2004 was an interesting time for special effects. Sci-fi films had just really started to use CGI for mostly everything. And while the effects stopped looking as cheap, they still didn’t look completely realistic yet. To the point where, in some instances, you could make the case that practical effects would have been a better option (e.g. Yoda in the Star Wars prequels).
But in 2004, the effects in I, Robot were cool and probably necessary. It’s a film about robots turning against humans. And in this scenario, the antiquated (by today’s standards) technology works in its favor. The robots look more creepy because of it. Watching it now, you never question how real the robots are. Instead you just think about how eerie they appear on screen.
The film is set in Chicago in 2035. Will Smith plays a cop who hates new technology, and loves the “old” way of living. He’s hired to investigate the apparent suicide of the founder of the leading robotics company in the world. But Smith doesn’t think it’s a suicide. He suspects that one of the company’s robots killed him.
Pretty much no one has charisma like Will Smith. Even when he doesn’t try to be funny and affable. You just can’t look away. You’re on the edge of your seat waiting for him to say something cool–which is almost always. He’s the perfect actor for this role. He’s completely convincing and his humor never undermines the weight of the story.
I, Robot has a quasi-noir vibe. It could have easily been just a mindless action flick charged by Smith’s charisma, but it’s cleverly written and deceptively deep. Director Alex Proyas really makes sure that the audience feels a certain way about this movie. That it’s not just another blockbuster that the studio has thrown millions of dollars at.
After nearly 15 years, I, Robot holds up incredibly well. It still feels futuristic and fresh. Especially for relying so much on its special effects. In the post-practical effects world, that’s almost unheard of.