Friday, 15 April 2011

Film: I, Robot (2004)

It's more than four decades since I read Asimov's robot stories and I have forgotten everything about them (except for the three laws of robotics, of course). So I approached this film with an open mind and no expectations; probably just as well, since I noted the comment afterwards that I, Robot was "inspired by" Asimov's stories, rather than directly based on them.

The film is set in Chicago in 2035, with large numbers of humanoid robots being used throughout society. They are all produced by U.S. Robotics (USR) which also maintains a supercomputer (VIKI: Virtual Interactive Kinetic Intelligence) which is able to communicate with, and change the programming of, the latest and most sophisticated generation of robots, designated NS-5. There is no public concern over the robots as their behaviour is governed by the three laws of robotics: that robots must not harm a human being; that robots must obey humans unless this conflicts with the first law; and that robots must preserve themselves unless this conflicts with the first two laws.

Del Spooner (Will Smith) is a detective with a deep mistrust of robots due to an accident which almost cost him his life. He is called to the apparent suicide of Alfred Lanning, the chief scientist of USR and the man who had restored Spooner using prosthetics. Lanning had left behind a trail of clues concerning his death in the form of appearances via a holographic projector. Spooner investigates his death with the reluctant assistance of Dr Susan Calvin, a "robopsychologist" working for USR (Bridget Moynahan), and he soon suspects one of the new NS-5 robots found at the scene. This robot, which calls itself Sonny, exhibits unexpectedly human characteristics, including emotions, and Calvin discovers that it has an additional brain making it possible for the robot to override the three laws.

Meanwhile, Spooner finds himself under threat from various types of USR robots, being attacked several times. His suspicions focus on the CEO of USR, who tries to thwart his investigations for fear that they would interfere with the planned major roll-out of NS-5 robots. The pace ramps up as Spooner and Calvin try to stop impending disaster.

This is principally an action movie but it also raises what will become genuine issues concerning the relationships between humanity and artificial intelligences as computers increase in sophistication. As such, it is more realistic than most SF films as the basic premise that such sophisticated AIs might exist by 2035 seems not impossible, given current progress. It isn't one of the great SF films (the plot is too routine for that) but is better than most, despite a rather puzzling and apparently inconsistent ending. Overall, a good thriller with Smith and Moynahan putting in effective performances.


Fred said...

Good review.

I had seen the film some time ago, and I agree with your evaluation. That ending was over the top, more for a big action finish than for a logical resolution.

Chimeradave said...

I remember avoiding this movie like the plague and finally a friend I trusted said it wasn't all that bad and I watched it. It was typical Hollywood all around, but still entertaining.

It still makes me sad that 90% of people that watched this have probably never read the short story collection. (that statistic was not meant to be a factual statement)

Anthony G Williams said...

I suspect that I might have enjoyed the film less if I had re-read the stories before watching is so often the case!