an Alex Proyas filmIn 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.
Review © Ros Jackson