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I, Robot

Fox // PG-13 // December 14, 2004
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Aaron Beierle | posted December 2, 2004 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Director Alex Proyas offered a striking view of a dark, futuristic society in his "Dark City", a small film that nevertheless blended nicely done action and visual effects with a fine helping of imagination. The director's "I, Robot" is his biggest effort yet, and surprisingly, he doesn't manage to infuse this Summer blockbuster with very much of the personality he's shown in prior films (although that's more than likely due to writer Akiva Goldsman.)

Will Smith stars as detective Del Spooner, an "old-school" officer who operates in Chicago, 2035 - yet he hates the technology that surrounds him. Robots assist everyone in the world, and pretty much function as a common appliance. Right before the new NS5 series of 'bots are unveiled to the masses, Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell) - the research head - has apparently commited suicide. His prime suspect is Sonny, a robot that seems to have motives and has worked his way around the Three Laws that govern human/robot interaction.

Aided by romantic interest/robotics worker Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), Spooner tries to convince everyone that the robots are about to rise up and take back the world from their human supervisors. There's also the matter of U.S. Robotics CEO Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood), who just seems like a potential suspect. "I, Robot" occasionally flirts with ideas about humanity and free will, but it really doesn't go too deeply into any theories, especially as it winds into the second half. Even a major "reveal" isn't given too much thought after it occurs.

The film's core is an event movie and the film's action sequences are quite superbly done, although some of them don't help the story along too much. The visual effects are outstanding, though - the film's visual effects are not only striking (a "demolition" robot awakening outside a house Spooner is sitting in, wave after wave of rather angry 'bots attacking Spooner's car), but integrated in a way that's surprisingly seamless. There's also other, less "explosive" visual effects elements - background scenery, smaller gadgets, etc. - that are also impressive.

The performances are good, if not great. Will Smith offers a performance that's a little darker, a little more cynical, but at its core, still a pretty familiar effort. Bridget Moynahan ("The Recruit")'s performance is a tad generic, and she never really brings much to the table. Cromwell and Greenwood are fine in small efforts, as is the always excellent Chi McBride.

Overall, "I, Robot" is a moderately entertaining Summer film that tinkers a bit in deeper thoughts. The screenplay develops characters in a satisfactory manner, but the story is rather predictable and could have used some work. In terms of action, however, the picture delivers, with some exciting sequences and superior visual effects.


VIDEO: "I, Robot" is presented by Fox in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The DVD presentation naturally doesn't compete with the DLP presentation I saw in the theater this past Summer, it is an awfully good transfer that, while not flawless, looked consistently excellent. Sharpness and detail seemed outstanding throughout most of the show, as the picture often appeared remarkably crisp and well-defined, with nice depth and fine detail. A couple of wide shots appeared slightly softer, but not by very much.

The presentation really didn't present much in the way of concerns at all. A little bit of shimmer was spotted in a few scenes, but this was hardly a concern. No edge enhancement or pixelation was spotted, which made for a crisp and "film-like" look. Finally, the print used was in perfect shape, with no scratches, marks, dirt or other wear.

The film's color palette was beautifully portrayed by this transfer, as colors remained well-saturated, crisp and bold, with no smearing. Flesh tones looked accurate and natural, while black level remained solid. Overall, this transfer was an outstanding effort from Fox.

SOUND: The film is presented on DVD with Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 options. Although this wasn't always an aggressive presentation, it certainly had many moments where all 5 channels were used extensively. The film's action sequences offered both plenty of rumble and rear speaker action, especially sequences like the tunnel chase, the house destruction and the final segment. While a greater level of general ambience in the surrounds would have been nice, when the action sequences came in, the surrounds really came to life with a great deal of crisp, well-placed sound effects that were smoothly integrated.

Audio quality was terrific, as sound effects seemed crisp and well-recorded, as did dialogue. I didn't particularly like Marco Beltrami's score, but it sounded dynamic and full here. Dialogue remained clear and pretty natural sounding. Bass was, as one would expect, pretty strong at times. Both the Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 editions sounded fairly similar in terms of quality, with the DTS getting a slight edge for sounding a tad more powerful and dynamic.

EXTRAS: The DVD offers an audio commentary with director Alex Proyas and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman. The commentary was fairly ordinary, as the two offered up a general overview of the production, as they chatted about the screenplay and alterations, characters, visuals and working with the actors. Unfortunately, the two participants also occasionally narrate the film. Overall, this is one of those commentaries where the participants generally offer what's expected, but I just wasn't terribly involved in the chat.

We also get a 12-minute promotional "making of", a still gallery and promo trailer for "Arrested Development". From the front menu, one can access an "Inside Look" featurette regarding the upcoming Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie picture "Mr. and Mrs. Smith", the Jennifer Garner actioner "Elektra" and the upcoming animated flick, "Robots".

Final Thoughts: "I, Robot" is entertaining fare with some very well-staged action sequences and solid visual effects. However, it would have been more satisfying if the picture managed a more balanced blend of ideas and action. Fox's DVD offers a couple of supplements, but excellent audio/video quality. Certainly worthwhile as a rental, and worth a purchase for fans of the film.

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