A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: The 15th Anniversary – I Robot

A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: “Are You Going To Arrest Me, Detective?”. A 15th Anniversary Appreciation Of My Favorite (& Best) Will Smith Film “I Robot”. A Kinetic & Attention Grabbing Sci-Fi/Actioner That Combines Spectacular Visual Effects, Big Action Sequences & Ideas That Proves Hollywood Can Produce Astonishing Entertainment. 

Every time I watch a Will Smith film I’m reminded of Kevin Smith’s best work as a writer and director, his 2004 film “Jersey Girl”. Ben Affleck starred as Ollie Trinkie a hotshot music promoter, who’s next client was Will Smith. As Smith was trying to start his music career while he was still starring in his hit series “The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air”. Affleck’s Ollie never believed Smith would make it outside of his tv series as he said “Like the fresh prince will ever have a movie career”. Cmon don’t tell me you didn’t think the same thing? 

As we all know the films joke wasn’t true as Will Smith became one of the biggest film stars in Hollywood. He has come to be known as the box office king of summer movies, starring in the biggest hits of the summer: “Wild Wild West”, “Bad Boys 1 & 2”, “Men In Black Trilogy (1, 2 and 3), “Hancock”, “Suicide Squad”, “Aladdin”, “Independence Day” and my favorite film of his “I Robot”. 

Here we are “I Robot” celebrates it’s 15th anniversary since it’s release in 2004. “I Robot” originally had no connections with Isaac Asimov’s “Robot” series. It all started with an original screenplay written in 1995 by Jeff Vintar, originally entitled “Hardwired”. The script was written as an Agatha Christie inspired murder mystery that took place entirely at the scene of a crime. It follows FBI agent Del Spooner, investigating the killing of a reclusive scientist named Alfred Lanning, as he interrogates a cast of machine suspects that included Sonny the robot, VIKI the supercomputer, Lanning’s hologram, and several other examples of artificial intelligence. 

“I Robot” was first acquired by Walt Disney Pictures for Bryan Singer (“X-Men”, “The Usual Suspects”) to direct. Several years later, 20th Century Fox acquired the rights, and signed Alex Proyas (“The Crow” and “Dark City”) as director. Jeff Vintar was brought back on the project and spent several years opening up his stage play-like cerebral mystery to meet the needs of a big budget studio film.

When the studio decided to use the name “I Robot”, Vintar incorporated Isaac Asimov’s the Three Laws of Robotics. The rules were introduced in his 1942 short story “Runaround” (included in the 1950 collection titled “I Robot”). The three laws are:

1. A robot must never harm a human, or through inaction allow a human to come to harm. 

2. A robot must always obey the orders of humans except where to do so would conflict with obeying the first law. 

3. A robot must protect its own existence, except where to do so would conflict with the first or second laws. 

The Three Laws of Robotics, as stated in the film, is also the same three laws used in the film “Bicentennial Man” (1999) starring Robin Williams. The films is also based off the works by Isaac Asimov. Veteran screenwriter Akiva Goldsman came in to clean up Vintar’s screenplay. In the final film, Goldsman is credited for the screenplay, with Vintar receiving “screen story by” credit. The end credits also list the film as suggested by the book 

“I Robot” by Isaac Asimov. After reading Vintar’s early “Hardwired” and “I Robot script”, representatives of the Asimov estate considered it “more Asimov than Asimov”. A number of critics and Asimov fans continue to dismiss “I Robot” as a film that has nothing to do with the book, claiming “they should have followed the novel”. While many do not seem to realize that the book is not a novel at all, but a series of loosely-connected little logic puzzles. 

As the years pass and the movie continues to be enjoyed, more and more real-world roboticists have come forward to say that they were inspired by the Will Smith film to achieve real advancements in robotics, and others have written papers on how the movie actually does hold true to Asimov’s concepts, and perceptively explores the nature of the Three Laws.

Smith plays Del Spooner, who has never liked robots, which have become ubiquitous in 2035, where Chicago and the rest of the world swears by them. Created by Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), the NS-5 robots, which have positronic brains, are built to serve and protect humankind. They are almost human, with their hard-wire circuits designed to obey the three laws. 

