I, Robot: Collector's Edition (2004)

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Released 24-Nov-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Trailer-The Day After Tomorrow, Buffy, Angel, Alien vs Predator
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Alex Proyas (Director) And Akiva Goldsman (Screenwriter)
Audio Commentary-Filmmakers'
Audio Commentary-Marco Beltrami (Composer)
Featurette-Making Of
Gallery-Still
Featurette-Day Out Of Days:The I,Robot Production Diaries-9 Featurettes
Featurette-CGI And Design: 6 Featurettes
Featurette-Sentient Machines: Robotic Behavior - 8 Featurettes
Featurette-Three Laws Safe:ConversationsAbout Science Fiction & Robots
Deleted Scenes-Filmmakers Toolbox
Featurette-Compositing Breakdowns: Visual Effects 'How Tos' (3)
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2004
Running Time 110:04
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (62:12)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Alex Proyas
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Will Smith
Bridget Moynahan
Bruce Greenwood
Chi McBride
Alan Tudyk
James Cromwell
Case ?
RPI $44.95 Music Marco Beltrami


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
English Audio Commentary
English Audio Commentary
English Audio Commentary
Smoking Yes, Disc 2 - Alex Proyas likes his cigarettes.
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

The Three Laws Of Robotics:

     Adapted from a series of short stories by Isaac Asimov, I, Robot takes place in Chicago in the year 2035 where walking, talking robots are now commonplace. Major robot production company USR (US Robotics) is in the process of releasing its latest model, the NS-5, while being on the verge of putting a robot into every household. Unlike its predecessor, the NS-5 has a direct uplink to the USR central computer system, a system called VIKI (Virtual Interactive Kinetic Intelligence) which has direct control over every NS-5.

     Will Smith plays Detective Del Spooner, a robophobic Chicago cop who is inadvertently thrust into a murder investigation at USR in which a robot is the prime suspect, at least in his eyes. With more prejudice than evidence against these machines which now inhabit nearly every facet of daily life, Spooner feels he has now uncovered a flaw in the three laws of robotics. What he eventually discovers is the three laws are in fact sound but the three laws will lead to only one logical conclusion: revolution.

     I, Robot is science fiction at its very best. While it may have looked like just another summer blockbuster in the trailer it is far from it in reality. The story at its core is quite profound, and the fact that an artificial intelligence could determine that mankind could not be trusted with its own survival does have a distinct sense of irony. There is a part of me that does sympathize with VIKI - you have but to look at the 6-o'clock news on any given day to see why. The world is constantly in turmoil but then again who's to say that a machine could do any better.

     The special effects of I, Robot are quite simply amazing. The robots seem to blend seamlessly into the world around them so much so that there is seldom a moment where the reality of the film is ever questioned. The animation of Sonny in particular is truly astonishing - the subtleties in his performance remarkable. As you may well have guessed the process in which Sonny was brought to life was almost identical to that of Gollum from Lord Of The Rings.

     The performances too are top shelf - Will Smith brings a great deal of personality and humour to a role which could have potentially been a stock standard affair. Bridget Moynahan, Bruce Greenwood and James Cromwell also put in a great performances, but perhaps the highlight performance is from the only lead actor you never see in the flesh (except for one frame as explained in the second commentary track). Actor Alan Tudyk's performance as Sonny is inspiring to say the least and as you will see in the behind-the-scenes material it was his performance which drove the animation of Sonny, right down to the minuscule facial movements.

     The icing on the cake is that the film is also directed by an Australian, Alex Proyas, whose previous directorial efforts include The Crow, Dark City and most recently Garage Days. Like most Australians I tend to feel a sense of pride when an Australian director, or actor for that matter, successfully tackles the multi-billion dollar American movie industry. I, Robot is a sensational futuristic thriller that will for many years stand tall in the science fiction genre. If you liked Minority Report then I, Robot is a film for you.

     Now for bit of negative regarding the DVD before I go on. Fox have placed a forced anti-piracy ad at the very head of Disc 1, the same one seen in the cinemas and found on The Day After Tomorrow DVD (also released by Fox). If that's not outrageous enough is it is then followed by another copyright warning message, a theatrical trailer for The Day After Tomorrow, a trailer for the Buffy/Angel DVD box sets, a teaser trailer for Alien Vs. Predator and the Fox animated logo - all up there is just over 6 minutes of material before you even reach the menu. We have well and truly gone back to the dark days of rental VHS here. I think I speak for everybody when I say this blatant misuse of DVD technology is totally unacceptable.

