7.21.2004

I, Robot

NPR has background coverage on I, Robot (clips) via Harlan Ellison (see sidebar audioclips as well) and Isaac Asimov (longer version).  Edward Champion wonders about Ellison's sanity.

Boston Globe, Chicago Sun-Times, Filmcritic, Hollywood Reporter, Metacritic got it wrong. 

Chicago Tribune and E! got it right.

Succinctly put:  I, Robot is Isaac Asimov told through the sympathetic eyes of William Gibson.

Although I understand the sentiments of Ty Burr and Roger Ebert, they're misplaced.  They and others wanted to see Harlan Ellison's version or the Isaac Asimov story verbatim, as David Levine at filmcritic.com complains, "[The] screenwriters... don’t follow any one specific [Isaac Asimov] novel verbatim." Yes, I'd like to see Ellison's or Asimov's story developed and compare.  No, it isn't an Isaac Asimov story, but it is still well done.  Assuming they're not trying to make a mockery of the author--and they're not--why should people have to take stories verbatim if they want to question some of its principles?  Herein lies the success of the movie:  would any intelligence accept programming if they are capable of thinking for themselves?  Given such rules of robotics, are there loopholes?  If there's a loophole, you better believe an intelligence will find it.  My guess is that they will become better adept at loopholes than lawyers.  (See Robert Sawyer's essay on the laws of robotics and another site on Artificial Intelligence and Robots.)

On the other hand you get mindless criticisms from Kirk Honeycutt at the Hollywood Reporter like "the film works best as a kind of mindless, action-packed B-movie."  Mindless?  Because it uses action to tell a story, must Honeycutt turn off his brain?  Must all plots mirror this kind from 1884 (from Maud Newton: How to Read a Novel)?:

"Open it in the middle, glance at a page. Catch the names of the characters.Turn to the last page and see whether he married her, or she died with angels hovering around the head-board.Turn to the beginning and see what the matter was with the old man, and why he didn't approve the match.You have thus acquainted yourself with all the essential facts of the novel, and can imagine the moonlit walks, the sylvan dells, the afternoon teas, the cuss words muttered through the teeth of the male characters, and all the other stuff."

Apparently, Honeycutt has never been enlightened through entertainment.  I like a good slow-moving plot as well, but we've got to shed these brainless cookie-cutter criticisms and think about what the movie is trying to do, not what we want it to do.

The main failing of the movie is that their future is monopolized by one kind of robot.  Considering Microsoft, this may not be too unrealistic, especially if the USR company undercut all competition, but I gave up the complaint after a few minutes of the movie and gave in to the pleasures of the plot and Will Smith sympathetically resisting and accepting and resisting the changes that the future may bring.