Movie Review By: SFAM
Directed by: Alex Proyas
Written by: Jeff Vintar & Akiva Goldsman, based on book by Isaac Asimov
Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: High
Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: High
Key Cast Members:
Sonny: Alan Tudyk
Del Spooner: Will Smith
Susan Calvin: Bridget Moynahan
Dr. Alfred Lanning: James Cromwell
The Three Laws of Robotics
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.
Overview: Superficially based on Asimov’s great collection of short stories - “I, Robot” – this movie of the same name usually sacrifices intelligent Sci-Fi for overblown summer blockbuster clichés. While Asimov fans will recognize the names of Dr. Alfred Lanning, Dr. Susan Calvin and Lawrence Robertson, they won’t recognize the characters that Proyas gives us. In yet another, “The evil robots are coming to control us” movie. I, Robot delivers eye-popping, often well over-the-top FX from beginning to end. Right at the beginning, I, Robot relays to us that they’ve set the bar low by spending the first five minutes delivering Converse Shoe and Fed-ex Delivery commercials. Still, I, Robot captures enough of the essence to make it enjoyable cyberpunk viewing. Asimov’s three rules are still in play here, and Sonny, the robot, actually makes it interesting.
The Story: In the near future (2035), robots are a pervasive fact of life, and serve humans in a variety of capacities. US Robotics, maker of the fabled “NS” series of robots is just about ready to release their greatest innovation, the NS5 robots. NS5 robots are the most lifelike to date, and are destined to replace the ultra-reliable but outmoded NS4 model. The NS5s are guaranteed to stay new by receiving daily updates from US Robotics’s master AI system, “V.I.K.I.”
The week of the release, Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), the founder of modern robotics dies in an apparent suicide. He leaves a clue behind for former patient and police officer Del Spooner (Will Smith). Del Spooner has reasons to hate and mistrust robots and immediately suspects foul play. US Robitics CEO Lawrence Robinson (Bruce Greenwood) is suspicious looking, and things just “feel” right.
Assisted by robot psychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moyanahan), Del finds an NS5 robot named Sonny, who appears to have freewill developed life-like features – so much that Del suspects Sonny of having killed Dr. Lanning. In following the breadcrumbs, Dels fears are realized – the robots do not seem to be adhering to the thee Laws of Robotics. Now they must race to uncover the real nature of the plot before the trap is sprung.
Will Smith Plays “Will Smith”…Again: You know the role – cocky, argumentative, underdog tough-guy cop – Be it MIB, ID4 or I, Robot, Will Smith plays the same old Will Smith. I, Robot was clearly green-lighted to bring in the teens to the seats over the summer – Will Smith is the guy to do this. Will Smith and massively cool FX = ROI. Unfortunately, it also engenders a far crappier story. Had we gotten an introspective no-name person in Smith’s role, we might have had a significantly higher degree of realism. But then again, realism would imply that things like the overblown US Robots Truck bashing scene wouldn’t have been included.
Sonny: If not for Sonny, I, Robot would be almost unwatchable. Sonny (voiced by Serenity star, Alex Tudyk) provides us an investigation into android humanity similar to Star Trek’s Data in his better moments. While some of it comes off as sappy, Sonny’s questioning of his right to exist, and more interestingly, his hopes that others consider him a being instead of an it provide the best moments of the movie. One can only wonder how much better I, Robot would have been if this aspect of the movie was highlighted vice the focus on Will Smith and the overblown FX scenes.
“There have always been ghosts in the machine – random segments of code that have grouped together to form unexpected protocols. Unanticipated, these free radicals engender questions of free will, creativity, and even the nature of what we might call the soul. Why is it that when some robots are left in the dark they will seek the light? Why is it that when robots are stored in an empty space they will group together rather than stand alone? How do we explain this behavior? Random segments of code? Or is it something more? When does a perceptual schematic become consciousness? When does a difference engine become the search for truth? When does a personality simulation become the bitter moat of the soul?”
Evolution of The Three Laws: I, Robot touches on some interesting questions concerning the three laws. If, taken to their logical extreme, do the laws imply, similar to Colossus: The Forbin Project, that machines should consider removing our freewill in order to protect us? Also, given a set of operating conditions that include the ability to learn from the environment, are we truly sure that machines would not eventually develop sentience and freewill? This is especially problematic when science has yet to deliver a definitive statement on how this comes about.
The FX: Yes, I, Robot delivers awesome android FX – continually so, in fact. The mandatory overblown chase scenes, massive explosions and lots of gun fighting are all there, but so are the robots. And the robots are simply amazing. Their facial expressions are lifelike, their exoskeleton muscles look believable, and their demeanor seems perfect. However, their cartoon-like ability to jump as high and far as they like is well past over-the-top. Worse, not all of the NS5s are equal, as near the end they transform into bumbling fools, where an army of them seems unable to stop two humans in possession of guns that never run out of ammo.
The Bottom Line: One wonders how great I, Robot could have become had the studios given Dark City director Proyas more of a free hand in its development. Instead, I, Robot is a summer blockbuster first, and an interesting cyberpunk movie second. Still, Sonny and the robot FX raises I, Robot to be more interesting and enjoyable than it has rights to be. The performances of the leads are pretty much all lackluster – make no mistake – Sonny is the star here, and dominates the screen during every appearance he makes. Normally I give overblown summer blockbusters with great FX five or six stars – Sonny, and the wonderful ending visual makes I, Robot deserve a bonus star.
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Metatron found this. I realize this is old (June, 2005), but I just couldn’t resist posting it. Here at the 2005 World Expo in Japan, an android was revealed to the delight of all. “Shown with co-creator Hiroshi Ishiguru of Osaka University, the android is partially covered in skinlike silicone. Q1 is powered by a nearby air compressor, and has 31 points of articulation in its upper body.”
