So, I, Robot is a “bad” movie? What Gives?

  • Project Paradise Word Count: 357
  • Project Skye Word Count: 1617
  • Project Independence Word Count: 2428 (+71)
  • Project Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel Page Count: 12

I managed to add 71 words yesterday, well below my 250 word goal.  In my defense, I only had about 40 minutes in-between assignments, but I probably could have gotten it done, but I had to eat dinner, and eating ribs and typing on a computer keyboard is a recipe for disaster.  I also had time on my breaks, but chose not to work on it.  Instead I skimmed YouTube for most of break time.  Today, I’m going to make a concerted effort to use my break times for writing and save YouTube for the weekend.  We’ll see tomorrow if I make it happen.

I, Robot = “bad”?

So, towards the end of the day at the Writing Center, a discussion emerged about the concept of Artificial Intelligence in video games and movies, and I brought up I, Robot as an example.  Now, I know I, Robot isn’t regarded fondly in the Sci-Fi community, but I was surprised to hear a MA (Master’s level) student pull a “Freshman Fiat.”  This is my term for when a freshman (or any other beginning level student) pronounces that something is “fact” and then provides no evidence for this pronouncement.  He categorically stated that I, Robot was a “bad” movie, but without giving any shred of evidence (such as characterization, plotting, setting, tone, etc) to back up his statement and I was supposed to just agree because that is the general consensus.

But I don’t agree.

Not only do I not agree, but as a student learning more and more about Afrofuturism, I would argue that the general consensus has less to do with the movie’s quality in terms of story construction than it does with the appearance of the hero and the formation of the hero’s identity.

But Looper = “good”?

As a counterpoint to the I, Robot narrative, I would offer the (as evidence, which the other participant in the debate never gave, I must repeatedly emphasize), the movie Looper.  Looper is a time travel story, one which (minor spoilers–skip down if you want to know nothing about the plot) sets the protagonist against an older version of himself.

Looper was hailed as a “great” movie and was critically acclaimed.  It also made its director Rian Johnson a powerhouse in the Sci-Fi movie community (which ultimately lead to The Last Jedi and the splintering of the Star Wars fandom).  However, I found Looper (and The Last Jedi to a lesser degree) to be one of the least inventive, least original, and a movie so lacking in character motivation that it made the main character seem flat and uninteresting.  And yet, this movie is hailed as what we should aspire to in Science Fiction filmmaking, while I, Robot, which tries to explore the idea what a soul is and where does it reside, and can it reside in a machine created by man (i.e, first explored by “high” literature such as Frankenstein, and explored in many different movies, including the highly successful Terminator films).

What Makes It So?

I would challenge viewers to watch (or rewatch) each film and focus on the protagonists–the main characters.  I would also encourage viewers to take a moment to look at the way each character is defined and acts within the context of his respective movie.  Although one is a darker shade in terms of skin tone and borrows from his cultural heritage, I would argue that it is Looper’s protagonist who acts in a more stereotypical way.  The protagonist in Looper doesn’t emote (characteristic of the “strong, silent” type), his actor has the classic “Hollywood” face (“square-jawed”), and the character acts out of a misplaced sense of “love” (the character himself isn’t faced with any overriding conviction), whereas the protagonist of I, Robot hates the robots in his world as a way of displacing his own “self-hate” at the way his circumstances turned out.

I would argue that I, Robot challenges the stereotypical narrative far more than Looper does, but that the casting of the protagonist in Looper conforms more to the expectations of the viewers and thus, allows Looper benefit from a story that is far less engaging and far less revolutionary than the story that I, Robot tells.

If you happen to disagree, that’s perfectly valid.  I just wanted to take a moment to highlight a few of the reasons why I think that I, Robot gets a bad “rap.”  At least, there’s no “Freshman Fiat” to deal with here–you have points that you can refute if you disagree.

And that was ultimately the point of today’s post: a little more reason and a little less fiat.  Thanks for reading!

Sidney




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No Spoilers, Please!

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Image Source: Larkable.com

Wow. Just wow (but not in a good way).  So the first part of the two part storyline for the Season Finale of Doctor Who released over the weekend and it contained three MASSIVE revelations (i.e., spoilers to the story).  Do you know that I was “spoiled” on 2 of the 3 spoilers by people on YouTube?

Now, you know me, when I “review” something on this blog, I go out of my way to give “impressions” rather than actual “specifics” in order not to ruin the experience for others.  I HATE spoilers, unless I go looking for them.  What makes the spoilers for Doctor Who so  onerous is that I didn’t want to be spoiled.  I avoided looking at the “Coming Next Week” portion of the show (this is the first season I’ve actively avoided it), just so that I would have no clue as to what was coming next.

I’m trying to figure out the reasons (rhetorical) why someone would choose to be a part of the “spoiler” culture.  I understand that there are a group of people who get enjoyment for ruining things for others–but that’s not the sense that I get from the YouTuber who put the “spoiler” in the “thumbnail” for her video.  I had no choice to get spoiled because she put a spoiler not inside her video, but on the outside wrapping (as it were) to get people to click on it and watch her video (no, I do not subscribe to this person’s videos, but YouTube so “helpfully” put her video in my “recommended” feed, not recognizing that her thumbnail gave me way more of the story than I wanted).

