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The SF project: I, Robot 
14th-Dec-2007 12:08 pm
earth, hhgttg
I wasn't kidding. I think it's terrible how little I've seen of recent TV and cinemas from my favourite genre I've actually seen, so I'm setting about actually looking at it.

Starting with DVDs I find around the flat.

I, Robot

One thing I've decided on when judging modern SF movies is to judge them as movies/ shows in their own right and not as adaptations. I avoided watching I, Robot until today based purely on firm rumours that it was a terrible adaptation of the Asimov stories. But maybe it's not so bad as a film in it's own right?

It really is very unfair to judge this as an adaptation, because it isn't one. But it is, in fact, a rather good film that acknowledges the laws that were the premise of Asimov's works.The major difference being: Asimov's laws were meant to be great. The movie paints the laws as being faulty. So, the same starting point, but a new plot - well, the plot of Blade Runner with added elements of whatever it is the plots of the first two seasons of Heroeshas ripped off. Anyway, it works. It's gripping, it's thought provoking, and the characters are as three dimensional as you want from an action movie like this. They have interesting motivations which create good dialogue, anyway.

Oh boy, is it ever pretty. The robots are all gorgeous CGI effects that blend seemlessly in with the live action. The futuristic Chicago  has that wonderful 'near future' look - very obviously the city we know from today, with added product placement and AI -operated machinery painted on perfectly. There's a visible but not too sharp contrast between the clean shiny white 'haves' and the dirty, dark and rusty 'have nots', even doen the the older robots.

And the action sequences which are the point of the movie are top notch.

Science Fiction:
Well, it starts with the Three Laws which are the premise of Asimov's work, and thus sets itself up as having the same premise, and a very firm premise it is. Of course, it then goes on to find flaws in the Laws which Asimov never intended there to be, but it still does so in a logical way to tell a story.

I don't know enough about A.I. systems to fault the science,  but it seemed fine to me. Particularly the evolution and adaptation of intelligent systems.Nanites were used as a plot device, but not dwelt on too much.

The relations between humanity and robots was the major pillar of the movie, and also the weakest one: the film can't seem to decide if humanity as a whole sees robots as people or things, but then, that's very clearly the point: no one can decide if they're people or things, and what's the more dangerous viewpoint, and the confusion, whether deliberate or not, is quite poignant.

: Surprisingly good. It was a great mistake to dismiss a good film for being a poor adaptation.
14th-Dec-2007 12:06 pm (UTC)
I couldn't get past the sidelining of Dr Susan Calvin, I'm afraid.

I loved A Scanner Darkly - haven't read the book, but have read other works of Dick and it seemed to capture his style pretty well. I have just bought the DVD, so if you don't find it elsewhere...
14th-Dec-2007 12:18 pm (UTC)
Well, it was pretty standard fare for treatment of female characters in a macho action movie.

I love Dick, but have a bad track record with Dick-adaptations, probably because I am really only just trying to let go of judging films as adaptations. I'd really like to borrow that, yeah.
14th-Dec-2007 12:35 pm (UTC)
Dick always had good ideas and concepts, which has made him popular for scriptwriters to mine for story ideas.

However, I actually like two of his more famous adaptions; Bladerunner and Total Recall (the later being based on a story of his that was all of four pages long).

As for I, Robot well... I didn't really like it. It was too shamelessly a two hour commercial and seems to artificially set up for Will Smith's character to go "Hah hah, told you so, they are all killbots", even though his "reason" for hating the robots basically amounts to him being a douchebag. Oh no, a robot saved your life because you were most likely to survive, which regardless of the fact that the robot had no free will over its decision and HAD to save him, makes all robots secretly evil.
14th-Dec-2007 12:46 pm (UTC)
I like Total Recall and don't like Blade Runner - though I don't think Blade Runner is bad, I just don't enjoy it a lot - but I've read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and I haven't read We can Remember it for you Wholesale, which might have coloured my judgment of it.

