I watched I, robot (the film) last night. I admit to enjoying it, but having read most of two Isaac Asimov books about robots (Robots of Dawn and Naked Sun) I have to wonder if the film is anything like the book I, robot.
What I’ve read so far of those two books suggests virtually no action. It’s all talk (investigation) by Bailey, yet the film is all action. Is I, robot the book anything like Robots of Dawn and Naked Sun? Or is it much more action orientated?
P.S. The film makes me want to own one of the new robots (in it’s nice mode of course) because I love the way they talk to people, and I love the idea of having the perfect valet; a robotic version of Jeeves.
Very, very, very, very different. One might even say antithetical to the book, or to any of Asimov’s writings and philosophies.
That’s not to say it wasn’t an OK movie. It was…eh, OK. WhyKid thought it was very funny. I thought Will Smith nekkid in the shower was very hot. But it weren’t no Asimov.
Asimov invented the Three Laws of Robotics exactly because he was tired of “robots turn on humans and attempt to take over the world” stories. Will Smith’s character’s biases are exactly those things Asimov himself was fighting - so to have them be correct was antithetical to Asimov’s work. He felt that, as an engineer and a scientist, safeguards can and would be put into place which would make such a scenario highly unlikely. Furthermore, in the rare instances in Asimov’s works when a robot does “break” the First Law and harm a human, it does so individually, not en masse. Finally, Asimov wrote that reason would lead one to making right decisions, not emotion. The emotion chip in the movie robot must have had Uncle Isaac spinning in his grave. Had he written it, the robot would have helped out of logic and reason, not heart.
Dramatically, Asimov wasn’t an action writer. He’s a talker, his characters are talkers and explainers. He often had characters explaining an exciting action sequence that takes place off “stage” as it were.
And hot as Brigit Moynihan is, even that was anti-Asimov. Calvin is regularly described as a rather plain looking, bitter spinster. The story *Liar! * tells us why.
As a fan of the original stories, I deliberately avoided seeing the movie because it looked so dumb. I ended up seeing it on a plane, and was surprised that in it’s own “sci-fi thriller” terms it wasn’t quite as bad as I expected, as long as you ignored the association with Asimov.
However, the best thing about the movie was the posters for it in Spanish here in Panama. I, Robot = Yo, Robot, but since it’s Will Smith on the poster, it looks like he’s saying “Yo! Robot!”.
All the replies so far (much appreciated btw) have confirmed what I strongly suspected, which is why I used ‘unlike’ instead of ‘like’ in the title. I enjoyed the film in it’s own right. (and I agree… Bridgit Moynihan is hottt), but I am happy to know that I can read the book knowing that it’s content should be new to me.
Despite the film’s difference I percieve the voice of nice robots from the film to be the same of that of the robots from the books. This makes reading the books since watching the film more interesting as I now attach those voices to Giskard and Daneel.
I, robot had an interesting voice over part where he discussed the laws of robots and what he called the ‘ghost in the machine’ that created wierd little habits in robots (like when they were stored, they all gathered together even when there was plenty of room to spead out). I hoped that the film would explore this idea a bit. Alas, it didn’t.
I think in one of the stories, the robots on a space station find religion and worship the central power source, and refuse to believe they were created by humans.
My favorite example of exotic robot behavior, Bicentennial Man, isn’t actually in I, Robot, but can be found in other short story collections. In Bicentennial Man, early robots’ brains were more chaotic, and it follows the story of one robot who thinks creatively, and actually starts a business selling works of art it creates.
Frankly I thought the movie improved on the book. The movie version of Susan Calvin was an actual person rather than Asimov’s pathetic characterization (don’t get me wrong–I love Asimov’s work, but he couldn’t write characters very well and his women were simply men with a female name).
One scene in the movie was a direct homage to the story “Little Lost Robot,” and I thought the whole idea of “unintended consequences” from interaction between the laws was done well in the movie.
I think the movie gets a bum rap from Asimov fans. I deliberately avoided seeing it because the previews made it seem like it had nothing to do with the Asimov stories but was just a good-humans/bad-robots actioner. However, my mother-in-law got the DVD for Christmas and we watched it Sunday night. I thought it was very faithful to the spirit of the robot stories. Certainly the details were completely different, and the storytelling style was night & day compared with Asimov, but in terms of the ideas motivating the story, I thought this fit right in with the canon.
