I Am Robot

Or should that read, I Vampire? Either/or I guess, depending on which substitute title for the latest Will Smith vehicle where he finds his environment besotted with CGI albino clones provides ample warning. Is it possible that I could have found myself wishing they’d used the vampire costumes from Blade II? Yes, yes it is.

I can’t exactly fault Smith’s performance, or at least some attempt at clever, subtle story-telling. The Flesh Prince really dug in, and practically broke my heart in “that dog scene”, although he was already halfway there given his character’s circumstances. Other touches such as a flirtation with one of the mannequins placed in various spots throughout the city to counteract his loneliness (also seen in Heston’s Omega Man) comes off as believably heartbreaking, emphasizing his gradual descent into madness when it could have easily descended into morbid slapstick. Then there’s a resurrection of the magic of Bob Marley that must have had hundreds of college students cheering in the theater. Cause, like, he smoked pot and people still worshipped him and thought he was responsible. Dig?

But I don’t want to collapse into a windy, sloppy, sarcastic and cynical rant because lots of other blogs have done it much better and are far more funny with that sort of thing. My beef will be mostly focused on how fucking stupid and coldly scene-stopping the “vampires” were and what kind of message that sends to a screenwriter and storyteller like myself. I tend to avoid blockbuster yarns like this one because they completely sap the reserves of enthusiasm and confidence that I desperately need for this writing career lark. What I Am Legend tells me is that old, classic source material (the kind that my writing will never be, as I try and write stuff that hasn’t yet been written, like) will always be available to pump up and distribute to IMAX theaters after the inherent soul of a piece has been replaced with the recognizable soul of someone like, say, Bob Marley to humanize a world constructed almost entirely of 1’s and 0’s.

The original story’s antagonists were, well, antagonizing. They were pissed, not just hungry, and they played on Neville’s loneliness and guilt. In at least one version, they went straight at his geometrically escalating horniness, the likes one can barely imagine. They toyed with his sensibilities, played with his head. They may have been changed in a number of fundamental ways (although none were able to roar like a constipated T-Rex) but were still able to access the socio-political file-cabinets located in the back of their mental cubicles. Towards the end of the film, when it became apparent that there was a cure, one wondered if it was too late to reverse what those that had been turned had learned by no longer being a member of a society arguably more cruel and misguided than the night-dwelling one in which they presently existed. All that was to be gained was a return to a day in the sun. In other words, there was a chance to draw on some universal themes about the cultural graying and desensitization of our global, daily grind coupled with a technologically self-sufficient isolation (do any of us really leave the house anymore like we used to?) and perhaps what it must be like to not only be the last man on earth, but – gasp –the last black man on earth. Surely a film based most recently on a film released in 1971, coming off the comet tail of such social and political turmoil, still held possibility for comment on what is happening today beyond the dangers of meddling with science regardless of the good intentions involved.

Or did I miss the point, entirely? The computer technology on display alienated my experience, had me looking at the film rather than feeling it, and never really invited open my more psychological senses so that a deeper message might be effectively set. Instead, I was numbed by the hostility and the stereo surround sound assault, and the story of a lonely man fighting for his and his dog’s life became about only that. And as I checked out his pad searching for cool, little post-apocalyptic tidbits (an integral part of the story in much the same way running amuck in a shopping mall ignited the child-like forefront of our imaginations in Dawn of the Dead) I tried my best to care about what happened to his wife and daughter; has there ever been a more overused detail shamelessly implanted into a narrative lately than “the family plugin bundle”? Just add kids for high stakes, and stir. Easy!

I guess I just want to know if I can differentiate myself in my work beyond the next “wild ride”. Do I really have to find new ways to have the undead scale the heights of athleticism and sonic weaponry to get a look in? Boyle’s 28 Days/Weeks was a comment on rage, so the infected were a – pardon the pun – running commentary on a specific detail of our post-modern (sorry) existence. But that’s been done, so I need to find another raw societal nerve to poke. Or two. Or three?

Hmm…maybe I can have them burrow really fast! Maybe they could originate from an infection in China like in Max Brooks’ excellent follow up to his The Zombie Survival Guide entitled World War Z (which I also understand is headed to theaters thanks to Brad Pitts production company, Plan B) and dig their way to…let’s see…Des Moines, Iowa! Nah…Austin, Texas! That’s a hip setting, right? They could infest and infect the music festival and business men and women from as far and wide as Dallas and Houston could at last shed their spirit-stifling monkey suits, throw on some chaps, saddle up a few steer, and ride into the throngs for a good old-fashioned, Alamo-style whoop-ass. They would then make peace with the pierced queer teen counter-culture and join forces to rid their beloved Lone Star State of this new, foreign pestilence (which would, in turn, teach the Mexicans a lesson, sending them scrambling back over the border where they belong). Hell, I’ve never seen a zombie killed with a crushing blow to the skull from a flying V! Or better yet, opened up like a pinata with the crack of an oil executives Sharper Image briefcase. Yeeee-haw!

Sigh. I’ve gone all windy and sarcastic, now. And I still feel bad for the dog.

She deserved a better movie.

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About S. Norton

Writer, marketer, musician.
This entry was posted in Cinema, Screenwriting, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to I Am Robot

  1. Josh says:

    I wish they would make World War Z into a miniseries and show it on HBO.

    I just can’t see how even a three-hour film could do that book justice.

    I’m eagerly awaiting Cloverfield, by the way. There’s some genuine opportunity there.

  2. scottyus says:

    A miniseries for “Z” is actually an excellent idea. Were it not for the box office guarantee of anything with a zombie in it, that might be the way to go. No idea how they’re going to handle it, but I doubt it’s going to be flashbacks and mixed-up interviews. They’ll probably just do a straight narrative about a zombie world war.

    Cloverfield does look intriguing, but I’ve been burned by J.J. Abrams before. I’d like 13 hours of my life back after sitting through the first season of Lost, to be honest. And does it look like another big lizard to you? Does to me. 😦

  3. Josh says:

    I grew up on the “lizard” movie, so that wouldn’t be such a bad thing to me. I mean, it can’t be as bad as the Americanized Godzilla movie from a few years back.

    I actually like Lost. The second season was weak, but the third has redeemed itself. The rumor is the shortened season will be much better, especially as the writing team has a clear end in sight as far as the number of shows are concerned.

    We’ll see this Friday. My in-laws will be in town, and I’m trying to get them to go with us.

  4. scottyus says:

    Is it out this Friday? Hmm…

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