I, Robot

I, Robot (2004)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, James Cromwell, Chi McBride
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Featurette, Photo Gallery, Trailers

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.

"I, Robot" is loosely based upon the work of popular science fiction novelist, Isaac Asimov.

In the near future, Chicago 2035 to be exact, robots have become a part of society. They pick up our garbage, clean our homes and even walk our dogs. And never once has any harm come to a human being by means of a robot. But when Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), a chief robot designer at U.S. Robotics, apparently commits suicide, Detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) is on the case. Unlike everyone else though, Spooner has a rooted mistrust of robots, even if the famous Three Laws of Robotics declare that it’s impossible for a robot to bring or allow harm to a human being, and feels that the good doctor was murdered and by no means suicidal.

Director Alex Proyas (the brilliant director of some of the 90’s best films) and Hollywood superstar Will Smith were given the difficult task of adapting the work of Isaac Asimov. Did they succeed? Not really. It isn’t that faithful to the writings. But what they did do was provide a fantastic special effects extravaganza science fiction action picture. When I saw this film earlier this year, I had only read a small amount of Asimov’s work. But when I heard that Alex Proyas was attached to direct, I eagerly waited to see what he could pull off given the largest budget he’s ever worked with. It’s simple to say I was very impressed.

Will Smith turned in a great performance, despite all the negative response prior to the film’s opening. And supporting cast members such as Bridget Moynahan, Bruce Greenwood and Chi McBride provide a satisfactory job given the little screen presence they actually have. The surprise performance goes to Alan Tudyk, who you never actually see on screen. Using the same techniques used for creating Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings," Tudyk plays Sonny, a unique robot more advanced than the standard NS5 models. He ponders what he is and what his role in life is. In essence, he’s more human.

Besides the cast, what really impressed me with the film was how well Proyas paces the story. Never once does it drag or feel incomplete. Everything in the film works. The set pieces look great and retain that look of reality, where this future seems a possibility. The special effects are state of the art. Many of the scenes in the film have the CGI based robots interacting with the actors and it looks flawless. One of my favorite scenes in the film involves Smith barely escaping the destruction of Lanning’s home. Sadly I would have loved to see how they shot this scene in a documentary but I’ll get to that later. Next to "Spider-man 2" this was my favorite action film of the year.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is releasing "I, Robot" in an <$16x9,anamorphic> 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> edition as well as a full screen "butchered" edition. The scope of this film needs to be seen in its original aspect. Period.

Like I mentioned above, I love the look of this film and it’s refreshing to see that the image quality doesn’t suffer at all on this DVD. Colors are beautiful. Even during night scenes, the natural hues and tones of color never look muted or saturated. Numerous shades of gray throughout the film help show off exactly how accurate your television’s color temperature is. Go to chapter 6 and have a look at the contrast between Will Smith’s black outfit and Cromwell’s white lab coat. If your television has a good level of contrast and is properly adjusted, you’ll see a distinct natural look to the picture that "pops" off the screen. Details are immediately apparent as early as the opening credits. The texture in Smith’s leather jacket, the incredible amount of detail in the demolition robot during chapter 14, are clearly visible. Even such fine attention to details in the underground highway are strikingly shown. Mpeg noise is practically non-existent and any sort of digital enhancement such as edging is only visible during a few scenes of the film.

A new piece of information I’m going to provide in my reviews is an analysis of the DVD’s bit-rate. Similar to Sony’s Superbit titles, "I, Robot" features an impressive average of 7-8 Mbps (Megabits per second) during all of the films heavily detailed and fast motion sections. A lot of why the DVD looks this good has to do with this. And the fact that Fox decided to provide practically little extra content on the disc helps maintain the look of this reference quality transfer.

Unlike some other studios, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is still providing us with the choice between a <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 mix> and a <$DTS,DTS> <$5.1,5.1 mix>. Thanks.

Before I get to the DVD, I’d like to mention Marco Beltrami’s gorgeous score. Next to legendary composer’s like John Williams, Danny Elfman, and many others, Marco Beltrami’s portfolio of work is right up there with the greats. Past work such as the "Scream" franchise, "Blade II" or "Hellboy" show how talented this guy is. "I, Robot’s" score is perfectly mixed on this disc. Instead of confining the score to just the front soundstage, they’ve mixed it into the surrounds as well. And what’s amazing is that the score envelops you that much further into the story. The amount of spaciousness is what you’ll notice early on in the film. This is a score worth owning on its own and the DVD really helps bring it to life in a surround environment.

Dialog is natural. Even in some of the heavily cramped audio sections of the film, dialog is never difficult to hear and never distorts. I am also impressed with the use of surrounds for the use of sound effects. Jump to Chapter 29 and you’ll notice that you really feel like you’re there with Will Smith. Go to Chapter 18 and notice how incredibly well mixed the sound is. Listen as the sound shifts from inside Smith’s Audi and out in the tunnel. The small details like the elevator music playing quietly in his vehicle to the high-speed motion of the robot transports is great. Bass response is nicely blended during this same scene as well.

The 448 kbps Dolby Digital <$5.1,5.1 mix> is good, but the 754 kbps DTS <$5.1,5.1 mix> is the audio selection of choice if you have the gear to use it. Comparing the two just isn’t fair and with most of today’s audio products providing DTS decoder’s on board, there really shouldn’t be any reason most audiophiles shouldn’t be selecting the DTS option. I thought "Spider-man 2" was incredible, and I now have the Superbit edition with a DTS option, but this disc is actually better. I didn’t notice this in the theater but when listening to this film at home on DVD, I’m really blown away.

I guess 20th Century Fox didn’t feel that this film was a big enough hit for them to actually include some memorable extras. Besides an <$commentary,audio commentary> by Alex Proyas and Akiva Goldsman, there isn’t anything else on this disc worth watching. A detailed documentary on the making of the film should have been included. Thankfully Alex did provide a commentary though. I enjoyed his previous comments on his other films, and this commentary is just as interesting.

The rest of the extra’s I’ll bunch together. We get a 12-minute"Mmaking Of" that really isn’t that. Take out all the film clips and what we’re left with is 2-3 minute’s of the cast talking about the story. We get a "Photo Gallery" of 30 different shots. The first half is cool showing drawing blueprints for various robots of the film. The second half is production stills that aren’t very good. And just to show that someone at Fox was smoking something, the "Trailer" we get is not for "I, Robot" but for the television series "Arrested Development." Huh!? And last but not least is Fox’s "Inside Look," which has a poorly transferred trailers for some upcoming Fox releases.

"I, Robot" is definitely worth picking up. Unfortunately because this is a barebones edition of the film, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see a re-release of this film next year in a Deluxe Edition. Nonetheless for fans of the film this is the ultimate transfer for this film and will blow your mind. Enjoy!