I, Robot Blu-ray Review
PictureEncoded via MPEG-4, the 1080p image looks amazing. The 2.35:1 aspect is wide and luxurious and all within it lifts smoothly from the screen. Within the first second you will see the huge difference in clarity and sharpness that this edition has over its SD counterpart. Just the sight of the bustling future Chicago is enough to supply plenty of wow-factor. The big shots of the city and its multitudes are wonderfully rendered with gleaming, practically pin-sharp clarity - with the transfer certainly favouring reflective surfaces, robots, lights, buildings and CG.
Having recently reviewed Will Smith in Warner's I Am Legend, it is actually quite difficult not to draw comparisons between the two transfers and, I have to say that, of the two, I Robot is the one that looks like a true hi-def image, whereas Legend barely impressed by way of improvement over its SD version. Detail and depth of field here are utterly tremendous. The film refuses to be soft or flat with sharply defined edges, strong colours that are locked in perfectly and a vividness that is consistent whether we are in the police headquarters, the local bar, Spooner's apartment or the action out on the streets. But several sequences really provide that “pop” that you want to show off to people - Spooner's investigation of the amassed ranks of robots fresh off the assembly line produces such a convincing depth that the image is actually intimidating; the building getting demolished around him may show up the CG devastation a bit too overtly, but the sheer detail of the swinging robot arms, and of the halls, rooms and debris is hugely impressive; the tunnel-tussle, with the robot smashing through the windscreen and the glorious death-spin sending the egg-heads flying maintains that high-gloss sheen-and-shadow patina that simply entrances; and, of course, the entire finale with mass of skittering droids, shattering glass and bright machine-gunfire flashes has demo written all over it - but, considering the copious use of CG and the fact that a few too many money-shots are way too picturesque and obvious, there are some great three-dimensional images of Sonny battling his robot brethren either amid the icily sterile laboratory accoutrements or in the warmer environment of the corridors.
Close-up detail is absolutely faultless, from the pores on Smith's skin to the piercing, languid blue of Sonny's artificial eyes and that amazing porcelain finish to his “skin”. Textures on clothing - smooth and sleek for most people but a bit more worn and used for Spooner - are fine and revealing. Weaponry and equipment may appear shiny and full of that futuristic gleam as much as the settings, yet even here there is detail and credible surfacing. The aesthetic of Proyas' movie may appear to be slick and shiny but, like the robots themselves, there are hidden depths to it and much more than initially meets the eye. Check out the greats shots of Spooner stepping from a car and into building whilst his car his then placed into a hanging car park behind him - the combination of live-action, CG, depth and motion is excellent.
Contrast is exceptional with terrifically moody interiors and scintillatingly bright landscapes - eg the sea of containers beneath the broken bridge - and blacks are incredibly deep and strong. Comparing to the SD reveals that detail within the darker areas is much more defined in 1080p, meaning that nothing has been crushed. Colour saturation is also excellent and there is no evidence of banding in the blue skies or the silver-grey environments of the corporate sectors. Explosions are bright blooms and flames have a livid orange glow. The bad robots suddenly “switching on” and gaining sinister red lights in their chests looks awesomely sublime, as well. Midnight blues are smooth and the primaries look gorgeous.
Print-wise, there is a very slight degree of grain to be seen in some scenes, though this, in no way, detracts from the image. Digitally, I saw no signs of compression, edge enhancement, blocking or any artefacts and the disc handles fast-action seamlessly without any hint of drag. In fact, the only thing that could pull this down from top marks would be the CG, which can give the picture a certain amount of fakeness. But since this is inherent in the movie anyway, a pristine transfer can't help but show it up for what it really is. This, however, is not a fault of the disc itself ... so, I, Robot, reference material that it is, gets the full 10 out of 10 from me. I won't be at all surprised if someone finds some imperfection in the image ... but this looks so damn clean, sharp and three-dimensional that I can do nothing but sing its praises.
SoundWell, it's got bass and it is not afraid to use it!
Supplied with a great DTS-HD 5.1 track - a standard now for Fox, it seems - the disc takes supreme delight in blasting your sofa from the floor. For the type of film it is, this is exactly the sort of aggression you crave. The house-demolition is staggeringly thunderous and marvellously steered too. The masonry doesn't just crumble around you - it is hurled around you with air-displacing accuracy. The sense of enormous weight dropping down or being shifted violently left and right is acutely observed with walls of sound ripping across the aural environment. But the nice thing is that there is detail within these walls of sound that renders them engrossing and dynamic at the same time. This is not just a simple crash, bang, wallop design - it packs in detail and depth of sound. The next grand-slam sequence that comes along is, of course, the awesome tunnel-chase when the rogue robot carriers close in on Spooner and unleash hordes of the things upon his car. Flames, explosions, impacts, shattering glass and gun-blasts - the disc carries them all with emphatic aplomb and heaves them right in your face. Top stuff, folks, that will remind the neighbours to renew their house insurance.