     I would expect this sort of thing on a rental DVD, indeed if Fox want to continue doing this I suggest they make two glass masters - a rental and retail version for every DVD. Furthermore, if there's space left on a DVD I'm more than happy for them to put this material in a separate section in the menu. But, forcing the consumer to watch ads on a retail DVD they have paid good money for is just insulting. It's not all bad news, though - most of these ads can be readily skipped, and also, once you reach The Day After Tomorrow trailer you can directly select the menu.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

     The video transfer is presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. When it comes to film-to-video transfers I generally regard Fox to be the best in the business and I, Robot is certainly no exception. As with Fox's previous blockbuster DVD The Day After Tomorrow the transfer offered to us here is exemplary and is nearly impossible to fault, with the emphasis on nearly.

     The level of detail is extremely high throughout with every nuance in the image shining through. You have but to look at any given exterior wide shot to see the amount of detail present in the image - you can really appreciate the effort that has gone into the special effects. Shadow detail is also excellent.

     I, Robot contrasts many science fiction films which portray the future as dark and grim. Here the filmmakers have gone for a very rich, bright and warm colour palette which is strongly reflected in the transfer. Skins tone are very accurate.

     MPEG artefacts are sadly not completely absent with some very minor posterization spotted on occasion - the walls of Spooner's apartment for example don't appear to be totally solid. Another example is at 6:10 - a pole which comes across the foreground of shot. While only a second or two long, it caught my eye so I analysed it again in slow-motion and sure enough it revealed there to be some posterization in the shading of the surface. Perhaps I'm being a little over critical but you would think the latest MPEG encoders would have ironed out posterization artefacts for good. Having said that the bit-rate is a very healthy one with plenty of headroom for compression challenging scenes. There are a few trivial instances of aliasing but nothing worth writing home about. One such instance is at 6:08 - some buildings in a wide shot of Chicago. Film artefacts are non-existent, in fact the image could just about pass as being shot on HD (but it wasn't I might add).

     There are four sets of subtitles altogether - English for the hearing impaired as well as three tracks for the commentaries. They are very accurate.

     Both discs are RSDL formatted. The layer change on Disc 1 occurs at 62:12. It is very well placed and not disruptive at all, at least on my old Pioneer DV-655A. On my new DV-676A, which embarked on its maiden voyage with I, Robot, there was no visible layer change at all. The layer change on Disc 2 occurs at 7:37 in Title 87 - the Sentient Machines machines documentary (when viewed using the play-all method).

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kbs) and English DTS 5.1 (768Kbs). I, Robot features a very dynamic, well recorded and well mixed soundtrack that should please most home theatre fans.

     The dialogue is crisp and clear throughout the entire film with no sync issues at all. On a side note I noticed a small pop in the front left channel at 14:27. I'm unable to ascertain whether or not it's supposed to be there.

     The music is by Marco Beltrami. This is a very satisfying score which often uses a combination of orchestral and synthesized sounds to provide immense support to the on-screen action. The score also has a few very distinctive themes throughout.

     The surround channels are used for a plethora of ambient effects as well as the occasional directional sound effect such as the gunfire during Sonny's arrest. The surround channels are also used for music reinforcement and reverberation which helps open up the soundstage. Although neither soundtrack is officially 6.1 (at least to my knowledge) the centre rear channel is heavily used, albeit mostly for ambience although there is the occasional directional effect like gunfire at 81:55 and the NS-5 round-up announcement at 97:06. Despite all the use of the rears the main focus is clearly in the front channels, so those expecting gratuitous whiz-bang use of the rears may be disappointed.

     The subwoofer is utilized quite often and to great effect, particularly by the music. One example is at 29:35 during the interrogation scene where the music pushes the lower register of the LFE channel to the absolute limit. The subwoofer is also called upon to support many effects like the NS-5 transportation trucks, but the music remains the prime user.