For the character of Sonny the accused robot, the effects team used the same process that was used to create Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, with “Serenity” star Alan Tudyk providing the body movements and voice for Sonny. Wil Wheaton (“Stand By Me”) and Emilio Estevez (“St Elmo’s Fire”) auditioned for the part of Sonny. The film boasts a remarkable CGI creation in “Sonny,” a robot who thinks, dreams and has feelings. Watching him, it’s hard to believe he was never physically on the set. In the early drafts of “I Robot”, Sonny’s secondary brain was made out of living tissue, making him a Self Organizing Neural Net, or “Sonny” for short. Sonny attained true consciousness the moment he discovered the dead body of his creator.

Director Alex Proyas had a difficult time with 20th Century Fox studio head Tom Rothman, who was threatening to remove the film’s ending and replace it with “more jokes” just days before the film’s premiere. Proyas intended to write a book about his experience making the film, which he describes as trying to run a marathon with the studio constantly throwing chairs in his path, but friends warned him that he’d never work in this town again. Even without the tell-all, “I Robot” was his last studio film.

Alex Proyas insists that even Will Smith did not want to be funny in this film, despite pressure from the studio. The humor was designed in such a way that it could easily be edited out. Unfortunately an early test screening in California attained the highest score in the history of the studio, and the movie’s future was sealed: the jokes would stay in. Despite having a tough time with the studio, no re-shoots were required, a rarity for a movie as big as this.

“I Robot” grossed $144.8 million in the United States and Canada, and $202.4 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $347.2 million, against a production budget of $120 million. “I Robot” remains the most successful film of Davis Entertainment. Attempts at a sequel or a TV series follow-up have been tried several times, but never get past Will Smith’s Overbrook Films. Truth is, Smith would get paid so much money if a sequel or TV show was produced, making a follow up is simply not financially sound.

“I Robot” is certainly ambitious. It wants to be a summer star vehicle for Will Smith, a non-stop action flick, a dazzling display of what’s new in computer-generated effects and a groundbreaking sci-fi/drama about the future of man and machine. What’s eerie and intriguing about “I, Robot” is that its premise isn’t all that far-fetched. A future corporation could very well form a partnership with the government to provide robots for every household, and families that would welcome a machine that could cook, clean and drive.

Be that as it may, “I Robot” is futuristic in ways that the inventive Mr. Asimov couldn’t have imagined during his heyday, which peaked before computer-generated imagery. Few directors can match Alex Proyas in his ability to make a futuristic urban landscape look gritty and tangible, and the world he creates in “I Robot” is truly breathtaking. director Alex Proyas has an original eye and a flair for moody expressionism, and the film’s other visual aspects almost all of which were computer generated come together with a “Metropolis” like grandeur and the same highly personal style that he gave films such as “The Crow” and “Dark City”. 

“I Robot” doesn’t do for the eponymous book what “Blade Runner” did for Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” But it does succeed on its own terms as an entertaining mid-season popcorn movie that gives Will Smith a chance to maximize his considerable talents as a leading man. Smith’s portrayal of the hero, a cop convinced that a scientist’s supposed suicide was actually a murder committed by a robot which, if true, would expose a disastrous flaw in the “laws of robotics” that keep humans safe from their mechanical servants. Smith makes it look easy, but underneath the physical high jinks and slick veneer of “I Robot” lies a performance of real discipline and intelligence.

“I Robot” is the perfect sci-fi movie for a post 9/11 world, in that it tells us we’re afraid of threats hiding in plain sight. The amazing CGI effects and visual effects are imaginative and convincing. Proyas Film is kinetic and attention-grabbing, as it adeptly combines action sequences and ideas and proves that Hollywood can produce visually astonishing entertainment. 



About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros lives on the beautiful island of Maui. He is a member of The Hawaii Film Critics Society, movie critic for Maui Watch, a commentator and cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, learning about movies from his Grandfather and being self taught.

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