The product placement pissed me off, but it always does and I ignore it. The problem was - Will was wrong in his prejudice, and it was set up as wrong. He disliked Robots because they made judgment calls on cold logic, and he's a hot blooded hero who diapproves of that kind of thing. It was a little too heavy handed in its emotions=humanity=good thing, and Sonny was a little too close to Number 5 for my liking, but the movie tried hard to paint both sides, and I think it did it well.

And all robots weren't evil. There was one 'evil' robot who obeyed the Laws, one 'good' robot who had free will and emotions, and countless will-less robots who were used by the evil robot for evil if they had the level programming rquired to find the loophole in the Laws.

I have general problems with the idea that emotions are morally superior to logic, but it wasn't the point of this, a cool action movie with robot fight scenes.
14th-Dec-2007 03:22 pm (UTC)
I kind of have the same feeling about the third well known Dick adaption, The Minority Report, which was an EXCELLENT piece of cinematography that I didn't happen to like that much as a movie.

With regards to the product placement, the thing is that it went out of its way to be blatant. When Will put on his Vans (circa 2005, dontcha know), it actually had a close up on them. The only thing that would have topped it off was if suddenly the clouds broke and they were bathed in perfect golden light and the sound of a choir of angels was heard in the distance. Naturally, this could have happened with most of the products placed in the movie (and I think would have made the movie alot funnier if they had). They might as well go back to the time on the old vaudevilles before they invented commercial breaks where they'd invest a couple minutes of programming to having the characters talk about how awesome detergent was while posing with the cans.

With the evil robots, my problem is that in order to make Will right on the emotions=humanity=good bit, they had to make the evil robots express the Zeroth Law (which wasn't a loophole) they way they did, which was somewhat absurd. Somehow, I don't think "A robot must never harm humanity, or allow humanity to come to harm" is reasonable to interpret as "unleash a rampaging horde of killbots", complete with said rampaging killbots glowing red to show you they are the bad sort of robot. This is supposed to be "I, Robot", not "The Terminator". I'm all about a good head stomping robotfest, but it kind of is dumb in context.

Alot of the elements really just defeat the spirit of the thing. Sonny not being bound by the Laws and chucking his creator out a window. Susan Calvin being practically an ancillary character stuck in because they can't have a movie with a sexy woman that needs rescuing. The whole killbots in something that bills itself as inspired by Asimov thing. It just doesn't work.
14th-Dec-2007 01:43 pm (UTC)
I may want to watch it a couple of times over the festive season - I'll be in touch!
14th-Dec-2007 12:44 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I haven't read the Asimov, so can't comment on it as an adaptation, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. My expectations weren't very high, but it was certainly a better-than-average modern sci-fi/action film.

It gives me hope that Smith's I Am Legend might be OK...
14th-Dec-2007 12:47 pm (UTC)
It gave me the same hopes. Although I have read Matheson, and am going to have to work harder to detach it as an 'adaptation'.

The trailers make it look more like "Americans attempt 28 Days Later"
14th-Dec-2007 02:10 pm (UTC)
I've read the Matheson, but didn't read it until a couple of years back. Whereas I've always had a soft spot for Chuck Heston's Omega Man since I was a kid, and I think I still prefer that. I'm weird!

From what I can tell, Smith's version is more like a remake of Chuck's film than an adaptation of the novel.
14th-Dec-2007 02:12 pm (UTC)
I haven't seen the Omega Man, but it makes sense you prefer the version you encounter first, definitely.

All I've really read is this, which doesn't help much
14th-Dec-2007 02:20 pm (UTC)
The Omega Man is very much a film of it's time, and very much a Chuck Heston film, but it has that early 70s Panavision thing going that I love. Many people think it's complete rubbish, but they're wrong! LOL

Vinnie Price's Last Man on Earth is quite good too, but Price is a bit miscast and it sort of unravels after the first half.
14th-Dec-2007 04:02 pm (UTC)
I actually thought both films and the novella were all great - I guess I'm a bit odd that way!

Of course I thought they were all great in their own way, having only the general concept in common (and only vaguely at that).