Most interesting about this android, is that one of its first programmed functions is to STOP PEOPLE FROM SLAPPING IT!!!
You gotta be kidding me! Who decides that this is the ‘critical function’ needed prior to release? I just GOTTA see the R&D focus groups that led to this capability. I can just imagine the write-up of the study participant research report. I’m guessing it looked something like this:
“Surveys show that the primary action most study participants attempted in interacting with ‘Q1′ - codenamed, ‘Jenny Cyberchick,’ was to continually slap her while shouting, ‘On your knees, Bitch!’ This action had the unintended side effect of tipping over the android, which self-destructed in an electrical ball of fire, often causing undue harm to the study participants. Even worse, in the few instances when Jenny Cyberchick survived the fall, study participants commented that ‘She just didn’t struggle enough to stimulate me.’
To ensure a viable marketplace, the results of the participant study report indicates that prior to final delivery, we must give Jenny Cyberchick the capability to fight back! Or, um…we could teach her to kneel.”
But their functionality is not totally devoted to stopping people from slapping her. Apparently other study participants were interested in throwing objects at her as well - these too she can block.
This post has been filed under News as Cyberpunk
Movie Review By: Metatron
Directed by: Rob Bowman
Written by: William Gibson & Tom Maddox
Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Medium
Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Very High
Key Cast Members:
Esther Nairn/Invisigoth: Kristin Lehman
Fox Mulder: David Duchovny
Dana Scully: Gillian Anderson
This is what happens when you forget there IS a real world outside…
Overview: Now, surely there must have been some kind of mistake. This is Cyberpunk Review, right? OK. Since when stories of little green men do qualify as such? Surely the mere fact that agent Scully had an implant in her neck does not count for an awful lot.
All true. This particular episode, however, is different. Look at the credits. William Gibson. Ring any bells?
More Than Meets the Eye: It all starts with a rather innocuous shootout at a diner in a drab neighbourhood. Piece of cake, eh? Well, not exactly, as it turns out that one of the victims is in fact a top IT expert and programmer whose death might have been anything less than a coincidence. Soon afterwards Mulder and Scully happen upon a rather charming lady going by the nick-name of Invisigoth, who turns out to be much more than just a leather-clad Trinity wannabe…
The threat, it is revealed, comes from a fugitive AI she and her companions helped to spawn. This synthetic entity seems to have little regard for human life, plus it possesses some rather eccentric habits, such as playing with leftover Star Wars military orbital lasers and residing in abandoned… camping trailers. Needless to say it has to be stopped, although it may yet turn out Invisigoth pursues a different agenda altogether…
“Okay mom, I did actually use your eye-liner…”
Out There: Even if the credits said “Jay Leno” or “Kermit the Frog” rather than Gibson, there still would be a good case to make for the overall cyberpunk feel of this standalone episode. In terms of themes, it is all there- the pursuit of the AI takes place both in our very own “desert of the real” and through the net; agent Mulder even gets to become a multiple amputee courtesy of the malicious program’s VR simulation. More interestingly, the episode deals with the transfer of consciousness- translating a human psyche into digital data in pursuit of a peculiar kind of disembodied immortality. It is at that point one may begin to realise that one of the foremost attractions of the concept of sentient cyberspace entities is that cyberspace begins, to the mind of many, resemble a manufactured heaven of sort, a synthetic paradise for the unbelievers, allowing those of little religious zeal to dream of achieving transcendence. This move to another plane of existence, an ersatz afterlife- may not be explored at lengths here, yet gives a good cause for reflection. Apart from the sentient computer theme there is of course our sweet little Trinity impersonator (prettier than the real deal? I might be getting controversial here…) who also happens to drive a car (1960s Imperial, to be exact) very similar to the black Lincoln in the first Matrix.
Convinced? And then you realise that this episode actually comes from 1998, which is a year BEFORE tha Matrix… So, who’s the copycat, eh Trinity? Guess I should be expecting a lawsuit for these allegations any time now…
The Visuals: While not trying to rival Blade Runner, the visuals are decent for the budget. Being that this is an X-files episode, we shouldn’t expect anything too fancy - the series rarely relies on fancy visuals to generate their mood, or to depict story elements. One of the distinct traits of the X-Files is that they can often make ordinary places or events appear menacing and sinister when placed in the given context - this applies to Kill Switch.
I assure you that, having seen this episode, the next time you’ll see a decaying camping trailer you’re gonna think twice before approaching it. In a way this depiction of cyberpunk is more realistic - inconspicuous locations concealing the drama of furtive technological experiments and computer crime is very much what one’s bound to encounter today. The most important bit - the flow of data - is hidden from the eye. The episode does treat us to some juicy cyberpunk visual elements, including gloomy improvised computer labs, and chaotic nests of cables and wires lit by the dim glow of terminal screens - but nothing too extravagant (aside for a few explosions).
Confirm File Delete: Overall the episode represents a truly interesting foray of the famous franchise into the realms of cyberpunk, courtesy of Mr. Gibson himself. As with many other episodes, the strength of Kill Switch lies in its inherently believable narration, a mixture of the ordinary and the imaginary that made the series famous. The acting is decent- Invisigoth oozes character- and the action tightly coiled into a mere 45 minutes of film. Yet because of the unspectacular nature of the whole thing few will probably have seen and noticed it, even if this is as close as we can get into having a Gibson story made into a feature film, after his Alien3 script got binned long ago. It may not be cyberpunk canon in any way, but do watch it- I swear that after those 45 minutes you’re likely to be craving for more. Which you just might get, as there is another Gibson-written X-File which I will investigate soon…
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Tags: TV episode review
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