Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

I, Robot


Everything about this ho-hum thriller goes for the safe and totally predictable and awesomely boring. We are way, way past the point where seeing thousands and thousands of robots on the attack is mind-blowing.

But the heck with it. It’s what we know how to do.

Let’s see, a film about robots … I know! They run amok! There’s some flaw in the programming … or, wait, no, it’s a big corporation trying to screw everybody and something goes wrong! And let’s have a big computer in it, and that computer uses … uses cold, emotionless logic to explain her actions. (Let’s call the computer VIKI! Remember Hal in 2001? Like that!) Dr. Susan Calvin is one of the most famous characters in classic SF. But she’s short, tubby, and ugly, and too damn smart! Let’s make her a babe, and lots dumber than Will Smith, can’t have a woman smarter than Will in the movie, it says so right here in his contract. So let’s make her emotionless, too. She can say things like “that isn’t rational,” or maybe even “that doesn’t compute.” Sort of like Mr. Spock, only dumb.

And Asimov invented those Laws of Robotics, he must have been plenty smart, but face it, he wasn’t a man of action. His stories don’t have any violence in them, they’re sort of … cerebral. (Sorry, didn’t mean to use a dirty word.) They always involved some sort of … well, thinking about stuff, and working out a problem that way. Offhand, I can’t recall a single scene he ever wrote where trucks and cars crash in big tunnels with bullets flying. Will’s gotta carry a big gun, he’s done with the Tommy Lee Jones Men in Black shit, where it was funny who had the bigger gun. Will’s got to have the biggest gun, and he’s got to fire it a lot.

Will Smith can snooze his way through a standard smart-ass Will Smith part. He could phone it in by now. How about … a cop! And this cop … has an attitude! And, and … he’s the only one who sees the danger of robots! “You’re off the case, Will! Hand me your badge!” There’s a scene you haven’t seen enough times, right?

The sad thing is, there was the potential here for something at least a little bit interesting. When Asimov came up with the “positronic brain” (an example of what every science fiction writer will instantly recognize as “a device that does what I say it can do, even if I have not a clue in the world how it does it”), he and everyone else were unaware of any of the real problems that face fantastically complex computers. Nobody knew what a computer virus was. Nobody had envisioned computer warfare. And I know, there’s been plenty of that sort of stuff in movies, usually handled stupidly, but maybe some exploration of the Three Laws vs. computer hackers?
No. Too intelligent. Come on Will! Fire your big gun, dude!