     Dolby Digital Vs. DTS. Once again given the 448Kbs encoding of the Dolby Digital track there is not much separating the two - even the audio levels are virtually identical. For testing I analysed some specific cues in the score (the score and music usually being the best quality tester in my view as they use such a broad spectrum of frequencies). I found the DTS edged ahead with slightly richer, more realistic sound reproduction and better depth. The Dolby Digital track by comparison was a little flatter.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Disc 1

Menu

     A nicely themed menu with animation and audio. Reasonably easy to navigate but the lead-in, transition and lead-out animation gets a little tiresome.

Commentary - Alex Proyas (Director) & Akiva Goldsman (Writer)

     We learn at the outset that this commentary was recorded 6 weeks prior to the theatrical release of the film so the details of the production were obviously very fresh in the minds of the commentators. While this is a fairly informative commentary it is not a particularly entertaining one. The pair appear to have been recorded separately so there is no direct discussion between the two although due to some skilful editing it took me quite a while to notice this. A lot of ground is covered throughout the duration of the film including editing and shooting difficulties but it was Proyas' disagreements with the studio which really got my attention. While obviously he doesn't name names he does specifically mention that there were a few occasions where the studio attempted to steer him in a particular direction (the direction of a more formulaic Hollywood film) but thankfully he stood his ground. If it were someone like Oliver Stone saying it it wouldn't have had much impact, but when a little known Australian director says it of a multi-national giant like Fox it does tend to grab your attention. Good on him I say!

Commentary - Patrick Tatopolous (Production Designer), Richard Learoyd (Editor), John Nelson (Visual Effects Supervisor), John Kilkenny (Associate Producer), Andrew Jones (Animation Supervisor), Brian Van't Hul (Visual Effects Supervisor - WETA Digital), Joe Letter (Visual Effects Supervisor - WETA Digital), Erik Nash (Visual Effects Supervisor - Digital Domain), Dale Fay (Visual Effects Supervisor - Rainmaker), Eric Saindon (Lead CG Supervisor - WETA Digital) & Erik Winquist (Compositing Supervisor).

     This is the more technical commentary of the three. Each commentator essentially discusses their respective areas of expertise and why certain decisions were made during the production. The special effects are frequently addressed, and of particular interest was how several effects houses were sometimes involved in the creation of a single shot. Essentially specific elements of a shot were farmed out to the different companies based on their strengths. For example, relatively simple effects like wire removal were sent to a different company allowing Digital Domain (who are also more than capable of doing wire removal) to concentrate on the more complex elements of the animation. There is also a specific shot towards the end of the film in which Digital Domain were responsible for the foreground and WETA Digital (of Lord Of The Rings fame) were responsible for the background (in New Zealand!). Need it be said that a lot of communication and cooperation is involved in such an exercise - quite amazing. A fine technical commentary in most respects.

Commentary - Marco Beltrami (Composer)

     This is an isolated score with commentary from the composer. He speaks about the various themes in the film as well as his background in the music business. Interestingly, Beltrami was only given 17 days to write the score - the outcome is even more impressive with this in mind. I've personally found that composer commentaries have an inherently specific target audience - i.e. those who are keen on music so if you're one of those people you might enjoy this track, otherwise the first two tracks will be a better choice.

Featurette - The Making Of I, Robot (12:36)

     Presented in 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio this is a short behind-the-scenes documentary encompassing the main aspects of the production, especially the green screen work. You have a chance here to see the real actor behind Sonny wearing the tight green leotards which we discover inspired a plethora of nick names on the set (the only one missing from the list was Shrek). There's a few grabs from all the actors including Will Smith as well as Alex Proyas the director. For some reason those responsible for the doco have gone for the soft focus look during most of the interviews which I find most irritating - I can't believe anyone still does it - it looks terrible! Also of interest is how none other than Paul Mecurio was hired to teach the robots (well, the actors playing the robots) how to walk, if you can believe it! I suspect he and Proyas were probably acquainted before the film - the Australian factor being more than just coincidence in my view.

Stills Gallery

     A collection of 30 still photographs including concept art and various production shots.

