Thursday, December 1, 2016

Cause No Harm - Review of "I, Robot"

Worst police lineup EVER.
There are at least two other blog posts I should be working on right now. But I've just seen I, Robot, and I need to talk about it. Not just need, I NEED to talk about it.

Short Answer: It was a really good movie.

Long Answer: I missed this film the first time around. It was one of those that I probably saw a trailer of in the theaters, but opted to see other stuff (this would have been... after my freshman year of college). It just didn't pique my interest at the time for whatever reason.

Since I've gotten married, Jared's introduced me to a wide variety of movies that I either dismissed when they were new, or I never knew of them before. I, Robot is definitely in the former category. It's actually one of his all-time favorite movies. And today - since I'd been down with a migraine/tummy ache combo and he'd been having problems with his back and we were both feeling like crap - it seemed like a good time for a movie night.

I, Robot takes place in the 2035s where everything is run by computers and machines and, of course, robots. Detective Del Spooner (played by Will Smith) doesn't completely trust all the automation in his city - and there's a legitimate reason for that. Problem is that Spooner is the only person who feels that way. Because the company US Robotics has promised people that the robots will never harm another human being. For a movie inspired by Isaac Asimov's short stories and his Three Laws of Robotics, this is key (and yes, the movie is inspired by Asimov. They didn't completely adapt one of his stories - they took his ideas and characters and made something new. Apparently, that ticked some people off, and those people are stupid).

Just FYI - those laws are (and they're outlined in the first few minutes of the movie) -

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
These Laws are basically Gospel Truth for this society. To suggest that a robot would put a human being in danger is the same as suggesting that the sky is purple and that cows poop oranges. It's ridiculous.

You can probably see where this is going to end up. Doesn't mean that it's any less entertaining or even thoughtful.

Spooner ends up investigating the apparent suicide of Dr. Alfred Lanning (played by James Cromwell), who is the top researcher at USR. Spooner figures that Lanning's death was not a suicide, but caused by a robot named Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk). Sonny is different than all the other robots - even the brand new ones that USR is in the process of rolling out. Sonny can exhibit emotions. He even dreams. He get angry and scared and freaks out when Spooner accuses him of murder. Of course, nobody believes Spooner and the company threatens legal action against the police department.

Spooner continues to investigate Lanning's death. Throughout the film, it's revealed why Spooner mistrusts robots so much. At first, I thought it was because a robot caused the death of someone close to Spooner. What actually happened is that a robot saved Spooner's life when he was involved in a car accident - but the robot allowed the twelve-year-old girl trapped in the other car to die because, statistically and logically, she had a lower chance of survival than he did.

Okay, I'm going to go on a slight tangent (that's relevant) - the Facebook techno-heads go on and on about how they want their entire system automated. That the posts you see are going to someday be solely based on your likes and what you click on and computers will figure this out through a super-sophisticated algorithm. But then I log onto Facebook and I see garbage that I have no desire to see ANYWHERE. Not because it's rude or offensive, but because it's just boring. I routinely have to clean out my ad preferences because Facebook thinks that I'm interested in the dumbest crap (I once had an obscure village in Wales show up in my preferences. Like, WTF Facebook?)

I bring up Facebook as an example of computers getting it horribly wrong in real life - and that's just about what kind of advertisements they show you. Imagine the same kind of "logic" determining who is worth saving in an accident or a disaster. Yeah, THAT'S frightening. But that's what this movie does so well - it takes something that is not outside the realm of possibility and applies it to something that doesn't exist, but possibly could. Granted, this movie came out before Facebook was invented - but the concept remains.

Also - imagine those robots deciding that humanity is too stupid to take care of itself, so they have to round us up and put us in glorified bubbles so we don't hurt ourselves. Granted, certain players in government and academia already try to do that, so I don't want those chuckleheads getting this kind of robotic technology.

Beyond the thought-provoking aspects of this film, the humor and dialogue is just so snappy and fun. I laughed at all the jokes. The lines showed so much of the characters and the story. I never felt like any of it dragged too long or got too boring. The pacing was just about perfect. I do have a slight criticism, in that I thought Dr. Susan Calvin was kind of wooden at times, but not enough for me to completely dislike her character. She was fine overall, but I feel like the actress could have done a better job.

Also - Spooner's grandmother, Gigi, just about steals the show in every scene she's in.

And this is probably the one role that Shia LaBeouf was made for. Spooner always comments about how annoying he is. A+ casting there, studio.

Overall, this was a fun movie that also made me think. It's equal parts mystery, thriller, action, sci-fi, and just enough humor to keep things flowing. The special effects hold up pretty well, for this having been released in 2004. And Sonny ends up being quite endearing (even though he was a little freaky at first).

If you haven't seen this movie, you really should check it out. I know the film critics weren't too kind to it (when are they ever with movies like this?) But I consider it an evening well-spent.

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