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adaptation I, robot
Imagine a world where motorcycles drive themselves, robots conduct symphony orchestras and an animal's thought patterns can move a robot. No, these aren't projections into the distant future… they're headlines from today's newspapers. Set just 30 years in the future, the technological advancements in I, ROBOT's "Automated Domestic Assistants," architecture, clothing, and vehicles are fantastic yet still easily accessible to audiences. Given these advances, there's little doubt that in the near future robots will be a trusted part of our everyday life. Every family will have one, or more. They will clean our homes, deliver our packages, walk our pets - even care for our children. But what if that trust were shattered? That question is at the heart of I, ROBOT.
The story takes place on a technological and social precipice, as the number of robots in the U.S. 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 ultra-strong 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 of the NS-5 will solidify U.S. Robotics' position as the most powerful company in the history of the planet.
Birth of I, Robot
The epic, history-changing events depicted in I, ROBOT were 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.
"We began developing the script with Alex Proyas, and our goal was to open it up a bit," remembers Laurence Mark. "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 Alex's 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 author Isaac Asimov's work. Asimov's ideas and characters fit naturally within the structure of Vintar's 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 Alex's dream to do a movie of Asimov's short stories," says producer John Davis. "It was a marriage that could happen organically because the themes of 'Hardwired' and I, Robot often coincided," adds Laurence Mark.
After Will Smith signed on to portray Detective Del Spooner and serve as an Executive Producer on the film, he suggested making Academy Award-winning writer Akiva Goldsman ("A Beautiful Mind") a part of the team. Smith specifically wanted to bring a harder science and science-fiction edge to the story. "We saw this project as something that could be special and something that could be around for a while," says Smith. "We wanted to stretch and challenge the boundaries of the genre."
"Will's requests were music to Alex's ears and to mine," says Akiva Goldsman, an Asimov fan since childhood. Proyas, Smith Goldsman, producer Wyck Godfrey, and Fox execs convened in Florida, where Smith was shooting "Bad Boys II," to work on the screenplay. "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 - that were always present in Jeff Vintar's work - but made them more suited to a three-act structure."
asimov - a pioneer of science fiction
The world of 2035 believes robots to be "3 Laws Safe." A robot cannot hurt a human being or allow a human being to come to harm; a robot must obey a human being's orders unless the orders conflict with the first law; a robot must protect its own existence as long as it doesn't conflict with the first or second law. Asimov first created the Three Laws of Robotics in his science fiction writing, but his ideas extend into the real world, and even govern the way real roboticists and researchers tackle artificial intelligence.
"Asimov really became the best popularizer of science," says co-screenwriter Jeff Vintar. "He was one of the pioneers of science fiction 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 metal Frankensteins, but as mechanisms that worked by certain rules, and he's credited with writing the first realistic robot stories."
Alex Proyas' affinity for Asimov's stories dates back to the filmmaker's childhood. "When I was about ten years old, I used to read a lot of science-fiction and Asimov was one of the authors that I enjoyed very much. I was a real fan of the science fiction genre and I, Robot was one of the few books that I always thought would be really cool to make into a movie. When you're young, you dream about this stuff and I wanted to make films from a pretty early age. So, I dreamed about turning this into a movie one day.
"I thought Asimov's ideas were still incredibly pertinent and contemporary," Proyas continues. "It's amazing that someone working in the 1940s and early '50s could project so specifically into the future, and conjecture about ideas that are now starting to affect us in our everyday lives. We are getting closer and closer to the future world he wrote about, so the time is now right to tell those stories." Read more about Isaac Asimov's Three Laws
"What attracted me to this film is the concept that the robots aren't the problem," says Will Smith. "The technology is not the problem. It's the limits of human logic that is the problem, and essentially we are our own worst enemy.
"I, ROBOT is a particularly interesting mix of genres," Smith continues. "It's a high-tech action movie, a special effects film, a romantic drama, and a murder mystery. How Alex Proyas took the film back and forth through all of these different types of genres is brilliant. Usually there's a real conflict between the structure of a mystery and the structure of an action movie. They have different climactic builds, but Alex is breaking genre rules and creating something that is going to be new and special."
I, ROBOT provided new challenges for Smith. "As an actor, it's very rare that you're actually able to act in an action movie. For me it's interesting to play a troubled character, because I've been so successful playing happy-go-lucky guys that save the world. I generally haven't played characters that have deep emotional scars and trauma, and I loved diving into the mind of a troubled character. So it's a different twist for me."
The filmmakers worked to make the character of Detective Del Spooner stand out from typical genre figures. Spooner's aversion to technology - and to robots, in a world where they're 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 doesn't like the robots, so he's really the perfect detective to investigate this murder, because he already wants to find something wrong."
Spooner's relationship with roboticist Dr. Susan Calvin is central to the story, and finding an actress who could be a credible partner and adversary to Will Smith - and bring emotional weight to a character created by Isaac Asimov - was a daunting task for the filmmakers.
"Bridget Moynahan best personified what we needed for the role - that real human spark buried beneath a colder exterior," says John Davis.
Moynahan embraced the character's complexities. Susan is a robot psychologist who is the polar opposite of Spooner; she's very rational and focused. Everything makes sense to her and she has a very different perspective than Spooner. "Susan's struggling to stay committed to logic, because that is what she has based her life on. But as the story progresses, she hits a scientific and emotional 'wall' that really changes her and her beliefs. So it's fun to watch that journey."
