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I, Robot: All-Access Collector's Edition

Fox // PG-13 // May 24, 2005
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Preston Jones | posted May 11, 2005 | E-mail the Author
The Movie

Commerce and art have long butted heads in Hollywood - the need to rake in piles of cash often undercuts any artistic impulses the creative types may have. Nowhere is this figurative wrestling match more apparent than in the films of summer - blockbusters seem to be most afflicted with this schizophrenic condition. Make a ton of money and go home the winner of the summer months; make a film that appeals to an audience's intellect and you're likely to end up smarting until the DVD release. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule (The Matrix chief among them) but by and large, it's rare to find an action-packed thrill ride that tickles the frontal lobes as it induces jolts of adrenaline.

Australian auteur Alex Proyas (Dark City, Garage Days) is an admittedly inspired choice to helm this loose adaptation of Isaac Asimov's classic sci-fi work I, Robot - if you ignore the concessions made to placate summer audiences in search of big bangs and staggering setpieces, there's faint evidence of the beating heart of a serious, somewhat grounded sci-fi film lurking underneath all of the CGI eye candy, iffy plot contrivances and lame, trailer-ready one-liners.

Will Smith stars as Detective Del Spooner, walking his beat in 2035 Chicago, a world thoroughly populated with highly advanced robots who've taken to performing all of the menial tasks so humans don't have to. The mysterious death of Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), an employee of the monolithic USR, a corporation headed by the supercilious Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood), sends the technophobic Spooner on a mission to determine if robots, and one named Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk) in particular, are evolving beyond the control of humans and committing acts well outside their programming and the Three Laws put in place to keep things orderly.

Based on the Asimov work and penned by Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman, I, Robot attempts to mesh Big Idea sci-fi with rote, albeit occasionally inventively staged, blow-'em-up setpieces. Every dollar of the reported $105 million budget is up there onscreen as CGI robots (mostly) flawlessly interact with their human counterparts and breakneck action sequences get the blood pumping but not entirely at the expense of character.

Part of the film's weakness lies in the casting - Smith shoulders the summer blockbuster like a comfortable sweatshirt, but co-star Bridget Moynihan (the poor man's Ashley Judd) appears lost in her role as Dr. Susan Calvin, the corporate lackey assigned to shepherd Spooner through his investigation. Greenwood has no problem playing the heavy but during the down time - between the kinetic action set-ups - the cast looks as stiff as the robots Spooner loves to hate. It's a frustrating irony that a film about humanity struggling to maintain its identity in the face of rapidly advancing change boasts a cast that goes through the motions and gives off a detached, almost mechanical air.

Nevertheless, as pure popcorn entertainment, I, Robot delivers in spades. The visuals are stunning and Proyas often makes excellent use of his widescreen canvas; Patrick Tatopoulos' production design evokes a modern society not far removed from our own and Simon Duggan's restless camera adds an extra bit of edge. Blending brains and brawn results in an erratic film that aims for the head and the adrenal glands in equal measure, but hits the wide-eyed kid more than the thoughtful adult. Fans of cerebral sci-fi may only be frustrated, while fans of mindless explosions and demolition derby car chases might find slightly more to sink their teeth into. In the never-ending war of commerce versus art, commerce neatly defeats art in I, Robot, but not before the film gets in a few well-placed artistic jabs.


The Video:

I, Robot is offered here, as it was on the initial release, in a very clean, clear 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Details spring to life and the expansive scope image teems with activity that is crisp and free of any defects. A very smooth, impressive image.

The Audio:

DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 are onboard, as is Dolby 2.0 stereo - DTS slightly edges out Dolby Digital in terms of warmth, clarity and depth of field but both mixes are extremely active. Witness Del's escape from Dr. Lanning's collapsing house - walls come crashing down, glass breaks, a cat yowls and yet every one of Will Smith's wisecracks is heard clearly. That's a well-mixed soundtrack, folks. A nice compliment to the equally terrific visual presentation.

The Extras:

When Fox first released I, Robot, the more cynical DVD fans grumbled that a more expansive special edition must be in the works - and they were right. For this "All-Access Collector's Edition," Fox has piled on the extras while (thankfully) retaining the scant bonus features that were included on the initial release. Held over from the first release is the commentary from Proyas and Goldsman recorded six weeks prior to the film's theatrical release and the 12-minute "making of" featurette. Two more commentary tracks - one with composer Marco Beltrami and one with production designer Tatopoulos, editor Richard Learoyd and the visual effects team - are now available with a full-screen trailer for the X-Men 2 DVD and a still gallery rounding out the first disc.

The bulk of the supplemental material is found on disc two. At first blush, the disc's navigation seems overly awkward and really, really annoying. When you first put the second disc in the tray, it brings up a screen that reads "Play Disc" and "Disc Index" - selecting the first option plays the first chunk of the production diary then kicks you to a screen that offers a menu with selected bits of the disc's other features. This repeats eight more times. Fox could've maybe made this a tad easier; as it stands, the studio is to be commended for including a wealth of information but it takes a bit of patience to find everything included on the second disc. Even selecting the index function allows a complete listing of bonus features, but still requires manual navigation between many of them.

Each of the main featurettes detailed herein contain a brief introduction by Proyas. "Days Out of Days," the roughly 100-minute, anamorphic widescreen "production diary" traces the on-set creation of I, Robot and is playable in nine separate chapters (which as previously mentioned, gives way to a separate menu screen with access to different featurettes); "CGI and Design" is split up into five anamorphic widescreen featurettes, running an aggregate of 34 minutes and can be played all together or separately while "Sentient Machines," runs 35 minutes in anamorphic widescreen and offers more information on robotic behavior.

"Three Laws Safe" is four anamorphic widescreen featurettes featuring interviews with Vintar, Goldsman, Asimov's daughter Robyn and Asimov's editor Jennifer Brehl, which run an aggregate of 30 minutes and "The Filmmakers' Toolbox" is fragmented into the three different effects houses that worked on the film. Each of these featurettes focuses on compositing breakdowns - Digital Domain is split into 11 chapters, available together or separately and runs for an aggregate of six minutes; WETA Digital is split into 16 chapters, playable together or separately and runs for an aggregate of almost five minutes and Rainmaker is split into eight chapters, playable together or separately and runs for an aggregate of five and a half minutes. The "Toolbox" segments are offered in a mix of anamorphic and non-anamorphic widescreen. Also included are two deleted scenes and two passes at an alternate ending, one fully finished and one in the pre-viz stage, all in non-anamorphic widescreen and running an aggregate of six minutes.

Final Thoughts:

I, Robot attempts to straddle the line between cerebral sci-fi and crowd-pleasing summer blockbuster with mixed results. While visually stunning and meticulously crafted, Proyas' film still stumbles when it should soar and remains a slightly frustrating experience. Fans of the film would do well to pick up this much more fleshed-out (pun semi-intended) "All-Access Collector's Edition" while casual fans or the curious are fine sticking with their original release or giving the flick a rental.

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Highly Recommended

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