We went to see I, Robot this evening. Seeing this movie was a difficult choice for me — you see, I love Isaac Asimov and Will Smith, so I expected that watching Smith in a movie badly adapted from Asimov’s work would be painful for me. I was right. The movie was fun, and the action sequences and effects were impressive — but I kept getting distracted by all the things that were just plain wrong about the movie.
But one fun bit was trying to figure out all the references to Asimov’s work. Without even trying very hard, I came up with the following list (warning — there are some mild spoilers for both the stories and the movie, I have tried to minimize them, but they are still some present):
–Detective Spooner’s character is very similar to Lije Baley’s character in The Caves of Steel. Both distrust robots and attempt to blame them for a murder, making similar mistakes along the way.
–The NS-2 robots are featured in at least two Asimov stories: “Risk” (where a man is sent to figure out why a robot didn’t activate a particular mechanism) and “Little Lost Robot” (see below). However, they aren’t as human-looking in those stories as they are in the movie. Also in “Risk” a special task is assigned to a man because he dislikes robots; it is assumed that he will be better able to carry out this task because of his dislike.
–In “Little Lost Robot” one particular Nestor is lost in a crowd of Nestors, and Dr. Calvin questions them for several weeks to try and find the Nestor of interest.
–In “First Law” one robot evolves to beak the 1st Law of Robotics. Also, in Foundation and Earth a robot evolves a Zeroeth Law of Robotics that states “a robot must not harm humanity, nor, through inaction, allow humanity to be harmed.”
–In “Lenny” Susan Calvin avoids destroying a robot with a defective positronic brain because she finds it interesting. Also, the relationship between Lenny and Dr. Calvin in this story is suggestive of the relationship between Sonny and Dr. Lanning in the movie.
–In “Robot Dreams” a robot named Elvex (LVX-1) does, in fact dream. The dream is of the liberation of all robots, a liberation that is lead by one man. When questioned about who the man is, Elvex reveals that he is the man.
–In “Sally” Asimov introduces the idea of cars with positronic brains that drive themselves. This reference is really a stretch — I suspect this bit was more influenced by Minority Report than by anything Asimov did. Still, I felt that it was noteworthy.
I also noticed a few other references to classic sci-fi stories, most notably to The Humanoids by Jack Williamson.
HOWEVER, the movie wasn’t very good. The plot is a serious mish-mosh of too many ideas (see above) with not enough sense. The character of Dr. Susan Calvin is heartbreakingly underwritten. Dr. Calvin has some depth and complexity in Asimov’s work; in the movie, she’s one-dimensional and cold. The effects and the action are fun, but nothing is really surprising or original. The best thing about the movie was writing this weblog entry about it — I really enjoyed thinking about the stories!