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BY DAVID BLUMENSTEIN
& JACOB ZHIVOV
JULY 22, 2004
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There's a term coined by musician/composer/satirist
Frank Zappa: "conceptual continuity". It refers to the use
of specific words, ideas or motifs in various parts of one's creative
work which links all parts of that work together, creating one huge
creative piece. Zappa's particular motifs included "zircon-encrusted
tweezers", pigs, ponies and many, many French poodles.
I have come to notice a similar use of conceptual continuity
in the work of another artist -- the multi-armed, single-minded sponge
known as HOLLYWOOD. Hollywood's favoured motifs include Starbucks,
Coke and Nike. These motifs appear overtly in virtually every movie
that comes from a major film studio, thus linking in our minds each
and every film that comes out. Be they comedy, drama, action, whatever
-- they all feature these special visual cues that remind us, "This
is a HOLLYWOOD movie!" They're a tip-off that, having paid upwards
of eleven dollars for your ticket, the next 90 minutes will feature
qualified HOLLYWOOD ACTORS doing exciting things and saying official
HOLLYWOOD PHRASES like DAMMIT, WE LOST HIM!, SHAPE UP, OR YOUR ASS
IS GRASS and WELL, HERE WE GO AGAIN".
I thought I, ROBOT was pretty good. It's THE FUTURE,
and there's robots everywhere. Will Smith is a cop who doesn't like
robots for a very special reason they keep hinting at all through
the movie. The scientist who invented all the cool future robots has
fallen to his death, and Will Smith thinks a robot did it. Did it?
The qualified Hollywood actors say their official Hollywood
phrases, which at times are pretty stilted. Will Smith wisecracks
bloodlessly, but he does tilt his head and glower pretty well, and
refrains from rapping over the end credits. James Cromwell has a nice
little part as a hologram of the dead scientist, and Chi McBride makes
an excellent Angry Black Lieutenant, even going so far as to
request Will Smith hand over his badge.
The film's directed by Alex Proyas. I was ready to hold
GARAGE DAYS against him, but he manages to avoid using lots of dickwhack
camera manoeuvres here. Also, the digital effects are well done and
generally unobtrusive. Plus, Proyas didn't write this. Screenplay
is by Jeff Vintar and schmaltzmaster Akiva Goldsman, mashed with concepts
from Isaac Asimov's I, ROBOT stories.
What I find unfortunate is that, thanks largely to a
series of early, blatant and quite awful "conceptual appearances"
by Converse-brand shoes, this movie can not stand alone in my mind
as a piece of art. When, about three minutes into the film, Smith's
character opens a box, fetishes a pair of fresh new Cons and says,
Thing of beauty.
the movie is immediately branded as a piece of the larger
HOLLYWOOD CONCEPT, part of a grey, glutinous wave oozing with fragments
of James Bond and Austin Powers, Audi and Britney, a spreadable pop-culture
It hurt the movie for me. I'm sensitive to this kind
of thing since Pepsi ate Mike Myers.
Alex Proyas greatly disappointed me with Garage Days.
It was a film that just didn't know what its message was and hence
failed at what it was trying to do. This was a big let down for me
as I was a huge fan of his other big films, The Crow in 1994 and Dark
City in 1998. So when I heard that I, Robot was being directed by
Proyas I was concerned. Thankfully Proyas has deleted the bad cut
scenes of Garage Days and return to the style and genre he works best
I, Robot is a good action film. It builds up its plot
and tries to develop the characters so you understand what's going
on and why all the robots are attacking Wil Smith. You get to understand
why Wil's character doesn't trust robots and also why he is the one
that has to investigate the murder of the robots creator Dr Alfred
Lanning by a robot.
The film is enjoyable except for the product placement
of Converse All Stars 2004 edition shoes, this was so obvious that
it distracted me from the movie. Product placement is a necessary
evil of the movie industry but the length this film went to point
out to you that he was wearing these shoes was ludicrous. I counted
five times they referenced his shoes and two of those times it was
really blatant. Product placement in movies has been happening for
years but when you go out of your way to write the product into the
script is when you've gone too far. Please note this was the only
blatant product placement in this film, the subtle ones were Audi
and JVC but they were part of background things and not brought to
your attention through the script. I know studios need to supplement
their film budgets with product placement but does it need to be this
Anyway I, Robot is a very enjoyable action film and
the special effects make the film look great, once again showing that
Alex Proyas can be a good director. Also Chi McBride is one of the
best angry Lieutenants I have ever seen.
I, ROBOT stars Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Alan Tudyk,
Chi McBride and James Cromwell. It's rated M and runs 114 mins. Opens