I had been thinking about I, Robot recently, so I took some time over the weekend to watch this movie again. It’s one of my favorites, and one that I made sure we grabbed on Blu-Ray once we had a player. I love Will Smith, robots, science fiction, and pretty much everything about this! But still it’s been a while.
I am someone who saw this one before reading the book, but I did try the book after (you know us…). I’ve read and enjoyed several other books by Isaac Asimov (like The End of Eternity), but for some reason I had trouble getting into the book. More than anything, it might be the fact that the book is so different from the movie! I remember a lot of people who had read the book first had problems with the movie for this same reason.
Nonetheless, going back and watching the movie made me notice there are some really good parts to the movie. It has a lot of really great qualities that I feel we are looking for in movies these days, and that studios are looking for too – big budget, star power, based on an existing IP, but with a lot of originality and solid science fiction. And some good representation as well. Overall, this movie has held up quite well since 2004!
Original Ideas and Old Intellectual Property
One of the most recent movies where the discussion came up is Jupiter Ascending, but science fiction movies have trouble always being as good as their ideas suggest they should be, or have trouble bringing in an audience despite being good. For instance, The Edge of Tomorrow (a.k.a. Live. Die. Repeat. a.k.a. All You Need Is Kill) last year had a lot of the same elements as I, Robot: based on an existing intellectual property, but with a lot of changes. Still, it has a new, internally-consistent plot, and is a good movie. Another example would be Minority Report. However, we then also get science fiction movies like Jupiter Ascending which don’t do well, or Star Trek: Into Darkness, which are overly tied to their source material.
The movie I, Robot, much like Minority Report, is set in the near future. In both, there are aspects drawn from the book – in this case, the three laws of robotics in particular. But then, there are a lot of aspects which are based more on thoughts about what the near future would be like, in terms of the sorts of things you can show in a movie – architecture, automobiles, even society.
As such, there are two things going on. One is just speculative ideas of the near future, and the other is a plot of a robot apocalypse! Neither is quite from the book.
Some of the things in the movie I can see happening in coming years, too. The self-driving cars for sure, and the fact that it is almost universal – which makes some sense to me, as the best way to make self-driving cars safe would be to have all cars be self-driving and working together as a grid.
Then you have things like the robots, and they would just be cool!
So, can I say this is inherently better than other science fiction movies? Maybe not, but it seems like a formula that Hollywood would be looking to repeat – name recognition, new ideas, big effects (they could put it in 3D!), big stars, and decently profitable. I’m honestly surprised we aren’t seeing more movies coming out like it!
Another thing that I think would be a bigger discussion today with this movie is representation. There is a pretty large fan movement to see more people of color and women in action movies like this. The recent big news has been about comic book movies like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, Black Panther and Cyborg. Yet here we have I, Robot with Will Smith at the helm.
But better than that is the lead scientist he works with on the case, Doctor Calvin. This is a smart female scientist, with no question about her being the right person for the job. Indeed, the stereotypes she falls into aren’t about her being a woman – they’re about her being emotionless and like a robot. Honestly, anyone cast in that role would need to be coldly rational. But that doesn’t mean they had to cast a woman – but they did.
There’s also plenty of diversity, as honestly there had better be with a movie set in Chicago! I especially love the police captain, who gets his badass, slow-mo moment pulling his shotgun out and shooting robots.
I feel like there is a call today for more movies like… well, like this.
Held Up Pretty Well
All-in-all, I would say this movie has held up pretty well. Maybe having it on Blu-Ray helps, but the effects are still pretty solid. It also helps that they went with an extremely stylized look for the robots – they always have looked a bit unreal, and I feel like they’re supposed to, so I don’t have a problem there. And sure, they fall back on bullet time, but who didn’t in the years after The Matrix? It made sense here, as well, to show how quickly the robots could move!
It has good science fiction, a balanced set of characters and casting. It doesn’t fall back on the most obvious tropes, and while it relies on a known IP, it doesn’t follow it slavishly – in fact, going so far from it as to alienate fans of the book. So not a perfect movie, but definitely a good one. But what do you think? Love it or hate it? Let me know what you think in the comments below!