In director Alex Proyas' 2004 science fiction blockbuster I, Robot, Will Smith plays Del Spooner, a Chicago police officer working in the homicide department in the year 2035. In the future, robots are pretty much all over the place and Spooner doesn't do a very good job of hiding his disdain for them. One morning Spooner gets out of bed and is sent off to investigate the death of Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), a robotics scientist who was found dead after his body plummeted out of a high rise. While it at first seems that Lanning committed suicide, Del, who was friendly with Lanning, thinks that there might have been foul play at work.
Spooner enlists the aid of a socially awkward psychologist named Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan) who worked at the same company as Lanning and together they investigate the strange circumstances surrounding his demise. Del soon starts to suspect that an advanced model robot named Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk) may have actually killed him, meaning that Sonny broke the first rule of robotics and harmed a human (which shouldn't be technically possible). If this turns out to be true, then the NS-5 robots, Sonny's make and model, will have to be taken out of production, which in turn will hurt the robotics company that Lanning used to work for. As Del's investigation continues, it soon becomes obvious to him that someone is trying to stop him from uncovering the truth about Lanning's death and about Sonny's part in it.
What makes I, Robot interesting is how it lays bare mankind's complete and total dependency on technology. If Sonny is guilty of murdering a human despite the safeguards that have been put in place to prevent such a thing from ever happening, the ramifications will be huge. The trickle down effect of such a murder would result in the entire world having to rethink its stance on its own dependency on robots, which in 2035, is a huge deal as robots are everywhere and do everything. When you take into account the rapid employment of computers in the modern age, it really isn't that far fetched to believe that years from now it will snowball into a scenario much like the one that we see portrayed in the film. If the three laws of robotics (1 - robots cannot harm a human or allow a human to come to harm; 2 - they must do whatever they're told by humans as long as it doesn't conflict with rule number one; 3 - robots must defend themselves but that self defense cannot conflict with rule number one or rule number two) are kept in place and made mandate then there shouldn't be room for error but if there can be room for error in today's technology, why can't there be room for error in the future? And what if technology advances to the point where artificial intelligence ceases to be artificial anymore? It's an interesting premise and one that gets your brain working a little harder than your average Hollywood blockbuster.
At the center of all of this is Will Smith as Del Spooner. While Smith may have been typecast as a goofy, likeable kid in his early days, over the years he's proven himself to be quite a good serious actor and his work in I, Robot is quite solid. He's well cast and he handles both the physical side and the emotional side of the character quite well, thanks not only to his talents but also to the strong character development that the script provides. Supporting performances from Moynahan and Cromwell are also quite good and the voice work provided for Sonny by Tudyk is also impressive. Sonny is an interesting character in and of himself, we really don't know where he stands and he's rather unpredictable and understandably frightened by what's happening. We don't want him to be the killer, but we can see how he just might be.
While the film works on a cerebral level, it also works as an action film as well. There are plenty of big explosions and action set pieces to serve as eye candy and to keep things exciting, but it all happens for a reason. There's plenty of style here, but there's a surprising amount of substance to go along with it. Proyas' directs the film with strong pacing and a keen sense of timing. As the film plays out we're left trying to figure out whether or not Sonny is innocent and because of that we're also left trying to figure out his moral standing on the murder.
While the movie does borrow a little too much from The Terminator and The Matrix in a couple of scenes and in some of its cinematography (did we really need a mid-air slow motion shot?) the film otherwise looks very nice. Worth noting is that the CGI characters blend in with the flesh and blood characters quite well here and that the digital effects used throughout the entire production are certainly of much better quality than a lot of other movies that rely so heavily on similar technology.
There are some inconsistencies in the film's tone as it bounces back and forth from clichéd tough guy posturing and one-liners to intelligent moments of discourse and thought provoking plot points, but I, Robot turns out to be a truly enjoyable Asimov inspired murder mystery. It's not a literal adaptation of his books, it's instead a film that takes his ideas and runs with them quite effectively in its own direction but it gets a lot more right than it does wrong.The DVD
I, Robot arrives on Blu-ray in a 1080p 2.35.1 anamorphic transfer with AVC encoding. How does it look? In short, fantastic! There aren't any compression artifacts to note nor is there any edge enhancement, noticeable shimmering or aliasing. Detail in both the foreground and the background of the picture is stunning whether you're looking at a close up or a shot from further away. Skin tones and color reproduction are dead on (just take a look at the opening scene where Smith gets out of bed) and the black levels are strong from start to finish. It should be noted that much of the film was shot with a green/blue tint to it, and this is particularly noticeable during many of the interior shots. The film is supposed to look this way, it's a stylistic choice, and that is absolutely reflected in this transfer.Sound:
The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio mix is also excellent. Optional Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mixes are included in French and Spanish with removable subtitles provided in English, Spanish, Cantonese and Korean. Dialogue is clean and clear and pretty much flawless while the sound effects are handled just as well (you'll really notice them kicking in during the first shoot out where Smith winds up chasing the robot or the scene where Smith saves the cat from the attack). Marco Beltrami's score also sounds very powerful here, with plenty of channel separation ensuring that it sounds as epic as it is supposed to. Levels are all properly balanced and bass response is very strong and very tight without becoming completely overwhelming.Extras:
The supplements start off with the first of three commentary tracks (feel free to jump around the three tracks as you see fit using the green button on your Blu-ray remote!) from director Alex Proyas and writer Akiva Goldsman. This is a strong, general commentary that covers everything you'd expect from a writer/director team. The cover casting, effects work, influence, and how they wanted the film to be as realistic as possible. They talk about ideas they had for the film that never happened and why those ideas had to be canned, and they talk about some of their previous efforts as well. This is a very strong track that is packed with a lot of great information.
