Thursday, January 22, 2015

Aye! Robot!

Last week’s movie review is going to look positively current compared to this one.

Sadly, other than the inability to concentrate on anything for more than thirty seconds at a time, I have no excuses for tardiness this time around.

Less than two months after starting this insane writing endeavor, I wrote the first (of MANY) posts that completely got away from me.  It was also the first time I felt compelled to insert images into my mental wanderings.

Uncoincidentally, it was also the first time my wife used earplugs to block the profanity generated by problems with multiple image uploads before I figured out how to do it correctly.

The post in question was an attempt to combine the mythologies of Terminator, Matrix and Tron franchises – plus a few others.

Please click here to see it, I posted it well before I gained the skills at being a shameless self-promotion whore I have now, and the ratio of hits to sleepless nights on that one is far below the mental health requirement.

It turned out that not only had a movie already been made that worked with many of those combined concepts almost seven years before my amalgamated amassing, but I actually owned it.

2004’s I Robot

As A.I. stories were one of Dad’s many side interests, in both science fiction and fact, I got him the DVD out of a bargain bin as an extra gift for Christmas or a birthday.

His typically verbose review consisted of, “It was good.”

I never got a chance to watch it with him.

When it came back to my house with a pile of his other films it sat on a shelf, but never reached the front of the movie queue.  The ads made it look like “Men in Black with Robots.”  As a fan of the original Asimov stories, I never found a reason to up its priority.

In yet another example of my lack of concentration, in all the times I saw information about or the box of the film, I never noticed that it was directed by Alex Proyas.

He directed two of my all-time favorites, The Crow and Dark City.

With this, ahem, new knowledge, I Robot moved quickly to the top of the pile I watched while exercising, and had me working out the following night to finish it even though I was both sick and exhausted by various holiday activities. 

See kids, TV can make you physically fit – and that’s not even counting trying to get in all of the Netflix Wrestling before the WWE pulled it all on January first!

I am very sorry I did not watch this movie sooner.

Much like the other two Proyas films, on the surface it can be enjoyed as a straight up stupid action movie. 

I have no real problem with those; I’ve enjoyed Commando countless times.

However, also like his other works, it’s the concepts and ideas strewn about the action that shifts the movie into my special category.

All three are examples of my absolute favorite kind of detective stories. As I’ve mentioned before, they’re not just a “Who Done It?” but a “What is it?”

Will Smith portrays the typical Luddite, play by hunches, foul (PG13) mouthed, violence first cop seen in most futuristic action tales.  Bridget Moynahan plays the scientist who always values logic over emotion. Bruce Greenwood is the corporate CEO who values profit over safety or scientific discovery, and Alan Tudyk is the rebellious robot.

It has all the ingredients for a typical b-movie bot blasting battle fest…and it works on that level.

However, the interactions between the characters and the puzzle that has to be solved goes much deeper, and comment on the nature of emotions, consciousness and free will.

It also uses Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics admirably, with multiple examples that match occurrences in the original stories.

As usual, there are complaints that making this kind of story into an action movie belittles the source material somehow.

I’ve been a fan of “hard” science fiction since I was a kid, reading Dad’s Asimov, Heinlein, and Bradbury when I was growing up.

However, books and movies are different media, what works in one doesn’t always translate directly. 

Yes, an epic film, or even a miniseries could be made that was one hundred percent faithful to the stories in the book, I Robot.  If that was done, it is very likely that only the Asimov fans would see it, and then complain about the parts that weren't correct. (Like, oh I don't know, Bicentennial Man perhaps?)

By throwing the veneer of a big pile of explosions and car chases over the core ideas, but still maintaining them, it allows the introduction of those ideas to a much larger number of people…

And maybe bring some of those people back to the original written material.

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