliances yet close enough that cops are still more Popeye Doyle than Jedi Knights.

U.S. Robotics is about to role out its latest model, the NS5, when Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), the head of robot research, dies of an apparent suicide. Del Spooner (Will Smith), a detective with a distinct distaste and distrust for the metal butlers, heads in to investigate. As in many cop dramas, Spooner doesn’t agree with the conclusion that everyone has jumped to. He doesn’t see it as a suicide, but as a murder. His prime suspect: a robot named Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk) that acts just a little differently than the other models that rolled of the assembly line. Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), whose job is to make the robots “seem more human”, doubts that a robot could contravene the Three Laws. She aids Spooner in his investigation while Company CEO Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood), with a new model and a share price to think about, does his best to end Spooner’s prying.

Proyas, working off a screenplay by Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman, keeps the pace up. The film has the grit of a crime drama that just happens to be set in the future. The special effects are pretty seamless. Obviously, a lot of the stuff that Smith is playing against isn’t there, but the CGI quality is such that you just accept it as real.

There are a few cliches, of course, as Spooner is the rebel cop who gets the job done but always raises the shackles and greys the hair of the officers above him. The film also reveals one of those secrets whose answer you know you had lurking in the back of your mind since the first few scenes.

Smith continues to show that he’s an bona fide action star with the right physique for the action and the right timing for the one-liners these sort of heroes throw off. He’s also working without a net here, as there’s no sidekick for him to bounce his energy off. He handles the task easily, so he doesn’t need his future action forays to be buddy films.

One of the philosophical points to consider in I, Robot is how sure we can be that our robot helpers will follow the Three Laws. After all, the Laws are just programmed into them and one of the basic tenets in programming is garbage in, garbage out. So before we begin trusting our lives to robots, we should be asking how much we trust their makers.