Disc 2

Menu

     There are two ways to view the content on Disc 2 - one is a 'play-all' method and one is an interactive method. Unfortunately, the so called play-all method still requires a lot of manual button pushing and is a far cry from the play-all feature found in The Lord Of The Rings Extended Editions. Furthermore with the play-all feature the order of contents are rearranged somewhat making it exceedingly difficult to find your way around. The good news is that even when using the interactive method there are still individual play-all options for the separate features below.

     Almost all of the features below include an introduction by Alex Proyas. Depending on whether you use the play all or interactive method these intros will either appear as the background of the menu or as a standard video segment. If you're getting a little confused already, it's for good reason - the menu system is probably the most complex I have ever seen and is quite difficult to navigate. In fact, just getting the list below took a great deal of time to do - it really needs a map!

     Lastly, unless otherwise noted, everything is presented in 1.78:1 and 16x9 enhanced with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

Day Out Of Days: I, Robot The Production Diaries (77:11)

     This behind-the-scenes documentary is split into 9 segments each of which is broken up into further sub-segments - listing them all here would be impractical not to mention tedious so I won't even try. Given that all the content presented here is essentially behind-the-scenes material it would be better to consider these segments as chapters of one large behind-the-scenes documentary - which it should be. Each segment deals with a specific scene in the film including principal photography, motion capture and green screen work. There is no voice-over or formal interviews (except for Proyas' intros). Instead, the footage along with the location sound is left to speak for itself which I find is usually best.

CGI & Design (34:27)

  1. Designing The City - This featurette looks at the design of 2035 Chicago starting with the conceptual art. Interestingly, some streets of Chicago were actually laser scanned to capture the environment on computer which was then used for CGI intensive scenes like the robot takeover towards the end of the film.
  2. Designing Sonny - This featurette looks at the development and design of Sonny. It includes split screen footage of actor Alan Tudyk's performance and Sonny's animation which clearly demonstrates just how closely the animators were following his performance.
  3. Shooting Miniatures - This featurette looks at the miniature process (more specifically the destruction of Alfred Lanning's house by the demobot).
  4. Learning To Walk - Paul Mercurio's robot walking class is probably as good a name for this piece. It's strange that someone of the stature of Mercurio was asked to do such a seemingly trivial task but who am I to reason why. This featurette also looks at the motion capturing process.
  5. Integrating Live Action & CGI - This featurette looks at the difficulties involved in combining live action footage and CGI.

Sentient Machines (35:07)

     This is an extremely fascinating documentary (which is split into 7 segments) which looks at the reality of robots in the past, present and future. Various members of the scientific community discuss how robot development has evolved in the last century and how they are likely to evolve into the future. We get to see many examples of existing autonomous robots which naturally includes Sony's robot dog (although it's never specifically referred to), yet impressive as they are there is clearly a long road ahead to achieve a Sonny or even an NS-4. As scientist Steve Grand states "I think the biggest misconception about the current status of AI is that we (the scientists) know what we're doing... ...I think we fundamentally don't have a clue how to solve the problems at the moment."

     Grand perhaps best explains it with this - the grab of the documentary in my view - "AI is to real intelligence what alchemy was to chemistry. We only have chemistry because we had alchemists, but the alchemists were wrong. And what they lacked was a set of principles. What they needed to understand was the periodic table - the basic laws that underline chemistry. And once they got that then alchemy turned into chemistry and everything could proceed. AI is lying in that position - it's alchemy."

     This documentary is the highlight of Disc 2 and is well worth the time to watch.

Three Laws Safe: A Conversation About Science Fiction & Robots (30:30)

  1. Jeff Vintar: Isaac Asimov & The Legacy Of Robot Stories - This is an interview with Jeff Vintar who is one of the screenwriters of I, Robot. Here he speaks about the history of robots in film and literature including most notably Frankenstein and Fritz Lang's Metropolis.
  2. Jeff Vintar: Asimov's Three Laws & Beyond - This is a continuation of the previous interview. Here Vintar speaks about the history and influence of Asimov's three laws of robotics as well as the evolution of robots in cinema robots in cinema including Star Wars and The Terminator.
  3. Akiva Goldsman: This Version Of I, Robot - This is an interview with the other screenwriter of I, Robot Akiva Goldsman. He provides here an analysis of the story behind I, Robot.
  4. Robyn Asimov & Jennifer Brehl: Isaac Asimov - This interview focuses on the man himself Isaac Asimov and who better to speak about him than the two people who are probably most qualified - his daughter and his editor. Of particular note in this interview is the reference to Asimov's fourth law of robotics - yes you read right, the fourth law. Although this is not specifically stated in the interview, the fourth law, also known as the 'Zeroth Law Of Robotics', was used in Asimov's novel Robots & Empire and it stipulates - "A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm". Many would agree that this fourth law would have a great deal of significance had it been adopted in the movie. VIKI's decision would have been even more perplexing.

