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I, ROBOT SPECIAL EDITION: DVD

SYNOPSIS:
In 2035 Chicago, robots have become an everyday household item, trusted by all, except the slightly paranoid Detective Del Spooner (Will Smith). When the creator of new robotics at USR (US Robotics Corporation) Dr Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), commits suicide, Spooner is summoned by the late Dr's hologram device. Spooner quickly grows suspicious of a special robot called Sonny (Alan Tudyk). But neither Dr Lanning's associate Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan) or USR boss Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood) believe that any robot could be responsible, as robots are all hardwired with The Three Laws of Robotics, preventing them for harming humans. As Spooner investigates, he and Calvin discover that there is a greater danger than a single robot.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I, Robot is the meanest, meatiest, coolest, most engaging and exciting science fiction movie for a long time, with echoes from 2001 A Space Odyssey... and from the final scene in Planet of the Apes.

Adorned with a blend of intelligence and drama, excellent stunts and superb production values, sensational special effects and a big heart, the film also boasts three great performances - one from an actor we never see. That's he, robot ... nicknamed Sonny, the symbol of all that's great and weak in mankind. Yes, that's how grand this film is.
Will Smith and Bridget Moynahan ensure that Spooner and Calvin are fully realised characters, and Alan Tudyk's performance as Sonny brings to mind the powerfully effective Robert Patrick as T-1000 in Terminator 2. We see less of Tudyk, but sense him just the same.

As his many fans will know, the reason for Isaac Asimov's legendary status among science fiction writers comes from his ability to bring the future and humanity's present state of mind inexorably together. His universes are peopled. They resonate with human elements and conflicts. I, Robot, while not pure Asimov, being a fusion with another story idea, is a classic story in which several important themes come together.

Through Sonny, the robot who breaks through the status of controlled machine to a unit with a sense of self - soul, even - I, Robot explores notions of trust, science and the individual. Our relentless urge to be unique and to be valued is mirrored in this story. But the real power of Alex Proyas' film is its absolute veracity in every department. Using the most advanced tools of filmmaking, Proyas takes us deep into humanity, while providing thrills and action, entertainment and meaning, all in the same frame.

I, Robot is truly engaging and exciting because it is more than a digital effect deep. The creative elements of the film are extraordinary, but they always serve the story and characters. There is a spectacular, deadly and crunching chase in a giant tunnel, and a extensive climactic battle - both involving dozens of household robots gone feral.

These giant action scenes are both violent - but pretty well bloodless, of course - and brilliantly staged. What really sets them apart from so many other action scenes is Alex Proyas' discipline and imagination. He and his DoP (another Aussie) Simon Duggan, create some exceptional camera moves, but always keep us in the picture. We get a sense of physical context that elevates the action to something meaningful. Likewise the riveting scene of a mansion being destroyed around Spooner by a giant machine.

There is none of the mawkishness of Bicentennial Man [1999, dir. Chris Columbus, stars Robyn Williams] - even though Asimov was the inspiration for that one, too - and all the grunt of great technical achievements in production design (Patrick Tatopoulos) and music Marco Beltrami). In particular, this future world is made particularly real for us by its retention of today's metropolitan look and feel. The old sits side by side with the new; this is how cities evolve. For example, not all cars on the streets are the latest model. Not all buildings are high tech. The familiar suburban corner store is dwarfed by the latest skyscraper housing the headquarters of USR. These almost subliminal elements add great veracity to our absorption of the film.

I, Robot is destined to be a classic of its kind. So is the 2-disc DVD set, even though I have reservations about items like the 12 minute Making of feature on Disc 1, which makes the classic mistake of filling the time with too many overlays from the film. We don't need that on a DVD which contains the film, guys! Nor is there much insight in lines like "Cars are cool in the future.... They're hot." Even if it comes from a beautiful actress.

So let's skip the Making of, which would have benefited from more Alex Proyas and less lazy humbug. And we find Alex - in the company of writer Akiva Goldsman - on the commentary track, recorded six weeks before the film's theatrical release. Proyas talks about the creative approach, whereas Goldsman tends to relate to the scene we're watching. The former is more of an overview, a big picture style that I personally prefer. We get more into the filmmakers' mind. For example, his ruminations on the detective genre being the story driver for I, Robot. He does get into the nitty gritty, though, recalling a night shoot when they woke up a dozen high rise apartment blocks at 3am. Was not a happy moment.

Much more of Alex Proyas on this disc, starting with the Production Diaries, the first of half a dozen featurettes that explore the making of in more sophisticated detail than the so called Making of on Disc 1. There's also a terrific idea: an overlay of the menu, rather in the style of a 'heads up' graphic which we can see through, but which tells us where we are in the menu. Excellent novelty, but also very functional.

Another nice touch is the interview with Futurist (I'd like to be one of those please) Syd Mead, talking about robots, AI and their dreaming. What, is that hard to imagine? A robotics engineer adds her views and the whole thing is quite entertaining - that's No 7 in the 7-poece Sentient Machines feature menu.

All up, you've got about half a day's worth of material to browse through, and cherry pick what you like; that's the joy of digital video. No rewind problems.

In the Toolbox, there's a mini filmmaking course of 'how to-s', there are deleted scenes and the publicity material promises a gag reel, but I couldn't find it. It also promises Easter Eggs, so good luck. In any case, I do recommend this DVD pack, there's enough here to keep you awake for hours, teaching your robot the three laws. Oooops, it should know them.

Published November 25, 2004

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I, ROBOT SPECIAL EDITION: DVD (M)
(US)

CAST: Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, James Cromwell, Bruce Greenwood, Chi McBride, Shia LeBouf, Alan Tudyk

PRODUCER: John Davis, Topher Dow, Laurence Mark,

DIRECTOR: Alex Proyas

SCRIPT: Jeff Vintar, Akiva Goldman (book by Isaac Asimov)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Simon Duggan

EDITOR: Jeffrey Ford, William Hoy, Richard Learoyd, Armen Minasian

MUSIC: Marco Beltrami

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Patrick Tatapoulos

RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen

SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc 1: commentary by Alex Proyas and Akiva Goldman; commentary by the designer, editor and visual effects crew; commentary to the score by composer Marco Beltrami; Making of. Disc 2: Production Diaries; CGI and Design; Sentient Machines; Sci-fi and Robots; Filmmkares Tool Box;

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox

DVD RELEASE: November 24, 2004







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