Science fiction and fantasy

I, Robot poster

The Secret Eater

I, Robot

an Alex Proyas film

In Chicago of 2035 robots are everywhere, doing all our dirty work. The USR provides robots to millions and it's become one of the richest corporations in America. It is about to launch the NS5, a new and more advanced model. When that happens it will put a robot in every home. Perhaps it's no accident that the film emphasises this, which echoes Microsoft's mission of "a computer on every desk" so closely.

Robots are governed by the three laws of robotics in order to prevent them from harming people. They take out the trash, help around the house, and even rescue people. The only person who isn't pleased with this happy state of affairs is Del Spooner, played by Will Smith. He is a homicide detective with a particular grudge against robots. When Dr Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), the engineer responsible for coming up with the three laws, apparently commits suicide, Spooner is the only one to suspect that a robot is responsible. Even his boss considers that Spooner is being paranoid.

Why would Dr Lanning kill himself when he had no apparent reason to, and why would he leave a cryptic message for Del Spooner in particular? On examining Dr Lanning's office Spooner comes across Sonny, a prototype robot with more personality than the others. Sonny is made from a stronger alloy and has been programmed to ignore the three laws under certain circumstances. He denies killing his maker, but then pulls a gun on Spooner and escapes.

Sonny is unique rather than merely an upgrade. Spooner and Susan Calvin, the stiff robot psychologist who helps him with his inquiries, start to talk about him as a person rather than as a machine. Fortunately we don't spend too long on sticky sentimentality in the style of Artificial Intelligence as they ponder the mystery of a robot's soul.

The film is slick and futuristic, with graphics that are not dissimilar to Minority Report. There are enormous, frenetic cities, clean yet thronging with activity. I, Robot is atmospheric and engrossing, doing justice to Isaac Asimov's book. This is not just a Will Smith vehicle, although he does inject some humour into what is one of his more serious roles.

Humanoid robots that can walk, smile, and perform simple tasks are not so far from reality, even though ones as smart as those in I, Robot are still a matter of science fiction. But the theme of mankind being brought down by its own creation has as much currency now as it did when Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein.

4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson

Film Details

Year of release: 2004

Categories: Films
Science fiction

Classification: 12

If you like this, try:

vN cover
vN by Madeline Ashby
In the future robots have the ability to reproduce and think for themselves. But how long can mankind get away with treating thinking, feeling beings as property?

The Currents of Space cover
The Currents of Space by Isaac Asimov
A man with amnesia remembers that the planet is doomed. But will anyone believe him?

Surrogates cover
Surrogates by Jonathan Mostow
You can be anyone you want to be, provided you want to be fake.

Also by Alex Proyas

Knowing cover
A page full of numbers appear to predict disasters. But can a man who knows what is coming do anything to change the future?


Jonny pom 19th October, 2004 21:50pm

a good allround film. worth watching for the robot. The cg one. Not Will Smith. His acting, if you could call it that, is better than usual though.

Shahara mae 15th March, 2007 05:41am

nice movie......

Rxibot 28th September, 2009 04:16am

I very much enjoy this movie, though I must disagree that it does the books justice. It barely covers the content of its namesake. In fact, it seems to take an entirely different perspective from Asimov. Despite this, however, I did like this movie quite a bit.