Patrick McGinlay's Internet Tendency

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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 peanut butter.

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 in.

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 obvious?

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 today.


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