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I ROBOT
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Will Smith, Bridget Moynanhan, Bruce Greenwood, James Cromwell, Chi McBride, Alan Tudyk
Director: Alex Proyas
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 114 Minutes
Release Date: March 11, 2008

“I am…UNIQUE.”

Film ****

Few mainstream Hollywood releases, let alone those in the science fiction genre, hardly ever seem to match entertainment with a high level of intelligence. Not only is I, Robot one of the year’s biggest surprises, but it’s easily the single best sci-fi pic to come around since Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report more than two years ago. Going into the movie, I expected a good level of entertainment and loads of visual effects, but I never expected anything like the issues raised in the movie.

The movie is a prime example of how visuals and story can blend together to make a masterful piece of cinematic work. It helps a lot when the director is Alex Proyas, the visually gifted director of The Crow and Dark City. There’s no question that this was Proyas’ biggest production yet, but he knew exactly how to put the huge budget to terrific use.

For admires of the original novels by the great Isaac Asimov, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this is a faithful adaptation. At the same time, those who cherished these short stories should be anything but disappointed by the way screenwriters Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsmith have adapted the material. I, myself, have never read the original books, but I can tell you that this film carries with it many themes that fans of science fiction, such as myself, are bound to admire.

The story is set in a visually stunning vision of Chicago in the year 2035. In this particular future, robots have become a vital resource for everyday use by humans. They can cook, clean dishes, clean the house, and just about everything upon request. The world’s leading technology corporation, U.S. Robotics, is on the eve of distributing the newly designed NS-5 robot, the most elite of its kind.

LAW I-A robot may not injure another human being or, through inaction, allow another human being to come to harm.

The story’s human center is Del Spooner (Will Smith), a city detective who is dead set against anything having to do with robots. Spooner sees them as nothing but potential danger for humans. His prejudices against the machines find their way into Spooner’s latest murder investigation, where in which he suspects a robot of committing the murder.

The murder victim is the renowned Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), the head of robotic research at U.S. Robotics. Though given the appearance of a suicide, Spooner doesn’t hesitate on giving his suspicions a rest. When inspecting around the crime scene, he discovers an NS-5 robot hiding in the shadows. Despite seeming more frightened than suspicious, the robot is taken into custody after eluding authorities.

The robot, named Sonny (Alan Tudyk), maintains that Dr. Lanning’s death was suicidal. He reveals to Spooner that prior to the death, the doctor was teaching him to adapt human emotions. Spooner feels that is what precisely led to the murder, suspecting the adapting of emotions got out of hand. The interrogation scene between Spooner and Sonny is one of the most riveting portions of the movie, as Sonny displays unique curiosity of human behavior.

The first fascinating element of I, Robot is the amazing performance of actor Alan Tudyk as Sonny. Tudyk, most recently seen as Steve the Pirate in Dodgeball, delivers a virtual performance that not only deserves Academy Award recognition, but is also on par with that of Gollum from Lord of the Rings. Tudyk underwent the exact same procedure as Andy Serkis did for Gollum, and each mannerism and emotion has been transferred to create a one of a kind virtual character that you really do end up caring for throughout the movie.

LAW II-A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the first law.

The movie also serves a reminder that despite being obviously entertaining presence, Will Smith is a strong actor. This is an outstanding performance that ranks with his turn in Ali. He has both the great one liners, but this time around opens up great depth, especially during a scene where Spooner’s reason for disliking robots is revealed, which is a truly powerful moment.

And as for the use of visual effects, I, Robot demonstrates that while most big budget movies dish out effects just to show off, that there are movies that can take effects and have them serve a useful purpose, like in Minority Report and The Chronicles of Riddick. Alex Proyas and his effects crew have done a marvelous job in creating a movie environment where you forget that you’re looking at a visual effect.

The vision of Chicago in 2035 is magnificently realized, with something going on in nearly every frame for the eyes to gaze upon. The robots have been extremely well designed, and the automobiles used in the future have never looked cooler. To put it simply, I, Robot contains some of the best usage of CGI effects work you will ever see in a single movie. It’s one to rank amongst the likes of Star Wars, The Matrix and Lord of the Rings.

Along with the innovative effects work, Proyas knows how to execute marvelous action scenes that treat the senses to something really exciting. He did this in Dark City, and he’s done it once again here with some jaw dropping sequences. One sequence has Spooner having his car attacked by menacing robots on a freeway. The second is a scene where an army of robots flood the city streets ordering humans to abide new laws. The third is a climatic shootout, where in which Proyas applies ingenious camera techniques that will blow you away, making it something of an original type of action sequence.

LAW III-A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

When you think about it, it’s kind of impossible to label a film as being both knockout entertainment and thought provoking. I, Robot is a monumental combination of the two. With effects that will really impress, a virtual performance for the history books from Alan Tudyk, a powerful turn from Will Smith, and an amazing vision courtesy of Alex Proyas, this is quite simply one of the best science fiction movies to come around in ages.

Video ****

This is a movie that was pretty much made for Blu-ray. High definition succeeds in bringing this futuristic Chicago to life right before your eyes. There are visual effects present in a about 95 percent of the movie, and they all show off incredibly here. With this and the recent arrival of Dark City, one thing is clear…a film by Alex Proyas is going to look its glorious best on Blu-ray.

Audio ****

Thus far, this may be the most astonishing uncompressed DTS track I’ve heard on a Blu-ray release. As the case with all futuristic action pics, sound is a vital ingredient and this is one forceful and dynamic sound mix that takes advantage of every possible sound element. Action scenes sound fantastic, as do dialogue delivery and the intense music score.

Features ****

Not only does this release include all of the plentiful extras from the 2-Disc Collector’s Edition DVD release, but you can also access them simply by using the colored buttons on your Blu-ray remote…and each button will take you to a different set of extras.

And among these features, we get three commentaries. The first one is with Alex Proyas and Akiva Goldsmith, the second with composer Marco Beltrami, the third with production designer Patrick Tatopoulos, editor Richard Learoyd and the Visual Effects Team. We also get some extensive behind the scenes material, including "Days Out of Days" (Production Diaries), "CGI and Design" (Featurettes), "Sentient Machines" (Robotic Behavior), "Three Laws Safe" (Conversations About Science Fiction and Robots), "The Filmmaker's Toolbox" (VFX How-To Clips), and Deleted Scenes/Alternate Ending.

Lastly, there is one tiny exclusive to this disc, which is an Annotated Guide Trivia Track.

Summary:

I, Robot is a downright must-have for Blu-ray collectors. Credit director Alex Proyas for painting an awe-inspiring glimpse of the future, and to his team of effects artists for bringing to life a one of a kind sci-fi action thinker. And in high def form, the movie has never been more spectacular!

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