VIEWING CUES: I, ROBOT
In Alex Proyas’ 2004 film I, Robot, the sets are quintessentially futuristic. The sets, specifically those in the robotics lab in which most of the story takes place, contain many brightly illuminated walkways which are blue, white and grey in color. Weaved among the ultra-sleek and anti-septic interiors are many computer terminals and security systems. The exterior of the set - the actual robotics building - was created using computer generated imaging. It is an ultra-modern locale with huge glass windows and has the vertical quality of a skyscraper.
The most important feature of the film, besides the actors, are the set and prop elements which were created by visual effects artists on a computer. The film’s most prominent characters were created through this digital medium as was the cityscape of the film. These digital visual effects also allow for the introduction of new camera moves that would be physically impossible if done with a real camera on a real set.
There is a stark contrast between two sets in the film that aid in visually illustrating the theme of the modern and ultra-efficient with the traditional and rustic. The main character in the film attempts to solve a crime within the robotics lab previously described. He often visits him grandmother who lives in a standard, 1950s-style suburban home. The house lacks any real technological integration and is unusually placed within the futuristic Chicago. This set provides relief and comfort for the main character who frequents the old home to talk with his grandmother and enjoy her home-made pies. At the robotics lab, however, the main character is constantly being insulted and undermined by the ultra-rational fellow human beings who work there.
The sets and settings of the film adds to a prominent theme of the film, reality versus artificiality. During serious dramatic scenes, even though there is a heavy amount of CG use, the digital effects do not detract from the realism. In the action scenes, however, laws of physics are broken and the CG is used unrealistically to exaggerate action and artificially increase suspense and danger. This digital mis-en-scene is used brilliantly and reflects the emotion and tone of a specific scene or sequence in the film.
Throughout the film, the mise-en-scene, particularly through the acting, communicates an extreme dichotomy between the human actors and one of the robots in the film. Without sound, communicated solely through body movement and gesture, the robotic character in the film seems to be the only thinking, introspective character in a setting of the future that is portrayed as morally decaying. The actors, through their stoic actions and emotionless gazes, suggest that they’re rather sedated and on a strict, pre-determined course of action - a program.
The most important single prop in this film is the robot named Sonny. He was created using CG for the visual aspect and a human actor for the vocal. He is significant because, although he is essentially a tool, a creation and a mechanical device, he displays a greater range of human qualities than his actual human counterparts. This is done, to the greatest degree, by facial expressions. The prop highlights a grand theme of the film which is the increasing emotionlessness in human beings and a greater range of emotion found in robots.
Will Smith, who is known for the usual one-dimensional characters found in the usual summer blockbusters, plays the main character. His style of acting is all style and no substance. The main character spends a great deal of time joking around and yelling one-liners like a commercial than speaking intelligent, original dialogue. This style is perfectly fitting for the film because in a future society saturated with commercials, product placement and empty-headed blockbuster films, many human beings will take on the characteristics of their environment. This is such the case. The director uses the viewers’ knowledge of the actor’s association with blockbuster films to add a new dimension to the acting.
There are specific scenes in which blocking is especially important. One example of the importance of blocking would be a scene in which the main character begins to interrogate a legion of robots in an attempt to locate a rogue robot. Blocking allows the main character to achieve his goal by placing the insubordinate robot among the hundreds of obedient ones. The blocking in the scene creates incredible suspense and places the viewer in sync with the subjectivity of the main character as he attempts to locate the wayward robot.
The mise-en-scene of the film I am studying suggests the fundamental value of remaining in touch with the more personal, individual qualities of personal experience. The inalterability of the physical conditions of society is illustrated through the film’s mise-en-scene. The film visually shows, through acting, props and sets, humans maneuvering around rather than changing their environment. The high-tech environments are only accessible to professional technicians and from database use that far exceeds the ability of the daring main character, specifically toward the end of the film. The mise-en-scene shows that a society so dependent on specialization can never regain the heroic qualities of an individual; the heroic qualities that allow changes to the physical conditions of society.