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Film
Suggested by Isaac Asimov’s short story collection and his Three Laws of Robotics, I, Robot stars Will Smith as Detective Del Spooner, a man who sees those he distrusts walking the streets of 2035 Chicago everyday—robots. While investigating the apparent suicide of one of the robotics field’s most respected members, Spooner becomes increasingly convinced that the machines are malfunctioning or being manipulated in some way. His suspicions are only heightened when during his investigation he uncovers a robot by the name of Sonny (Alan Tudyk) that may be the beginning to an evolution of the robots. With the release of a new model pending, which will make the number of robots one for every five humans on the planet, Spooner enlists the aid of one of the robots’ designers, Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), in a frantic search for the clues needed to unravel the mystery before it’s too late.

I, Robot
The last great science fiction film I recall seeing was Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report a couple of years ago. That film was not your typical sci-fi action film, but followed more along the lines of classic film noir while telling a good murder mystery. Of course the film had its share of special effects and action, but it wasn’t about either of those things, and any film that can respect its story enough to focus on that aspect of the film rather than the fancy money shots instantly has a leg up on the competition.

Alex Proyas’ I, Robot is very much a close cousin to Spielberg’s film. Yes, both films are basically police stories set in the near future featuring the lone protagonist against the world, but more importantly it isn’t your typical sci-fi action film. Like Minority Report, it plays more like a good detective yarn that just happens to have great special effects and action in service of its story.

This film is a step down though from the heights of Spielberg’s masterpiece. The first fault in the film lies in its casting choices and acting. Will Smith plays Spooner as Will Smith, just a little more sombre and grouchier than normal as if he just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Although it’s not a bad performance by any means, most of the jokes and one-liners that are Smith trademarks should have been left at home and out of the picture as they seem very out of place for the tone the rest of the film is attempting to achieve. Although I think it has much to do with the screenplay itself, Bridget Moynahan offers little in the film’s other lead role with fairly bland performance and the rest of the cast seems to fall right into the basic stereotypes of their characters. Having one lead who feels out of place and the other lifeless takes away from the film overall, and ironically leaves Alan Tudyk’s robotic character Sonny as the only bright spot in the picture.

I, Robot
Secondly, the screenplay by Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman fails to answer in any great detail the questions raised by the basic premise of the picture and falls just short of what they set out to accomplish with it. This could have been a heavily thought provoking film about what it means to be human and the duality of man and machine, but the screenplay only divulges in flashes of this aspect, instead focusing its attention more to the action aspects of the film. Adding a bit more depth to this portion of the story and to other aspects overall while still retaining the action scenes would have been a big step in the right direction.

Technically the film is brilliant with outstanding effects, music, production and sound design and good direction by Proyas, but I was still found wanting after watching it and left it a bit dissatisfied. I, Robot is still a very fun popcorn movie though and one that I can easily recommend to almost anyone, but I was hoping for a little more from the film based on its pedigree.

Video
Fox Home Video has presented I, Robot with an anamorphic transfer at the film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and the resulting transfer is fantastic. Relatively free of any grain or edge enhancement, containing a clear and sharp picture without an artefact to be found and featuring a high bit rate, this transfer is exactly how a film released theatrically this year should look in your home. All of the film’s great visuals virtually leap from the screen thanks to the contrast of the film’s more vibrant colours against the cold steel look of the film in general. All of this, along with the great cinematography and lighting from Simon Duggan and Patrick Tatopoulos’ production design, make this video transfer definitely reference quality and one of the year’s best.

I, Robot
Audio
The DVD presents audio choices that include Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 in English and Dolby Digital 2.0 in French and Spanish along with optional English and Spanish subtitles resulting in an audio presentation every bit as good as the video. Your home theatre system will get a good work out from the film’s many sound effects, dialogue and musical score, all presented in perfect clarity and expertly balanced to all speakers. My personal preferences towards Dolby Digital and DTS may vary from disc to disc, but on this DVD the clear winner is the DTS track which offers a wider dynamic range and richer, fuller sound. Marco Beltrami’s score for the film is one of his best and fits the film perfectly. Overall this is a reference quality audio presentation from Fox Home Video and in concert with the video transfer makes this disc one to show off that expensive home theatre setup to all of your friends with.

Extras
You would think that for all of the trouble Fox went through to give consumers a great presentation for the film they would have offered a wide ranging number of quality special features for I, Robot’s region one DVD debut, but unfortunately such is not the case.

First on the disc is an audio commentary from director Alex Proyas and co-screenwriter Akiva Goldsman. While the track is informative and both participants offer their particular insights to the production, they just aren’t very interesting to listen to. Those inclined to listen however should be somewhat pleased with the commentary’s wealth of information, but for the casual viewer the track is a bit dull and is probably best left skipped.

I, Robot
The disc also includes a behind the scenes featurette with a total running time of about thirteen minutes that includes director Proyas and the feature members of the cast. The featurette covers several aspects of the film’s production, but given the short running time it barely manages to scratch the surface of what was surely a complex film to bring to the screen.

The rest of the disc’s paltry features include an underwhelming photo gallery, an out of place trailer for the Fox television series Arrested Development and a ‘Fox First Look’ featurette which contains a trailer for the upcoming Mr. & Mrs. Smith and behind the scenes looks at the animated Robots and the Daredevil spin-off Elektra starring Jennifer Garner. At least the disc’s menu system is nice and well executed.

No doubt there will be a two-disc special edition heading to store shelves in the near future, which with the recent releases of The Day After Tomorrow and Man on Fire seems to be the approach that Fox Home Video is taking with newly released films on DVD; offer up a basically featureless disc and six months to a year later release an extra laden special edition. It is a shift in marketing directly opposite to their previous strategy of releasing two-disc special editions first on a limited basis, such as with films like From Hell, Fight Club and Big Trouble in Little China to name only a few, and later releasing cheaper, single disc variations of the same titles. At least with their release of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World Fox gave consumers a choice by releasing both editions on the same date. Other regions have already seen the release of two-disc editions in the case of I, Robot and The Day After Tomorrow, so there is no reason to deny the same to region one consumers as well, except other than to gouge more cash from consumers’ pockets. To put it quite bluntly, that stinks.

I, Robot
Overall
I, Robot is definitely a good if somewhat uneven film offering a nice change of pace from your normal sci-fi action films and great production values, but the film is hampered somewhat by Will Smith’s patented, wise cracking character archetype that seems out of place in the film while the rest of cast seems to just take a back seat to him and the effects for the most part. Don’t get me wrong, I like Will Smith as much as the next person, but I’m not convinced he was the right choice for this particular picture. The DVD itself is bereft of any worthwhile special features, but on the plus side it features a reference quality presentation. Those who are able to should seek out this release from another region to get all of the extra features or wait for the eventual two-disc edition to hit store shelves in region one, but those less inclined towards the extras will have nothing to complain about by purchasing this disc.


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