I don’t think there was any malice in her video, but a kind of unthinking blindness to the fact that while you may know and want to discuss the story (before it is released), others just want to watch the story and then discuss afterwards.  I don’t want to paint her as just an unthinking fan (she did put the spoiler) in the thumbnail image for the video, so there was some forethought in the matter, but I think it was more of “isn’t this so cool,” rather than “I know more than you,” type of thought.

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Image Source: Radio Times

Either way, however, knowing ahead of time really blunted my enjoyment of this week’s episode (made worse that it wasn’t me who went looking for it).  I knew who the villain was and was able to make the deduction of what was going on about twenty seconds too early and figured out two of the three big reveals too early.  Not sure how I’m going to dodge the season finale’s spoilers, but starting next Thursday I may have to go on media blackout.  It’s pretty bad that it has come to this just to avoid knowing what’s going to happen in a story.

People always talk about the advantages of social media, but they never mention the disadvantages.  I remember when social media (or The Web 2.0 as pundits called back in 2010) was supposed to revolutionize the web.  Well, if this is the revolution, then I want to revolt against the revolution.

A Few Thoughts on Time Travel (in general) and the Star Trek Universe (in specific)

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Image Source: Topgentlemen.com

Time Travel is a favorite concept of Sci-Fi writers as it allows us to explore the possibilities of “What If . . .” and to mull about changes in the time line that did not occur vs. the reality that we see around us.  Popular culture is replete with television shows, movies, and other media that delve into the notion of what might happen if you could go back and change time (in effect, mulligan a decision or choice) to see what effect it would have on the timeline (if any).

I guess the reason that I’m thinking about this is two-fold: 1) Star Trek Enterprise has quite a few instances of Time Travel (in fact, most of the show’s 3rd Season is built around the idea) and 2) as a PhD student, I’m supposed to pick two areas of concentration.  As Creative Writing was off the table, I chose Composition and Rhetoric and Popular Culture.  There was a Call For Papers (CFPs) on the topic of Time Travel and how it affects/manifests itself in popular culture.  I didn’t get a chance to write a paper for it during the last semester (too busy trying to stay afloat!), but now I’d like to write at least a rough draft of some of the things that I’ve noticed in recent Sci-Fi shows/movies/media that I’ve watched recently (Doctor Who, Star Trek Enterprise, Dark Matter, and Mass Effect Andromeda to name a few) about how time travel is used (what effects does it have on the characters’ lives), and what pop. culture currently thinks about it.

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Image Source: Cellcli.com

One thing that I’ve notice that popular culture seems to use time travel for is the idea of Erasure, or righting a wrong and then resetting the timeline (so as to start again–from scratch as it were).  Now, the movie Back to the Future used a “literal” erasure from the timeline itself–and that’s not what I’m talking about.  This erasure is more of a “mulligan,” a do-over, a way to say hey, no that’s not the outcome I desired, let’s start again and try for a better outcome.

I think writers like this technique because it allows them to go into some wildly divergent territory with characters, but it doesn’t mean that they have to commit to changes to the characters (as the characters can be “reset” back to their pre-time travel/time incursion selves or entities).  It means that writers (and actors and directors) can stretch themselves creatively without destroying the likability of the characters.  In other words, characters can act and grow in ways contrary to their original characterization and then be reset.  I think audiences don’t find the this element of time travel as appealing because many times it seems like a “cheat” (much like the “and it was all a dream” cliche’).  Audiences want to characters change and interact in new and novel ways to conflict, but they (we) are fickle . . . change too much and we might lose what we like about a character.

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Image Source: Den of Geek

Star Trek (in general) and Star Trek Enterprise (in specific) seems to be a perfect test-bed for the idea of erasure.  While many of the elements and changes to the characters have “stuck,” most have not and most of the characterizations that have not stuck, or been “erased” through time travel are more radical characterizations/plot lines.  While I won’t know for sure until I finish STE, I’ve noticed that, unlike Doctor Who, for instance where there are often “cusp” events that are fixed and where time is more malleable (“Timey-Whimey, Wibbly-Wobbly”), events in ST’s universe, specifically STE tends to be more recursive (circular, or fractal–like the beginning image above.)

While this is a deeper dive than I normally do in a blog post, I wanted to just get a few thoughts down on the nature of time travel (esp. recent developments in media) down on paper.  I’ve done another post on time travel, Where You End is Not Where You Begin: Time Travel in Movies, and I will probably combine these two posts before the summer is over and develop this idea into a longer academic paper over next school year.  I don’t think that I can use this as my dissertation (I think that has to be Rhetoric or Composition based), but it is an interesting paper idea–and more importantly, seems to be something that I can be VERY LONG-WINDED about! 🙂