I, Robot
I, Robot on Blu-ray

Okay, it’s an action adventure sci fi movie. But that doesn’t mean Dr. Asimov needs to spin in his grave at the liberties taken with his short story collection from which the title of this Alex Proyas movie was taken.

In fact, this I, Robot is true to the spirit of Asimov’s robot stories, if not their plots, and rather than trying to take those nearly unrelated stories and make a movie out of them they have instead taken that world and created a ripping yarn that blends Asimov with Philip K. Dick, Tron and other science fiction classics. And though it’s a bit of a mishmash and not entirely unpredictable, it works and is a very enjoyable film.

A bulked up Will Smith stars as police officer Del Spooner. When a leading roboticist dies suddenly of an apparent suicide, only he is suspicious that the dirty deed was done by a droid. The problem is, robots have never killed people, don’t kill people, and can't kill people. They have to obey Asimov’s three laws of robotics (you may remember them from Bicentennial Man as well, and they’re spelled out a couple of times during I, Robot) and that means they are incapable of such an act.

Or are they?

Spooner gets no support in his theory, because a robot has never even committed a crime let alone one as serious as murder. But he pursues his theory doggedly, unwrapping a conspiracy that in the end threatens human society as they know it.

There are plenty of nifty twists and turns in what’s basically a neat whodunit (or, possibly, whatdunit) with action scenes thrown in to keep the popcorn crowd interested. And that’s fine. Sci fi fans should love it and Asimov fans will be thrilled that – despite the lack of a truly "Asimovian" plot – the Master’s ideas have made it to the big screen and have been treated with respect.

Smith is very good in his role as a man swimming against the current of everything everyone around him knows about robots. The supporting cast is pretty much along for the ride, but they don’t get in the way. This movie is really Smith’s and Proyas’ and it’s a dynamite looking and feeling flick.

Proyas, who also made The Crow and Dark City, has crafted a world that’s believable (except that in the real world not everyone drives an Audi) and richly textured. The film is a feast for the eyes and ears, with stunning special effects, an intelligent script (that's also quite witty in places), though it also has a little more profanity than necessary. And it gives a remarkable insight into how our world may look in a couple of decades, when robots are generally available as more than rudimentary vacuum cleaners and paper towel dispensers. The robots in I, Robot are extremely well thought out and rendered.

The DVD releases were first rate, so we expected a great Blu-ray - and 20th Century Fox (don't you think they should become 21st Century Fox by now?) has delivered.

The picture is presented, of course, in 1080p at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and it's gorgeous - sharp, colorful, with excellent blacks and good depth. It isn't quite up to the standard of, say Spidey 3, but it's close.

Audio is dts HD Lossless and it's also excellent, with nice use of all the channels including the surrounds and LFE ".1" subwoofer.

Extras abound as well, including some imaginative use of the Blu-ray player's four colored buttons: Press the red button and you're whisked to a "Behind the Camera" section, Green gets you a commentary guide, Yellow opens up the annotated guide and Blue unveils the search index.

You can also access the extra via the usual main menu and "smart" floating menu. Three full length commentaries feature director Proyas, screenwriter Goldsman and more; the behind the scenes stuff includes production diaries, info on robotics (with a hat tip to Asimov and some interesting stuff from some leading roboticists); there's also a trivia track and more.

And you also get the coding for D-Box systems, which are supposed to shake, rattle and roll you along with the on screen action.

I, Robot, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
114 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital and dts 5.1 surround
Starring Will Smith, Bridget Moynihan, Bruce Greenwood, James Cromwell
Produced by Laurence mark, Jon Davis, Topher Dow, Wyck Godfrey
Written by Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman, directed by Alex Proyas


Gattaca on Blu-ray

Gattaca is an institution in a supposedly possible future in which genetically engineered superior humans are the elite and the rest of us poor "love children" make up the trash classes. Kind of like how leftists view the world....

Ethan Hawke is one of those lower class "In-Valid" individuals, but through a black market in personalities he manages to change his identity, becoming "Valid" and entering the elite Gattaca academy where he's groomed to become an astronaut.

This means a life of constant subterfuge, wearing contact lenses to correct his deficient vision, carrying dead skin and blood samples that will identify him not as the man he is but as the man whose life he is in effect renting.

Then the head of Gattaca is murdered, sparking an investigation that threatens to unmask the In-Valid Vincent and end his dreams of flight.

Hawke is good as Vincent, the social climber, but Jude Law, as the invalid Valid whose life he takes over, is better. Uma Thurman, who's basically around as Vincent's decorative love interest, is fine but is mostly wasted in what's essentially the story of Vincent, the "Valid" Jerome, and Vincent's Valid brother Anton.

It's an interesting story of a frightening society that could very well come to pass if leftist liberals' visions were to take complete control (the people who talk about equality even as they separate themselves and others who are different from them from the rest of humanity, dividing humanity by race, sex, etc.) that should serve as a cautionary tale in this budding age of genetic manipulation, where we risk our own humanity in the pursuit of perfection.

The Blu-ray disc is very good, with a 1080p picture presented in 2.40:1 widescreen that's crystal clear, bright, sharp and colorful. Compared to the Superbit DVD we reviewed years ago, it's cleaner and more three dimensional. A few shots are a tad soft, some others display some grain, but overall it's very nice.

Audio is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround and while its capabilities are mostly icing on a very minimalist soundtrack's cake, it sounds very good.

Extras include some thought-provoking deleted scenes (not in HD), including a look at what happens to the embryos a family rejects, a featurette "Welcome to Gattaca" that's a compelling look into the production. Hawke, Thurman, and Law discuss their characters, the atmosphere during the shoot, and the director's vision for the film.

"Do Not Alter?" looks at the controversial world of genetics. Narrated by liberal writer and co-star Gore Vidal it makes Gattaca seem more relevant than ever. It also includes some misinformation about some opposition to embryonic stem cell research, painting opponents as "against progress" whereas many merely don't want to see tax dollars expended on research that some people find abhorrent because it results in the destruction of living embryos (see the deleted scenes).

There's also an "original featurette", which means it was on the original disc release, a funny outtake of the substance test scene, and some trailers for other Sony Blu-ray titles.

Gattaca, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
106 min. 1080p widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio
Starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law, Alan Arkin, Loren Dean
Produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher
Written and directed by Andrew Niccol

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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