You almost have to admire Fox for exercising restraint in their decision not to push I, Robot back into theaters for its conversion to 3D, after all it did convert nicely thanks in large part to the film’s extensive reliance on special effects for many of its antagonists and backgrounds. And yet they chose instead to release it on 3D Blu-ray instead, which makes you wonder: why the lack of confidence? Maybe it has to do with the film never being all that good in the first place, even if it did rack up an impressive box office tally and boast Will Smith as its headlining star. I, Robot did indeed do well in theaters, but when it comes to repeat viewings I, Robot is an almost impossible film to recommend. Though the original story by Isaac Asimov is timeless and remains a cornerstone in Science-Fiction, the film fails to deliver on the book’s legacy in many respects due to trying way too hard to make it a typical Will Smith action flick.
The rules of robotics set forth by Asimov in I, Robot, and his establishment of the robot as a character archetype beyond just a metaphor for man’s eventual destruction by his own ambition, have had a rippling effect throughout Sci-Fi film and literature ever since. Characters like 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL 9000 or Alien’s Ash, and Aliens's Bishop represent perversion’s of Asimov’s legacy, but continuations all the same. This idea that a character could be programmed to allow no harm to come to a human being only to pervert it towards an extremist execution of the concept that “forces” them to subdue humanity for its own good has become a common Sci-Fi staple. Unfortunately, Alex Proyas’s take on the concept plays down the philosophical musing of the circumstances and plays it up as an action thriller punctuated by your typical Will Smith catchphrases (most of which have aged horribly).
Smith plays Del Spooner, a police officer still recovering from a traumatic experience that instilled him with an innate distrust of all robots. That’s something of a problem considering robots are now just about everywhere in his futuristic world, and if Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood), the head of the world’s largest robotics company, has anything to say about it, there will soon be a robot in every home. At least, that was the plan until the murder of the company’s founder and top scientist, Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), sees a robot named Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk) accused of his murder. The idea seems preposterous as all robots are hardwired with three commandments that prevent them from ever letting harm befall a human being, and yet Sonny also displays a sense of will and intelligence never before seen in other robots. Spooner, convinced that robots are in fact responsible for Lanning’s death, begins an investigation with the help of the company’s robot psychologist (Bridget Moynahan), and soon enough finds that snooping around makes him the target of some very angry, super-strong enemies.
With special effects and CGI technology progressing as fast as it is, it’s not uncommon for a film almost a decade old to have noticeably worse CGI than you remember it being. Our minds adapt quickly to the new level of CGI every time we see it improved in the latest blockbuster, and that makes it harder to ignore the once beautiful special effects from films of years past. I, Robot doesn’t suffer from this problem too badly though, and the extensive use of CGI robots never really sabotages the action scenes in such a way that we’re distracted by dated graphics. For all intents and purposes the special effects hold up.
The writing, on the other hand, does not. Will Smith’s once triumphant one-liners now land with a thud even louder than they did before. The moments are just so forced that it reminds us that film’s have evolved somewhat in how they deliver the adrenaline-fueled climax of an action-scene. The age where it wasn’t cheesy but in fact required for an action star to shout a one-liner as they came back and won a fight or delivered a killing blow is past. While some one-liners have retained their charm, like the ever-amazing “Yippee Kai-Yay, Motherfucker!”, most now feel forced and hackneyed. In 2004 it was barely acceptable, and as a consequence each and every one of them now sounds so awkward that you can’t help but be taken out of the moment, and at the worst possible time.
As for the 3D, the extensive use of 3D and shots which already involved a number of things flying close to or at the camera make I, Robot a natural choice for the “upgrade”. Is it essential to the viewing experience? No, but it does add an element of fun, and perhaps a little incentive, to get people to rewatch a movie they might not have otherwise. Really, this 3D edition is for those folks who’ve purchased a 3D set and want a few pretty movies to show it off with, because unless you’re a very forgiving Will Smith fan, I, Robot will have a hard time being re-animated by adding an extra dimension.
Then again, maybe this release has more to do with the prospective 2015 sequel I, Robot 2?
Blu-ray Bonus Features
The combo pack includes the film on Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray, and DVD with all of the extras being on the latter disc and nothing new being added for this release. What we get is an audio commentary from Proyas and writer Akiva Goldsman, a basic production featurette, and a photo gallery. It’s too bad they didn’t bother to make an extra about the conversion of the film to 3D, that would have at least been very interesting, and might have helped us appreciate what we were watching a little bit more.
"I, Robot 3D" is on sale October 23, 2012 and is rated PG13. Action, Sci-Fi. Directed by Alex Proyas. Written by Akiva Goldsman and Jeff Vintar. Starring Alan Tudyk, Bridget Moynahan, Bruce Greenwood, James Cromwell, Will Smith.