Spoilers for the books and movie below:
Most of the Asimov stories ultimately boiled down to riddles about how the interaction of the three laws (typically assisted by human shortsightedness) created unanticipated consequences. This was another story about the same thing. Indeed, Asimov himself wrote a story that anticipates a very similar idea (“That Thou Shalt Be Mindful of Him”), and if the character Stephen Byerley from the stories is a robot (deliberately left vague, but I’m pretty sure Asimov meant him to be), he certainly has a nuanced view of the first law, just like the antagonist in the movie does. The movie Del Spooner’s arc mirrors Elijah Baley’s from the books – he starts out irrationally prejudiced against robots and then comes to understand his own prejudice. (Although the movie Del has a much better reason to hate robots than Baley ever did.) Moreover, the movie NS-4’s generally behaved exactly how Asimov’s robots would be expected to – the scene at the landfill when the half-destroyed NS-4 grabs Spooner’s leg and implores him to run was one of the most affecting moments of what Asimov called “robot-as-pathos” that I’ve seen in print or film. Finally, while I think the idea of a second engine for Sonny that allowed him to sidestep the 3 laws was a bit weak, the ultimate consequence is that we see a robot unconstrained by the three laws who is nonetheless not an unethical killing machine but instead a moral, reasoning person no different than the rest of us except he’s built with different parts. (And indeed, the same can almost be said of the film’s villain, although we rightly decry said villain’s conclusions.) This is an idea that Asimov would have approved, I think – similar things certainly appear enough in the stories. (Bicentennial Man and R. Daneel Olivaw being the most obvious examples.)
Ultimately, I think the movie does the same thing most of the stories did – present us with aberrant robot behavior that is quite logically tied to robot programming. I, Robot is not only a good movie (and infinitely smarter than most explosion-fest summer pictures), it’s a philosophically faithful adaptation of the source material.
You know, I thought about this last night and realized that by the end of the book, Asimov suggests that robots have taken over the world. Using the same rationale as in the movie I might add–to protect mankind–though using a less overt method over a period of time.
I believe that Asimov added the zeroth law to fix this, but haven’t read enough of his robot books to be sure.
That was my main problem with the movie. Its philosophy and plot in general was mostly faithful to the books, but then they had the robots jumping around attacking people. And the paranoid technophobe was right all along (gasp, what a clever plot twist), with his smart “I told you so” line being one of the more cringeworthy moments of the movie. And did the evil AI have to repeatedly chant “MY LOGIC IS INDENIABLE” with increasing incomprehensibility and eventually exploding into pieces? I still wish that one screenplay published as a book was made into a movie.
The movie started life as a ttally unrelated screenplay by on of the credited writers. When they got the “go” for the movie, they changed the title and the names of some of the characters to match, If I were the guy who wrote the screenplay, and they decided to film my screenplay as the work of a renowned author, I have to admit that I’d probably do the same.
But the fact is that the movie didn’t start out as an adaptation o Asimov’s book, and just slapping a new title on it and changing a couple of haracter’s names won’t makre it into an adaptation. The movie doesn’t “improve"on Calvin’s character – it’s a completely different character. Asimov’s fans (like me) complain about the movie because, dammit, it’s not in any sene an adaptation of the book. Imagine releasing a movie entitled 'Gone with the Wind” which actually had the plot of “The Red Badge of Courage”, only one of the soldiers is named Scarlett O’Hara. That’s what the movie I, Robot was.
It has even less to do with its nominal source material than Starship Troopers did.
They only get away wth this degree of fudging in science fiction and spy novels (look what they di to James Bond, Tom Clancy, and Alastair Mclean novels.) If you pulled this kind of tripe with, say, Master and Commander people would be condemning it all the way.
Sorry, but I think the movie did in fact improve on her character. I frankly couldn’t believe the character in the novel was human. Asimov’s ideas are great, but his characterization often sucks rocks. The movie character served as foil for Will Smith’s paranoia about robots, reminding him of the three laws, etc.
I believe it was remarked upon in several stories that Calvin was cold and distant, and very much like a robot herself. (Again, Liar! is an exception to this, and an explanation for it as well.) Having a father, step-mother and grandfather who are all engineers and research fellows, and having spent a lot of time with them at work as a child, I can vouch that engineers and roboticists are strange folks, and some are pretty darn robotic themselves. Women engineers, especially in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s when most of his writing was happening, were very much encouraged to become men in skirts and heels and not to be emotional or “hysteric”, especially on the job. And we never saw Calvin much off the job.
Calvin in the books really reminds me of my step-mother when I was a kid, actually. Thank goodness she (my step-mom) finally got over it and learned that feminine =/= weak.
So perhaps it would be accurate to say the movie *updated *her character, but I think Asimov had a good leg to stand on writing her as he did.
And yes, Asimov did allude to a “Zeroeth Law” late in his writing, but the takeover was not violent or extreme or even really a bad thing. It wasn’t even completed in any work I remember, just hinted at as a likely future scenario due to the possible existence of the Zeroeth Law. It’s been a while since I read some of his work though, so perhaps the takeover occured in a story I don’t remember.
I mean, really. If the ubercomputer was trying to shepherd humanity into a new era, wouldn’t it have enough information about psychology (or psychohistory) to know that wasn’t the way to go about it? Subtlety would have been much more effective. It could have created vast message boards where people wrote about mundane pointless things in their lives and discussed movies and argued great debates, thus giving the computers new insight into the human psyche and leverage for an insidious takeover of all technology, making us cower in fear at the thought of all computers stopping working simultaneously, like at a millenial shift or… oh. Uh. Gotta go. My toaster’s calling.