My regular readers will know that my estimation of Isaac Asimov’s work is not uniformly positive. I read the “I Robot” stories as a kid and enjoyed them a good deal. I think what I found entertaining was the cleverness of the interplay of the Three Laws of Robotics with the plot lines. Re-reading them many years later I saw that aside from the cleverness, the stories were not particularly rich in characterization or description. And for short stories of that era that wasn’t unusual. So, let’s say I Robot is a worthy example of its time and type.
A film was made from the stories back in 2004. It bears no resemblance to any of the stories but involves the concepts of the three laws and how they relate to a world that has adopted an almost universal use of robots in commercial, industrial and even personal service. Will Smith is a cop in Chicago who despises robots because of a past encounter. The plot revolves around his investigation of a murder that contrary to the requirements of the three laws has apparently been committed by a robot. For fans of Firefly the voice of the killer robot Sonny is provided by Alan Tudyk (aka Hoban “Wash” Washburne).
I was sort of busy back in 2004 and didn’t see the movie when it came out. But I Robot, the movie, has been in almost constant rotation on AMC for the last year or two so I’ve seen all or part of it a number of times now. When I first viewed it I wasn’t very enthusiastic for it. The dissimilarity from the Asimov stories probably annoyed me. If I grasp for any other reasons, I’ll point to the presence of Shia LaBeouf in the cast in a part so insipid that it makes you shake your head wondering what the director was thinking.
Interestingly, over time I actually grew to enjoy the movie more. It’s an action adventure movie and the scenes featuring Will Smith battling enormous numbers of robots are cleverly done and quite a lot of fun. Tudyk does a good job making the robot character sympathetic. And Bridget Moynahan makes the Susan Calvin character more personable than Asimov ever did.
So here we have a couple of inversions of the typical situation. For the most part, I find that a movie made from a book almost never lives up to it. But in this case, it surpasses it. And here is an example of a book that has decreased in my estimation over time while the movie has done the reverse.
I Robot is not a film version of the Asimov stories and it does not break any new ground as a science fiction movie either for the special effects or for original story telling. But it’s a pretty good Will Smith action adventure. And he does kill a lot of robots with a big gun. How can you go wrong with that?