Wednesday, December 04, 2002

I see that Will Smith may be cast in Alex Proyas' film of Isaac Asimov's I. Robot . The choice to cast an African American actor is interesting, given that in the original book, the question of slavery is frequently raised. That is, if you create an artificial and intelligent robot, that none the lest has to obey you, is this akin to slavery? Of course the film likely dispenses with this aspect of the stories entirely. (To some extent I suppose it depends on whether Smith is playing a human character or a robot character. The most important human character in the book is a woman. Many of the 'male' characters are robots).

I'm hoping for a good film here, anyway. I have faith in Alex Proyas. Dark City was a very fine piece of work. There has been talk of an I, Robot film for a very long time. Harlan Ellison wrote quite an interesting screenplay a few years back, but this may or may not have worked as a film. The book is structurally difficult to film. It consists of a series of short stories, with a number of common characters and common themes, and a certain amount of connecting narrative. Telling the whole story (as Ellison's screenplay tries to) would lead to an oddly structured film. It seems that the current idea might be just to film one of the stories. This would at least be easier.

Of course, the last time an Asimov work was filmed, the results were at best mixed. The original novelette, The Bicentennial Man , was one of Asimov's finest pieces of work. It's about Andrew Martin, an intelligent robot who slowly grows more complex and more self-aware, and more and more organic and less mechanical, and who finally wishes to be legally declared human, basically because there is something extraordinary and special about the human condition (I would say something divine, but Asimov would probably have objected to the religious undertones of the word. He was a great humanist, but was not a man of religion). In order for this to be allowed to happen, he in the end gives up the immortality he has as a robot and agrees to die. It is an extraordinarily moving story, and the first half of it was filmed both well and faithfully. However, the second half of the story was changed so that instead of wanting to become human because he desired the human condition, Andrew Martin wants to become human so that he can legally marry a woman. The entire "love of a woman" business was not in the original story, and while the love of a woman is no doubt a fine thing, in relative terms it rather mundane. By making the change, director Chris Columbus and screenwriter Nicholas Kazan ripped the emotional heart out of the story. And that was sad.

Dear Hollywood. In making a film of I. Robot , you are again working with some of Dr Asimov's very best work. Please don't mess it up this time.

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