…and the quest to see everything

‘What does this action signify?’

Apparently adapted from an Isaac Asimov story, Alex ProyasI, Robot is either an insipid or cliched. It relies on the old sci-fi adage that technological progress doesn’t live up to the second half of that phrase, and that humans’ reliance on technology and reproducing it in mass amounts will lead to their downfall. Especially if this new innovation means that the machines we have invented are capable to decide whether humans are useful or destructive, as decided by, in the case of this movie, a robotic program named VIKI.

There is a new model of robots replacing the clunky, gray ones in the streets of Chicago of 2035. They’re painted white, a mix of shell and wire skeletons (the whole colour palette of the movie is white to black to brown and the occasional green, making the spaces look liked in and it’s at least being devoid of the neon bluish tint that is in most sci-fis). Their joint movements are smother than the old ones but unlike the latter they can actually move their faces. And when they attack either our protagonist Detective Spooner (Will Smith) or the Chicago’s citizens (including Shia Laboeuf) they seem to be crawling instead of being rigid militaristic beings.

Sonny (Alan Tudyk), a name either given by his master (James Cromwell, now known as Jean Dujardin’s elderly butler in The Artist) or by himself, is a robot accused of murdering the latter, his investigation confirming Spooner’s prejudice against robots. He is aware enough of how advanced he is to want to know what he is capable of. This is some strange casting since Tudyk has a pretty distinct face and voice although it’s a successful collaboration of acting, design and directing that these features of his are tuned down. He asks Spooner what a wink signifies, which to Spooner is rude question but this education becomes useful later on. He ends up being a witty bastard too, catching Spooner when the latter’s prejudiced fences go lower.

Either way, the transitions between wide shots and close-ups of Spooner in these scenes aren’t seamless and make the movie look cheap. These battle scenes also aren’t challenging enough for the humans, the creepy way they move makes them seem less solid also means that the leading characters can easily defeat them. Tthe denouement of every other sci-fi ends in some vertigo-inducing circular-shaped chamber, where pathways to the centre are made of narrow steel beams and the robots come in through the glass windows in intimidating numbers but they don’t look tangible enough for a real fight.

Smith is a grating actor to watch, taking any sci-fi project to compensate for turning down the role of Neo in The Matrix trilogy. Although at least he competently handles a character’s prejudice sparked by a traumatic event involving a robot rescuing him instead of doing the same thing to a little girl – the best part of the movie is his soliloquy which, intentionally or otherwise, questions details of this back story. Of course Spooner is representative of the humanity lost within a logical-driven mindset of a fictional futuristic society. His Spooner gets another cliche by quasi-platonic, opposites-attract love interest (Bidget Moynahan) who is cold and culturally ignorant as he is temperamental and streetwise. His badge being taken away from him for pursuing the Sonny case without authority – how is he going to take it back!? Despite of what happens and of Sonny, he still carries a minor strain of that point of view.

4 responses

  1. Excellent post. I found the portrayal of Sonny to be a double edged sword; on one hand it signifies complex thoughts and free will (such as the attempt to understand a wink) but the primal/animal behavior (such as crawling) you’ve also mentioned doesn’t help this image. Its a bizarre clash of intelligence versus base savagery.

    Anyway, as someone who’s written about robots in films myself (using I Robot as an example), this was an interesting read, and a great way to pass the time when I should probably be working.

    June 11, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    • I suppose sci-fi has always had that clash between progression and regression, that the future never takes steps forward despite having the outwardly impression of doing so.

      Thanks for stopping by! I haven’t been that confident about my writing and I’m sure yours is better. 🙂

      June 12, 2012 at 1:03 am

      • Thanks. Your writing is good, it gets to the point clearly and effectively. But yes, there is a certain dichotomy between regression and progression in science fiction.

        Anyhow, if you’re interested in my views on robots as an example of a lack of progression in science-fiction, please check out my opinion here http://limboquarterly.com/2012/03/16/robots-are-people-too/

        Good work, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more.

        June 13, 2012 at 6:02 pm

  2. Pingback: Will Smith, or, ‘One of these things is not like the other.’ | ThePageBoy

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