Friday, March 16, 2007

I Robot

Click to enlargeIt's not often that my daughter strongly urges me to see a movie after she has seen it. But after a few tough weeks in a pretty tough summer for our family, she kept on thumping me with the comment: “Papa, you know I don’t watch movies to find spiritual themes, but you’ve got to see I, Robot! I keep thinking of new spiritual themes in it all the time.”
Don’t get me wrong, my daughter loves movies, and she will look for the spiritual themes. She is, after all, a Film and Mass Communications Graduate. But she watches movies more from a technical and directorial perspective, since that is her first priority.
I knew that I was supposed to do a review of this movie, but after some of the recent letdowns, I really considered letting it go. I like Will Smith, but have found some of his work, such as in Bad Boys II, a disappointment. However, the theme looked good, and from the advanced trailers the special effects looked good enough to sacrifice a few hours. I had heard him say that he wasn’t making any more "save-the-world" summer movies after this, so I thought it would be worth checking out, especially if it was going to be his last.
The title I, Robot is taken from a series of stories by Isaac Asimov, but there the similarity pretty much ends. In this story, Robots (even with Asimov's 3 Laws of Robotics programmed in) essentially develop artificial intelligence and try to take over the world. This scenario is set up by presenting Will Smith as Del Spooner, a down and out police officer who has this "thing" against Robots. There is something that he just doesn’t trust about them, and he has a reputation for being a buffoon when it comes to making false arrests and accusations against Robots. We are introduced to this theme early in the movie when he chases down a purse-snatching Robot, only to be ridiculed by both the Robot’s owner and his chief once he arrives to the office. It isn’t long after that incident that he is called to a suicide investigation at a local plant that is preparing the largest release of new Robots for some time.
Click to enlargeThe primary engineer of the Robots, Dr. Alfred Lanning -- played by wonderful character actor, James Cromwell -- happens to be a friend of Spooner's, although we don’t quite know why until later on in the movie. Through a hologram that appears after his death, Dr. Lanning has left clues for Spooner, clues that don’t quite make sense. But the detective, with his misunderstandings about Robots, decides to pursue the clues. When Spooner comes across the company psychologist, who is responsible for making the Robots seem human, the investigation soon has enough evidence to convince virtually anyone that there is something fishy going on in New York. The sad thing is that the population has become so dependent upon the Robots that they are blinded to the truths that should be evident around them.
This sequence and the thought behind it do a wonderful job of touching on the idea that certain elements that are not necessarily good for society can slip in unawares, and then even when they become corruptive, or we find out that the old ways may have been better, it's too late because we have become slaves to the system. From hybrid flying cars, to newfangled tennis shoes, we are confronted with glimpses of what was so bad about some of the old ways, including the development of relationships.
Click to enlargeThe premise of this story is done quite well. Unlike recent science fiction disasters and remakes, I, Robot understands the importance of making a story relevant. We see Smith’s character putting on a new pair of 2004 Chuck Taylor Leather Converse shoes. He still has a motorcycle, which is virtually unheard of. He still likes sweet potato pie made by his grandmother, and the less influence that Robots have in his life, the better. Forget the fact that it is 2035, there is something about the past that appeals to this character. What we have is a reminder that sometimes the simple things, and the things we are forced to do ourselves, are among the most valuable things that we can experience. Having so many servants might be of benefit in some ways, but we have to be careful to not run from relationships. While this movie illustrates these points, it illustrates so much more.
The importance of spirituality surprisingly was presented through a strong and likable character. We see Spooner’s grandmother, who loves her grandson with a passion. She is old-fashioned enough to still see marriage as a lasting relationship, not as something one jumps in and out of. She sees the value of a home-cooked meal with the family sitting down together to eat and enjoy each other's company. We also see scenes where she demonstrates she recognizes the power of prayer and Bible Study. She is a Christian portrayed in a positive role, and the audience seems to like her. She is the stabilizing force for Spooner, and it gradually becomes obvious that she must be the one who has developed the basic morality and focus on relationships illustrated by Spooner. I’ve got to mention this -- I also really appreciated that she was portrayed honestly, as someone who is not perfect. We see later in the movie that she is one who can give in to temptation, looking for the quick fix and the quick riches that so many do look for (for example, in things like sweepstakes, lotteries and contests). We see her shortcomings as well as her blessings, but we also see her willingness to go to God when she realizes that she has made mistakes. When she does this, when she prays for the needs of others as well as her own needs, we see that she is provided with a deliverer.
The component of Robots, especially Sonny, (notice the reference to The Son), and, V.I.K.I. (The Master Brain for the Robots) being able to develop intelligence and have human attributes is rather enlightening. The concept of artificial intelligence is a fascinating subject and this movie portrays it well. One of the beautiful things about the way they do this is that the CGI (Computer Generated Images) is terrific. The character of Sonny, while CGI, is astonishing. His facial expressions are especially true to life, and the voice-over work by actor Alan Tudyk is nothing short of brilliant. You absolutely forget that you are watching CGI, and the work on this character's expressions combined with the voice of Tudyk is the best work I have seen. You actually care for and feel for the character on screen because you believe the character is a real Robot with real feelings. Without the belief that the character fully understands the concept of being both Human and Robot, the story would not work. But the directors have done their job, so you do believe it.
Without going into spoiler areas, another spiritual theme that is also relevant, especially for Christians, is the fact that the Christ figures in this movie, of which there are several, have attributes about them that make it obvious that they are representing Jesus Christ. The concept of a Savior needing to understand the importance of being part one thing and part another does not apply only to Sonny. The dual Christ figures in this movie both understand what it means to love a population enough to sacrifice for it. That sacrifice is another spiritual component specific to Christianity. There is willing sacrifice to the point of death, there is a resurrection sequence, there is love for others more than love for self -- shucks, there is even a specific reference to a Cross on a Hill. Those images cannot help but be identified as references specifically to Jesus Christ.
There are other spiritual references along the way. We also see characters portrayed as enemies of good and desiring the destruction of humanity. One of the fun parts of this movie is that we don’t know exactly who the enemies are and who they aren’t. There is a mystery involved (another similarity to Asimov's stories), and the process of having to put the pieces of the puzzle together is actually quite fun and enjoyable.
Click to enlargeWill Smith is as buff and good as ever. And beautiful Bridget Moynahan plays the part of Susan Calvin extremely well next to buffed up Smith. I appreciate Smith's characters and his ability to bring a slice of humanity to his roles. He comes off as one who doesn’t see himself as a star, and his roles seem to help that image. Of course, starting off with some wonderful concepts from Isaac Asimov then having those concepts fine tuned into the story that we get from Jeff Vintar doesn’t hurt much. Mix in some wonderful direction from Alex Proyas, and we have a very entertaining moviegoing experience -- a moviegoing experience that many persons of faith will find presents a great deal to chew on. For persons who don’t adhere to a faith principle, you will still get some ideas to chew on -- but all will have a fun time in the process. I really enjoyed this movie, and while it is far from perfect, I will look forward to seeing it again in the future.
On a scale of 1 – 10, an enjoyable and entertaining 8.

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