"Bridget's and Will's characters are coming at the same problem, but from completely different perspectives," adds Proyas. "They have very different beliefs at the beginning of the movie. Spooner hates robots. He doesn't trust technology; he's an old-fashioned guy in this futuristic world. Susan actually prefers robots to people; she is an active participant in creating robots and she believes they can be better than us, that they can improve us. Eventually, those beliefs bring both characters to a crisis for very different reasons."
Spooner and Dr. Calvin are helped in their quest for the truth by a unique robot named Sonny, played by Alan Tudyk. Together, Tudyk and the visual effects team create a true digital star who possesses emotion, intelligence and even humor. The emotional connection between Sonny and Spooner is at the heart of the film.
"Sonny is a really interesting and difficult role because he is a robot who somehow has very human traits," says producer Wyck Godfrey. "He has an innocence and warmth, because he's built differently from the other robots. Sonny also has a sly sense of humor. Alan's a great comedic performer, a great theater actor, and he really pulls it off."
"Sonny is like a child," says Tudyk. "Some of the time, he just doesn't get it because he's precise and accurate. But he's also naïve and optimistic. Sonny was built for a purpose and he's unaware of the purpose. He has all sorts of secrets hidden inside of him and by the end of the movie his ultimate purpose is revealed."
Tudyk arrived in Vancouver a month prior to the start of principal photography to prepare for the role, focusing on bio-ergonomic movement, and speech and mime work. He also did kickboxing, core strength training and balance exercises.
After production began, actor/dancer Paul Mercurio ("Strictly Ballroom") was brought in to choreograph the movements for the other robots. "I'm the only robot who didn't work with Paul," says Tudyk. "It actually worked out to be a really great idea since Sonny is a new generation of robot. He is unique and different from all the other robots."
Bruce Greenwood portrays Lawrence Robertson, Chairman of U.S. Robotics, the "money man" who built an empire on robots. The story begins on the eve of the rollout of the NS-5 personal robot. "We're about to offer this wonderful, brilliant technology to the world… at an affordable price," deadpans Greenwood. "We're introducing a new generation of robots that is far more sophisticated than earlier versions. It's as big a change as the Industrial Revolution, but it's going to happen overnight. "One of the overriding themes in this movie is about artificial intelligence versus natural intelligence," adds Greenwood. "When does artificial intelligence cease to become artificial and become organic? If a computer or a robot begins to think, what's artificial about that? I find it all quite interesting."
Chi McBride joins the starring cast as Lt. John Bergin, Spooner's mentor and boss. "Bergin and Spooner have been friends for a long time," says McBride. "There was a traumatic incident in Spooner's life that still affects him. Bergin's aware of this, and he's trying to bring Spooner along slowly and get him back into the mainstream of being a detective."
Veteran actor James Cromwell portrays Dr. Alfred Lanning, the technical genius behind the rise of U.S. Robotics, whose death begins the film. Cromwell wanted to be involved with I, ROBOT because of the issues it raises. "The film asks a lot of intriguing questions," says Cromwell. What's the morality of the choices we make? What are the ramifications of intelligent machines and how human beings react to them? I appreciated the way the filmmakers took a straightforward detective story, and expanded it into an examination of some of the problems that would be posed by these questions."
Having discovered "a ghost in the machine" that threatens the safety of the human race, Lanning creates holograms of himself that, after his death, provide clues to Detective Spooner. "I communicate to him what the problem is and how to proceed. As he describes, "It's like 'Hansel and Gretel' following the breadcrumbs along the trail."
design and concept
A year and a half prior to the start of principal photography, director Alex Proyas began working with his core group of collaborators, including Production Designer Patrick Tatopoulos, on concept designs for a future where robots are part of the everyday world. Proyas and Tatopoulos previously collaborated on "Dark City."
"I described I, ROBOT early on having an almost documentary feel of the future, because I really wanted to steer away from the usual Hollywood theatrical approaches to the future," explains Proyas. "I wanted to create a strong sense of reality so that you believe that you're in this world populated by robots. We've gone with a believable and realistic view of the future. I didn't want to have flying cars and stuff that other people have had in their cinematic visions of the future. I wanted it to feel like it was a real and natural 30-year progression from our world.
"I'm more interested in the characters and the story than gadgets," Proyas continues. "Robots are such intriguing forms of technology that I didn't want to have other forms of technology getting in the way of that. That said, we do have some cool cars with spherical wheels that can go in any direction. But, at the end of the day, I wanted the robots to be the main technological focus in this world of 2035."
In fact, Patrick Tatopoulos' most important assignment was designing the robots, including Sonny, one of the film's principal characters. Tatopoulos, who was both Production Designer and Creature Designer on the Twentieth Century Fox blockbuster "Independence Day," serves in those same capacities on I, ROBOT.
"Having a chance to do the sets and create Sonny the robot, from the beginning, was very important," says Tatopoulos. "I've always believed that the beings that live in a world should feel very much like that world, and that they should really fit together well."
Working with Proyas, Tatopoulos developed the design of Sonny over a two-year period by trying "to forget everything we'd seen before." Sonny's look went through approximately 50 different designs before its final incarnation as a slender and elegant figure.
Designing the future
The Visual Effects
Isaac Asimov's 'Three Laws'
Director Alex Proyas
Screenwriters Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman
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