Raising the Call: Boycott the Opening Week of “I, Robot”

(This isn’t the usual lies.com fare, but I have a pulpit and I feel compelled to use it. Besides, I’ve never mocked jbc’s LOTR and Winona fetishes, so hopefully he’ll humor me on this.)

Simply put, I want to spread the word that people should boycott the movie “I, Robot” during its opening week in protest of 20th Century Fox’s blatant abuse and misuse of Isaac Asimov’s classic book. I don’t expect that anything I say will make a dent in the movie’s bottom line, but maybe — just maybe — the studio will get the message: don’t mislead your audience.

If you don’t follow movie buzz, then you may not yet know about “I, Robot“. It raised a few eyebrows in the press when the first “teaser trailer” came out, because it was made to look like an actual commercial for a personal robot, with no indication that it was promoting a movie. But in addition to the media buzz, there was a separate buzz among Science Fiction fans everywhere: someone was finally giving Isaac Asimov‘s classic work the film treatment it deserved.

You see, Isaac Asimov was a Sci-Fi pioneer. He redefined the concept of “well-written science fiction” and was one of the first people to write stories about robots that didn’t involve them being maniacal monsters going haywire and killing people. As he put it

“I quickly grew tired of this dull hundred-times-told tale …. Knowledge has its dangers, yes, but is the response to be a retreat from knowledge? …. I began in 1940, to write robot stories of my own – but robot stories of a new variety …… My robots were machines designed by engineers, not pseudo-men created by blasphemers”

He developed “The Three Laws of Robotics“, which prevent any robot from doing harm. By incorporating these laws into his stories, Asimov forced himself to write more complex plots in which robots were more then just weapons. They had personalities that made them genuine characters. Not only did these laws rapidly become universally accepted by other Science Fiction writers, but Robotics Engineers and Technology Ethicists take these laws seriously and incorporate them into the designs of Artificial Intelligences.

I, Robot” (the book) is an anthology of nine unrelated short stories that was published in 1950. Each story is included in its original form, but Asimov wrote a special introduction and connecting narration between each of them. As a whole, the book serves as a fictional “history of robotics” told as anecdotes by Dr. Susan Calvin, a character Asimov reused several times.

Which brings me to the similarities between the book and the movie:

  • It’s called “I, Robot”.
  • Asimov has a writing credit.
  • It has a character named “Susan Calvin”.
  • It prominently features (a version of) The Three Laws.
  • The full trailer features a swarm of robots violently waging war on humanity.

… uh … Doing what with the where now?

Well, you see, this movie was not based on the book at all. It was written to be a swash buckling, action packed, robots-gone-mad flick called “Hardwired”. Fox and the Director (Alex Proyas) just decided to call it “I, Robot” and throw in some Asimov references to capitalize on the name. Proyas claims to be familiar with the original book, but as others have pointed out, his description is “exactly opposite what the I, Robot stories were about“.

Which brings me back to my original point. This may turn out to be a good Sci-Fi movie, it might even be a great Sci-Fi movie. It may one day be considered on par with 2001, Blade Runner, Alien, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It may turn out to be a great action flick, with stunning visuals, and magnificent special effects. Hell, for all I know, it may have a decent script, with Oscar-caliber acting — I won’t know until I see it. Yes, that’s right, I’m sure I’ll eventually see it; probably at a movie theatre and probably within a few weeks of its release. I’m too much of a Science Fiction geek to boycott it completely, but I won’t see it the first week it’s out. And neither should you.

Hopefully you’ll skip the opening weekend because you agree with me that movie studios shouldn’t abuse the names and reputations of great authors to boost their sales. And maybe if enough people spread the word about this idea, some other movie will beat out this “Summer Blockbuster” during its opening week and send a message to Fox that we respect Isaac Asimov’s memory more then we care about seeing Will Smith get it on with Bridget Moynahan while mowing down hordes of robots with a machine gun.

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