The second commentary comes courtesy of writer Jeff Vintar, production designer Patrick Tatopoulos, editor Richard Learoyd, SFX supervisor John Nelson, producer John Kilkenny, animation supervisor Andrew Jones and visual effects supervisor Erik Nash. As you can probably imagine, the focus of this track is on the digital effects employed in the film and the design work conjured up to give the picture it's distinct futuristic look. This discussion is almost completely technical so it may alienate those not fascinated by the technology behind the movie magic we see up on the screen, but that said, this is a very detailed and interesting talk that covers almost every aspect of the digital technology used in the film.
The third and final track allows composer Marco Beltrami to discuss his contributions to the film, which is a nice change of pace as it's rare that composers are given their own solo commentary. What makes this track so interesting is that it allows an expert to explain how and why different musical interpretations can completely change a film in whole or in part. Beltrami does get fairly theoretical in spots and there's a good chance this will go over the heads of those not already gung-ho for film scores but this track sheds some much deserved light on a very important and often times equally underappreciated aspect of film production.
The red button on your remote allows you to access a bunch of scene specific supplemental material while the movie plays out. You can also access this material through the extras menu screens on their own. Here's a look (these are all presented in standard definition)...
First up is the seventy-five minute featurette, Day Out Of Days: Production Diaries. This is a pretty in-depth look at the making of the film and while it covers some of the same ground as the director's commentary track, it's still interesting to see what went into the film from the pre-production work all the way through the shooting of the picture down to the post-production efforts. Most of the principal cast and crew members are interviewed here and they give their thoughts on the film and share some of their experiences from their work on the picture, and as such it's a pretty well-rounded look at the making of the movie.
Up next is a twenty minute featurette entitled CGI And Design that, as you can probably guess from the title, takes a look at the CGI work and the design work created for the film. Again, this covers some of the same ground as the second commentary track but having the visuals here makes this really worthwhile. We get a look at the production art and various design sketches as well as a wealth of storyboard material and effects footage.
Sentient Machines - Robotic Behavior is a thirty-five minute featurette that explores robots have evolved over history. While it doesn't specifically relate to the making of the movie it's never the less a completely relevant subject to cover and it makes for very interesting viewing. We learn about the early days of mechanical robotics and travel through time to the present where we learn about developments being made in the field of artificial intelligence.
The nine minute Filmmaker's Toolbox mini-documentary is a brief look at what the three special effects companies who worked on the film were responsible for. Basically, we get a look at how a basic, filmed scene is taken and digitally altered by computer and effects technicians until it becomes the polished finished product that makes it into the final cut of the movie.
Also included here are two deleted scenes and two alternate endings. With a combined running time of approximately seven minutes, these are pretty brief but it's nice to see them included here even if it's obvious that the ending in the film is far superior and that the deleted scenes wouldn't have added much had they been included.
Unfortunately, the powers that be in Fox's Blu-ray department opted not to include roughly ninety minutes of behind the scenes footage and documentary material that was included on the standard definition special edition DVD release, meaning that the documentaries that appear on this disc are trimmed down quite a bit from their SD SE counterparts.
As far as the menu interface for this release goes, there's good and there's bad. The good? You can switch back and forth between the commentary tracks on the fly and the commentaries also have their own chapter selections so that if you want to go straight to a specific part of a specific discussion, you can do that. On the other hand, for some reason you're only allowed to access bonus material related to the specific chapter of the film that you're watching and often when you open one of these bonus features, you'll notice some lag, which is particularly irritating when you're rewarded for your patience with a very brief segment, sometimes less than a minute in length. While the idea of being able to access the behind the scenes material as you watch the film is an interesting one, there's still some work to be done in regards to how it's employed and in the case of this specific release, it is far more convenient and much less frustrating to access this material through the bonus features menu on its own. On the plus side, if you press the blue button on your remote you'll be given an alphabetized index of all the supplemental content that allows you to go exactly where you want. Also, pressing the yellow button during the film brings up a 'pop up video' style trivia track that is actually really interesting as it touches on a lot of minutia that the other supplements do not. The Blu-ray disc also allows for personal scene selection and the feature is D-Box Motion Code enhanced.Final Thoughts:
I, Robot is a surprisingly good work of suspenseful science fiction cinema and this Blu-ray disc from Fox presents the film in the best quality available and with an interesting (if incomplete) batch of supplemental material to boot. Highly recommended.