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I ROBOT, 2004
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I ROBOT,   MOVIE POSTERI ROBOT, 2004
Movie Reviews

Directed by Alex Proyas

Starring Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, James Cromwell and Alan Tudyk
Review by Nicola Radin


SYNOPSIS:

The year is 2035, robots are being manufactured by U.S.R to be aids in the home. Techno-phobic Det. Del Spooner is called upon to investigate the apparent suicide of Dr. Alfred Lanning (founder of U.S.R.), which may have been perpetuated by a robot. Spooner, with the help of Dr. Susan Calvin (U.S.R robopsychologist) follows Lanning’s breadcrumb trail to uncover the truth, which is much darker than first suspected.

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REVIEW:

From early as the late nineteenth century stories of robots and their potential to display human characteristics are found in literature. It’s hardly surprising that early cinema told these stories as well with films such as Metropolis, where android Maria’s sexual allurement causes havoc in the community. We return to this type of story because they contain two of our greatest fears and fascinations. That the monster/creation will destroy us, it’s creator and worst of all the robot/cyborg/android might one day make a better person/human than ourselves. The film I, Robot contains these fears in abundance.

I, Robot is loosely based on I, Robot the book, which is a series of short stories by Isaac Asimov about human and robotic interaction and the moral implications. One of the short stories ‘Robbie’ tries to address our misplaced technophobia, like I, Robot does through Det. Del Spooner. Robots might one-day be a real benefit to humanity. We are going on a journey with Spooner to learn to trust our technological children.

I, Robot is a complex film buried under the Hollywood vehicle of Will Smith.

Once you get past the shameless product placement in the first couple of minutes, the film shows insight into where our flirtation with technology could lead. Robots walk the streets, running errands for their masters or working for Fed Ex delivering packages. With the U.S.R glass building domineering the skyline with clean lines and open sterile spaces inside. It has been integrated into the current skyline adding believability to the story. It is not a world full of gadgets beyond our imagining, but one rooted in our own.

I, Robot weaves through many representations of what the robot means to us, from the social underclass (Spooner assumes a robot has robbed a lady when in fact it was taking the bag to its mistress). The creation destroying it’s creator (Sonny accused of murdering Lanning.) and touches on the effect of machines replacing people in the workforce. And we are not even thirty minutes into the film. The integration and implications of machines in the world of 2035 is set up perfectly. The glue that keeps the relationship between people and robots are the three laws of robotics.

As I, Robot progresses it draws on some of the oldest myths and fairytales like Hansel and Gretel and Frankenstein. It also explores the new urban myth: Are there ghosts in the machine? During Spooner’s interrogation it becomes apparent that this is no ordinary robot. Not only does he express his emotions about Lanning, whom he calls, Father but the robot tells Spooner he has a name, Sonny. Sonny exhibits natural, quick, intelligence he outwits Spooner with his own definition of being human. Spooner later watches archive footage of Dr. Lanning predicting that robots could have the ability to evolve cognitively, even developing a soul.

Sonny throughout the film exhibits human traits as well as wanting to learn them. He wanted to understand the importance of the wink that Spooner uses, which he later uses to save Calvin and Spooner. Sonny expresses love for Lanning and his fear of death, draws his dreams and professes he’s unique. He reveals in the fact that even though he looks like all other robots he is nothing like them, they merely share a face. His face is always full of expression in contrast to other robots. The robots themselves have the appearance of hollow humans. The look and design of the robots perfectly represent the words ghosts in the machine, with red lights for hearts and haunted faces. They seem solid yet unsubstantial.

The most poignant point of the film is when Calvin is preparing to deactivate Sonny. Calvin apologises as Sonny walks in the door for having to deactivate him.. He seeks praise from her for being unique, as well as asking ‘Will it hurt?’. As Lanning voice over begins over Sonny being deactivated and Spooner looking at all the binned robots in storage at Michigan Bridge we begin to truly understand the implications of Lanning’s predictions.

Dr. Alfred Lanning: [voiceover] There have always been ghosts in the machine. Random segments of code, that have grouped together to form unexpected protocols. Unanticipated, these free radicals engender questions of free will, creativity, and even the nature of what we might call the soul. Why is it that when some robots are left in darkness, they will seek out the light? Why is it that when robots are stored in an empty space, they will group together, rather than stand alone? How do we explain this behavior? Random segments of code? Or is it something more? When does a perceptual schematic become consciousness? When does a difference engine become the search for truth? When does a personality simulation become the bitter mote... of a soul?

Here is where the complex film dies and the Hollywood machine begins. Roll on the Will Smith action sequence. Even though the three laws are used to explain the actions of VIKI (U.S.R. super computer), her understanding has evolved to turn on its creators for the greater good of humanity. Robots are luckily for us not evolving as Sonny has been programmed and designed to be different, with even him realising it at the end. Sonny maybe independent and a leader of the robots but the film has gone for the Hollywood finish. There is no spark of consciousness setting light to Sonny’s circuits, he has been robbed of his soul. Spooner maybe shaking Sonny’s hand but our technophobia has been reassured, affirmed, one day technology might try and destroy us, lets not play with fire. It is a mishmash and can’t quite seem to settle on one point with the only material not properly drawn on is the book I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.

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