Director Alex Proyas offered a striking view of a dark, futuristic society in his "Dark City", a small film that nevertheless blended nicely done action and visual effects with a fine helping of imagination. The director's "I, Robot" is his biggest effort yet, and surprisingly, he doesn't manage to infuse this Summer blockbuster with very much of the personality he's shown in prior films (although that's more than likely due to writer Akiva Goldsman.)
Will Smith stars as detective Del Spooner, an "old-school" officer who operates in Chicago, 2035 - yet he hates the technology that surrounds him. Robots assist everyone in the world, and pretty much function as a common appliance. Right before the new NS5 series of 'bots are unveiled to the masses, Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell) - the research head - has apparently commited suicide. His prime suspect is Sonny, a robot that seems to have motives and has worked his way around the Three Laws that govern human/robot interaction.
Aided by romantic interest/robotics worker Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), Spooner tries to convince everyone that the robots are about to rise up and take back the world from their human supervisors. There's also the matter of U.S. Robotics CEO Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood), who just seems like a potential suspect. "I, Robot" occasionally flirts with ideas about humanity and free will, but it really doesn't go too deeply into any theories, especially as it winds into the second half. Even a major "reveal" isn't given too much thought after it occurs.
The film's core is an event movie and the film's action sequences are quite superbly done, although some of them don't help the story along too much. The visual effects are outstanding, though - the film's visual effects are not only striking (a "demolition" robot awakening outside a house Spooner is sitting in, wave after wave of rather angry 'bots attacking Spooner's car), but integrated in a way that's surprisingly seamless. There's also other, less "explosive" visual effects elements - background scenery, smaller gadgets, etc. - that are also impressive.
The performances are good, if not great. Will Smith offers a performance that's a little darker, a little more cynical, but at its core, still a pretty familiar effort. Bridget Moynahan ("The Recruit")'s performance is a tad generic, and she never really brings much to the table. Cromwell and Greenwood are fine in small efforts, as is the always excellent Chi McBride.
Overall, "I, Robot" is a moderately entertaining Summer film that tinkers a bit in deeper thoughts. The screenplay develops characters in a satisfactory manner, but the story is rather predictable and could have used some work. In terms of action, however, the picture delivers, with some exciting sequences and superior visual effects.
Video: 20th Century Fox presents "I, Robot" in 2.40:1 (AVC/1080P) and the results are just astonishing. This is wholly and completely demo quality throughout the show. Sharpness and detail are magnificent, as the picture takes on an incredible, "life-like" feel, with great depth to the image at all times. I'd been curious to see how the stellar effects work of the picture would stand up on Blu-Ray and I'm pleased to say that the filmmakers' futuristic vision of Chicago still makes for impressively smooth and sleek eye candy on this release.
The picture was free of almost any sort of concerns - no pixelation, edge enhancement or noise was noticed. I did, however, spot a couple of tiny specks on the print used. Still, this tiny nitpick doesn't take away from the fact that this is otherwise an outstanding effor - it' just an almost impossibly clean, clear presentation that truly shows the kind of picture quality the format is capable of. Colors are magnificently presented, looking bold and 110% accurate. Flesh tones also looked perfect, while black level remained solid throughout.
SOUND: The film is offered with a DTS-HD 5.1 presentation. Although this wasn't always an aggressive presentation, it certainly had many moments where all 5 channels were used extensively. The film's action sequences offered both plenty of rumble and rear speaker action, especially sequences like the tunnel chase, the house destruction and the final segment. While a greater level of general ambience in the surrounds would have been nice, when the action sequences came in, the surrounds really came to life with a great deal of crisp, well-placed sound effects that were smoothly integrated.
Audio quality was terrific, as sound effects seemed crisp and well-recorded, as did dialogue. I didn't particularly like Marco Beltrami's score, but it sounded dynamic and full here. Dialogue remained clear and pretty natural sounding. The DTS-HD presentation is a very exciting option that's a definite winner, offering bolder low-end bass, crystal clarity and a less "speaker-specific" feel to the presentation. Dolby Digital 5.1 presentations in French & Spanish are also offered.
EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray edition of the film unfortunately does drop some extras (such as the "Three Laws Safe" documentary, which is nowhere to be found) from the prior DVD special edition. However, it does offer an enjoyable interface. If you click the green button on your remote, you can not only jump to any one of the three commentaries at any time, but you can also see what the current topic in the commentary. The red button allows the viewer to jump to pieces in the documentaries that have to deal with the scene at hand. Clicking the blue button offers a keyword search and the yellow button offers a trivia track.
The Blu-Ray carries over the commentaries from the DVD edition. First, there's an audio commentary with director Alex Proyas and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman. The commentary was fairly ordinary, as the two offered up a general overview of the production, as they chatted about the screenplay and alterations, characters, visuals and working with the actors. Unfortunately, the two participants also occasionally narrate the film. Overall, this is one of those commentaries where the participants generally offer what's expected, but I just wasn't terribly involved in the chat.
The second commentary present on the disc is from production designer Patrick Tatopolous, editor Richard Learoyd, visual effects supervisor John Nelson, associate producer John Kilkenny, animation supervisor Andrew Jones, and visual effects supervisor Brian Van't Hul. The commentary is interesting, although dry and rather technical. The track mostly provides a full view of what the filmmakers were going for in terms of the look of the movie, as the production designer discusses a lot of the finer details of scenes, while the effects designers discuss the elements that went into the specific effects sequences. Given the impressive nature of some of the film's effects, I was eager to hear the effects designers talk about their work.
Finally, there is a commentary from composer Marco Beltrami. This is an isolated score, but the composer does offer a discussion of his work in-between the music.
The first supplement on the second disc is the 75-minute "Days Out of Days", which is essentially a pile of pieces that, altogether, offer a picture of the entire production. Throughout the feature we are presented with random behind-the-scenes clips. While it's a little jarring to not have narration or subtitles "leading" through some of the material, this collection of clips is still full of fascinating material. The presentation is broken into 9 chapters, then there are sub-chapters.
"CGI and Design" is a documentary that expands on the discussion in the second commentary track. Here, we get a look at the visual work done to create the robot characters as well as some of the other massive effects sequences in the picture. We also hear from Proyas and others as to what they were shooting for in the overall look and feel of the movie.
"Sentient Machines" brings a group of scientists and other smarties together to discuss sci-fi and what we can expect in the future.
"Filmmaker's Toolbox" offers four deleted scenes (no commentary) and a series of effects breakdowns where we see, piece-by-piece, the many effects layers that went into some of the scenes in the movie.
Final Thoughts: "I, Robot" is entertaining fare with some very well-staged action sequences and solid visual effects. However, it would have been more satisfying if the picture managed a more balanced blend of ideas and action. The Blu-Ray edition offers audio/video quality that can only be described as awesome, as presentation quality is a very clear improvement over the regular DVD edition. While some of the extra features of the DVD edition are unfortunately not included, this Blu-Ray edition is still highly recommended.
The Film B