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?
I have never reviewed the movie Independence Day. It may seem as though I have because I have used the movie setting as the background for four parts of a Trump vs Independence Day post. In any case it’s time for me to rectify the deficiency. I’ll start out by declaring that I have a love/hate relationship with the film. There are numerous strengths and weaknesses to the movie that cry out for mention. So, let’s do that.
The concept of Earth being invaded by space-aliens intent on exterminating the human race is almost as old as science fiction itself. H. G. Wells wrote War of the Worlds well over a hundred years ago. In the era of modern science fiction the concept has been done and redone. And there have been two film versions of War of the Worlds. But Independence Day broke new ground in the tradition. By the 1990s special effects had progressed far enough along so that the images from Independence Day of New York, Washington and Los Angeles being obliterated were groundbreaking in their impact. Seeing the energy weapon explode the Empire State Building and then unleash a super-heated shock wave throughout Manhattan was at the time remarkable. Even today, the destruction scenes are visually impressive. The visual effects for the alien ship are also well done. The aliens themselves I would say are more of a mixed bag. They have some interesting features but just didn’t seem all that scary. All in all, I’d say that the CGI and other technical effects stand up pretty well to present day expectations.
Next up is the cast. Will Smith, who plays Marine pilot Capt. Steve Hiller, would of course now be considered the biggest name in the cast. Back then though, Jeff Goldblum coming off his part in Jurassic Park would have been the more prominent star. He plays David Levinson an electronics genius and ex-husband of President Pullman’s Chief of Staff. Both of these guys get plenty of screen time. Bill Pullman plays President Tom Whitmore and has about equal importance with Smith and Goldblum in the story line. Other memorable parts are portrayed by Randy Quaid as Russell Casse, Robert Loggia as General Grey, Adam Baldwin as Major Mitchell and Judd Hirsch as Julius Levinson, David’s father. Most of the humor in the movie are provided by Randy Quaid and Judd Hirsch but there is a general humorous atmosphere in the film despite the catastrophic nature of the action.
The plot of the movie has an enormous alien space craft arriving in earth orbit from which smaller city-sized ships fly down and hover over Washington D.C, New York City and Los Angeles in the United States and the other largest cities around the world. David Levinson figures out that the space craft is preparing to launch a simultaneous attack on all the target cities around the world. Once the attack destroys these cities the President and his advisors counter-attack with military aircraft but the alien ships have force fields that turn the counter attack into a disaster. After this the personal stories of the three main characters and their loved ones are skillfully blended with the race to find some way to stop the aliens from systematically wiping out the entire human race. And of course, the decisive battle occurs on the Fourth of July.
So, what’s the verdict? As I mentioned at the beginning I have a love/hate relationship with the film. But on balance I consider the movie a success. The cast is for the most part likeable. The plot is undeniably exciting. And the resolution is almost completely satisfying. I have some quibbles about messaging by the David Levinson character about the use of nuclear weapons and environmental crap. And the President gets a little too globalist during the pep speech before the world-wide battle at the end of the movie. Saying that from now on the Fourth of July would be a world-wide holiday was pretty annoying. But for the most part it’s a good movie and has lots of great action, heroism and even some excellent comedy. Highly recommended.