Love your icon. I think the world needs a "Plan 9" Christmas special. ^_^
14th-Dec-2007 01:13 pm (UTC)
My understanding was that they didn't get the licence for the Asimov story until after they'd started production, so they build in I, Robot elements into an existing project rather than doing two separate films.

Hence it's not really I, Robot, it's a film with ideas taken from it. Although I still haven't seen it. OTOH, I haven't read the book for about 20 years so it wouldn't matter that much. I also haven't read I Am Legend yet.

As it happens, I've a lot of time for Smith when he's acting, as he's actually really good. The problem is that most of the time they've hired him to be Will Smith, Fresh Prince, not Will Smith, Actor par excellance, unfortunately. So I'm hopeful for I Am Legend, and really ought to get around to watching Robot.
14th-Dec-2007 02:14 pm (UTC)
I have a lot of time for Smith too, he's a pretty good actor, a likeable star and seems to have a good eye for a decent script these days. He's very good in Ali.

So yeah, I'm quite looking forward to I Am Legend.
14th-Dec-2007 12:52 pm (UTC)
It was the flaws and gaps in the interplay of the three laws, and their logical consequences, that enabled Asimov to write many of his robot stories - one of the last two he wrote ended with their conversion to the laws of humanics and the eventual succession of robot-kind.
14th-Dec-2007 04:31 pm (UTC)
Exactly. I liked the little touches in the film that payed homage to Asimov's book (Sonny hiding in a room full of other robots for instance.)

What I didn't like was the "robots as menace" theme which was something Asimov tried to avoid in most of his stories. They're about logic problems, not scary robots taking over the world.
14th-Dec-2007 12:54 pm (UTC)
When "I, Robot" came out, I heard terrible things about it and put it off and put it off. It was only getting into Firefly that made me reexamine it, as one of the Firefly actors plays Sonny and I wanted to see how that worked.

And I was really surprised how much I enjoyed it. Not the best movie ever, but still quite enjoyable, with the sort of ending that left me wondering and thinking, which I like. I'm glad you enjoyed it too.
14th-Dec-2007 01:01 pm (UTC)
I didn't like it that much, with the exception of Alan Tudyk who is awesome in everything. What it does do rather brilliantly is ask the old question "How sentient and complex does a thing have to be before it deserves rights?" (often misquoted as "until it is considered 'alive'", but that was never the point and can be defeated on a biological technicality.)

A scanner darkly is (in my opinion) one of Dick's best books, and I must get around to seeing the film. If you haven't read the book yet, it won't disappoint.
14th-Dec-2007 01:54 pm (UTC)
You echo a lot of what I said at the time about this film. Purists are still upset, as will those who still swear that Harlan Ellison's screenplay for a film/miniseries based on the original short stories is perfection. But Batya and I not only enjoy this film, but own it and have been tellping people that it's really good.
15th-Dec-2007 10:53 pm (UTC)
*pops up on cue* It's really good!
14th-Dec-2007 02:15 pm (UTC)
When judging adaptations it always has to be remembered that what makes a good book (or graphic novel, or whatever) doesn't always make a good movie (and vice-versa). True, many could be more faithful to the source material, but different mediums require different approaches to work successfully.
14th-Dec-2007 02:34 pm (UTC)
I think the crediting that the film did of the source was completely accurate and the best way ever to put it, i.e. "INSPIRED by" Asimov's work.

I generally try to check my brain at the door when heading for big-budget futuristic action films like this one. :) It was definitely pretty, though. Very shiny.

I eyerolled a lot at what Susan Calvin's role turned into, though.

Side note: I thought there were flaws in the Laws as read? Which allowed the building of events in Asimov's world?
14th-Dec-2007 02:47 pm (UTC)
Oh probably. See other comments. I got that bit wrong, is all.
14th-Dec-2007 05:52 pm (UTC)
I thought this movie was okay and saw it several times on TV with no problem and quite a bit of enjoyment.

And then I found out that Alan Tudyk was the voice and model for Sunny and NOW I LOVE IT A THOUSAND TIMES MORE.
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