I, Robot: Star Will Smith on his Movie

Imagine a world where motorcycles drive themselves, robots conduct symphony orchestras and an animals thought patterns can move a robot. These ideas sound like projections into the distant future, but they are more like headlines from tomorrows newspapers. And they are at the center of a new sci-fi fantasy, I, Robot, directed by Alex Proyas, an expert filmmaker of dark sagas like The Crow and Dark City.

Will Smith stars as Detective Del Spooner in the high-tech thriller, suggested by the book of short stories by visionary author Isaac Asimov. It is set in Chicago, in 1935, when technology and robots are a trusted part of everyday life”and robots are completely integrated into society. Set just 30 years in the future, the technological advancements in architecture, clothing, and vehicles are fantastic yet still easily accessible to audiences.

Given these advances, theres little doubt that in the near future robots will be a trusted part of our everyday life. Every family will have one. They will clean our homes, deliver our packages, walk our pets”even take care for our children. But what if that trust were shattered That question is at the heart of I, Robot.

Several key characters from Isaac Asimovs I, Robot stories (including Dr. Alfred Lanning and a younger version of Dr. Susan Calvin), as well as several of the famed authors ideas and concepts, also make their way into the film.

The movie employs spectacular visual effects innovations to bring a world of robots to life. The second lead character is Sonny, a special robot who holds the key to a murder ” and perhaps the survival of the human race ” represents the cutting edge in photorealism. Indeed, Sonny is the most realistic, emotionally complete, three-dimensional CGI character ever created on film.

The story takes place on a technological and social precipice, as the number of robots in America is about to triple. With the release of U.S. Robotics latest model–the NS-5 Automated Domestic Assistant–there will now be one robot for every five humans. The first in the next generation of robots made from an alloy, the NS-5 is designed to do everything from babysitting your kids, to cooking your family dinner, to balancing your checkbook. The mass distribution will solidify U.S. Robotics as the most powerful company in the history of the planet.

The events depicted in I, Robot were actually born over a decade ago, when screenwriter Jeff Vintar wrote a spec script, Hardwired, a mystery about a murder that may have been committed by a robot. Producer Laurence Mark shepherded the project, and Twentieth Century Fox acquired Hardwired for development with Alex Proyas attached to direct. In early 2000, Vintar flew to Australia to begin working with Proyas on the project, a collaboration that continued over two years.

As Laurence Mark recalls: It started out as a rather straightforward futuristic murder mystery, and there was an ongoing effort to broaden its canvas. Also, it seemed wise to go for a movie that took as much advantage as possible of Alexs keen sense of visuals. During that time, the I, Robot film rights were acquired by Davis Entertainment, and Proyas re-envisioned the film to include additional elements of Asimovs work. Asimovs ideas fit naturally within the structure of Vintars mystery tale.

We married Hardwired and I, Robot together because Fox had always wanted to do a big movie about robotics and it had always been Alexs dream to do a movie of Asimovs short stories, says producer John Davis. This marriage could happen organically because the themes of both works coincided.

The world of 2035 is dominated by three laws: a robot cannot hurt a human being or allow a human being to come to harm; a robot must obey a human beings orders unless the orders conflict with the first law; a robot must protect its own existence as long as it doesnt conflict with the first or second law. Asimov first created the Three Laws of Robotics in his stories, says co-writer Jeff Vintar, he really became the best popularizer of science and one of the first to write about robots. Before Asimov, robots were written as monsters. He was the first one to treat them not as Frankensteins, but as mechanisms governed by certain rules.

Alex Proyas affinity for Asimovs stories dates back to his childhood. When I was ten years old, I used to read a lot of science-fiction and Asimov was one of the authors that I enjoyed. I was a real fan of the science fiction genre. I always thought the I, Robot could be made into a cool movie. When youre young, you dream about this stuff and I wanted to make films from a pretty early age.

Proyas thinks that Asimovs ideas are still pertinent and contemporary, as he explains: Its amazing that someone working in the 1940s and early 1950s could project so specifically into the future, conjecture about ideas that will affect us in our everyday lives. We are getting closer to the future world he wrote about.

As for casting Will Smith, Proyas says Its a Hollywood clich when a filmmaker claims to get his only and best choice to play the lead, but I did. Will was the number one person on our list, and getting him was like winning the lottery. What attracted Smith to the film was the concept that the robots arent the problem. The technology is not the problem, says the actor, Its the limits of human logic, and essentially we are our own worst enemy.

For Smith, I, Robot represents an interesting mix of genres: Its a high-tech action movie, a special effects film, a romantic drama, and a murder mystery. Having done both genres Smith claims usually theres a real conflict between the structure of a mystery and the structure of an action movie, and they have different climactic builds, but Proyas is breaking genre rules brilliantly.

I, Robot provided a new challenge for Smith the star, as he explains: Its very rare that youre actually able to act in an actioner. For me its interesting to play a troubled character, because Ive been so successful playing happy-go-lucky guys that save the world. I havent played many characters that have deep emotional scars and traumas, and I loved diving into the mind of a troubled character.

Smith signed on to portray Detective Del Spooner and serve as the films executive producer. As such, Smith brought an additional writer, Akiva Goldsman (who won an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind), because he wanted a stronger emphasis on the hard science part of the story. Smith says he wanted to stretch and challenge the boundaries of the genre. As it turns out, Goldsman was also a huge Asimov fan since childhood. We holed up in a hotel, and laid out the story scene by scene, Goldsman recalls. We kept the twists and turns of the Asimovian universe but made them more suited to a three-act structure.

The filmmakers made the character of Detective Del Spooner stand out from typical genre figures. Spooners aversion to technology and to robots, in a world where theyre an essential part of everyday life, was a critical element. Spooner loves older clothes and older music, and he yearns for the simple times, says Smith. He doesnt like the robots, so hes really the perfect detective to investigate the alleged suicide of a scientist in his Robots laboratory.