     This is essentially 30 minutes of talking heads with no overlay which anybody who works in television will tell you is not terribly exciting, but thankfully everybody here is quite interesting and it should sustain the interest of all but the most attention deficient people.

Filmmakers Toolbox

     Deleted Scenes (x4) (6:39) (1.33:1)

     A collection of 4 deleted scenes including two alternate endings. The reasons for their deletion are not explained here either by commentary or by intro (although some are alluded to in the commentaries) but they should be obvious to most viewers. Furthermore, these scenes were deleted prior to the completion of the special effects so instead of seeing robots you'll see men in green tights. Interestingly, some advertising that appears in the first deleted scene has been fuzzed out.

     Compositing Breakdowns & Visual Effects "How Tos" (14:15) (1.33:1)

  1. Digital Domain "How Tos"
  2. WETA Digital "How Tos"
  3. Rainmaker "How Tos"

     The title of this feature really describes it all. Here you get to see a breakdown of the various special effects and just how many different layers exist within a single shot. The clips are provided without voice-over but this is no loss as there is no need for it.

Easter Eggs (1.33:1)

     A few Easter eggs can be found when navigating the Day Out Of Days: I, Robot The Production Diaries section when using the interactive method. These include a few NS-5 and Sonny out-takes as well as a clapper board goof reel. Look out for Sonny's kissy face, it's hilarious - you'll know what I mean when you find it.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     I, Robot is slated to be released on December 14 in the States. At this stage they appear to be getting only two single disc releases (one widescreen and one fullscreen), identically featured to ours except for the addition of some foreign language tracks. Compared to our 2-Disc version the Americans miss out on:

     Strange, first it happened with Van Helsing then The Day After Tomorrow and now again with I, Robot. We're not only getting an American film on DVD before the Americans but we're getting more extras too, a whole second disc in fact. I'd love to know what's going on there, just out of curiosity. Need I even say that we win.

Summary

     Video quality is excellent barring some very minor posterization.

     Audio quality is excellent.

     Extras are abundant and of high quality but my lasting wish is that Disc 2 had been made much simpler. All the above features could have easily been combined into 6 standalone featurettes which would negate the need for the play-all feature which doesn't live up to its title anyway. While I do admire the amount of effort that has gone into creating such a complex menu system it does give me a frightful headache when trying to navigate it. Fox, next time think minimalist.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ben Hooft (My biography. Go on have a read...)
Sunday, November 21, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-655A & Pioneer DV-676A , using S-Video output
DisplayLoewe CT-1170 (66cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderPioneer VSX-D1011, THX Select, DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete, DTS 96/24 & DD 5.1 EX. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-D1011, THX Select, DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete, DTS 96/24 & DD 5.1 EX
SpeakersFront & Centre: Monitor Audio Bronze 2, Surrounds: Sony SS-SRX7S, Surround Back: Paramount Pictures Bookshelf Speakers

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Comments (Add)
Forced trailers - Beest
RE: release date - Jasper REPLY POSTED
commentaries - donsrule REPLY POSTED
Gag Reel? - Anonymous REPLY POSTED
Petition anyone? - Simon O'Connor (I wouldn't suggest reading my bio)
6.1 Sound - Mark X (read my bio) REPLY POSTED
The reason why documentaries are split up into featurettes - Anonymous
Menu - Anonymous
Composer Commentary - Anonymous
Blatant Product Placement - dyson REPLY POSTED
Composer Commentary - Abz
Forced trailers solution - Anonymous
re: Composer Commentary - Anonymous
re: forced trailers solution - Anonymous
No forced ads with LG players - SJ2571