Finite detail such as footsteps, button clicks, the murmuring of rioters in the distance, city ambience etc is well catered-for too, but such finesse can be swamped by the sheer bombast of it all during later scenes. The finale, with its vertigo-inducing swoops around catwalks and steel gantries and Beltrami's score pounding away, can become a little too crowded and dense, but despite this, is still a wonderfully overwhelming wall of sound that brings the film to pulverising life.
Immersion is the name of the game, and Fox's design is especially adept at placing you within the environment depicted onscreen. Ambience, voices and hubbub are presented right around the set-up. The spread across the front is wide and spacious. Panning is seamless and transparent and there is plenty for the rears to engage in. And Beltrami's score is bright in the right places, warm in the mid-range and deep with percussion. All that prevents this from getting the double-whammy with a 10 in the audio stakes is that impression that the bombast can slightly drown out some of the finer detailing during the finale - though I'm absolutely sure that many will not give a hoot about this and find I, Robot to be totally reference material in the sound department.
ExtrasFox deserve some credit for attempting something a little different with the manner in which they present the extra features on this release. Here, we get the supposedly clever bit where we can “finally use those little coloured buttons on our remotes”. Basically, the extra features can be accessed at any time by pressing one of these hitherto redundant little red, blue, yellow and green buttons. Each button commands a different set of bonuses that engage the in-movie gubbins.
The green button activates the Commentary Tracks - all of which adorned the Special Edition SD a few years ago. The three commentary tracks attempt to dissect the film but can be a little non-committal and wavering. However, they are still informative, without being too sanctimonious or cluttered with back-slapping On the first, we get Alex Proyas and Akiva Goldsman. The pair delivers a fair amount of anecdote, production trivia and the ideology that went into creating this action-incarnation of Asimov's basic concept. They make no bones about the huge deviation from the original story and, to be frank, don't need to make excuses for simply using the author's Laws Of Robotics only as a springboard to their narrative. The second chat track finds us in the company of a larger mob of crew members, including visual effects supervisors, a production designer, a producer and a digital animation supervisor. Focussing primarily on the design and the look of the film, this is, as is common for such commentaries, a lot drier and more technical. But there is still much to be gleaned from this if you stick with it.
The third track is one that I, with my huge passion for movie soundtracks, love to see included on a disc. This time we get to hear the thoughts and creative motivation that Marco (3.10 To Yuma/Hellboy) Beltrami put into crafting the score for the film. However, his comments are only sporadic and the track can't help but feel superfluous to the package, despite my interest in, and love of, his score for I, Robot. Having heard a fuller version of the soundtrack than that which has been released - with a number of extra tracks - I would have liked to have heard about the cutting process and how he felt about the re-arranging and integration of his music to the final print of the movie. As it stands, this is a nice idea to have the composer record a commentary, but the end results may always be a bit hit and miss.
In the case of the Commentaries, activating via the appropriate button presents us with details of the topic of discussion actually on the screen, which is cute. Plus, it is easy via the set-up to find a relevant chatty bit for any particular scene and move between the three commentaries.
But the other extras that you can access, like the commentaries, are all culled from the 2-Disc Special Edition.
The red button activates the “Behind The Camera” set of short featurettes that you can dive into whilst watching the movie. Typically, these tend to cover the technical and FX work that went into the making of the movie and don't, as a rule, last long. To be honest, I wasn't impressed with these the first time around so I haven't really spent much time with their incarnation here. The making of the film is only curtly dealt with and decidedly EPK in nature. Even the Deleted/Extended Scenes don't offer much of interest. Within the umbrella of the “in-movie” experience, these documentaries are broken down and dispersed around the film. For the record we get Day Of Days: I, Robot Production Diaries, CGI And Design, Sentient Machines: Robotic Behaviour and The Filmamkers' Toolbox. All of these are in standard definition and this can be slightly jolting when popping out of the main feature.
The blue button gives you access to a Searchable Content Index which brings up a list of what's what, who's who and where to find them within the movie.
And the yellow button activates the Annotated Guide trivia track, which is unique to this BD release, but it is not without its quirks, as well. You have to wait for sentences to finish as their field is actually too short to contain them. There is nothing particularly note-worthy about what is on offer with it, but the track is quite wide-ranging.
The disc is also enabled with a D-Box Motion Code for those who have that capability. I don't, so ... answers on a postcard please.
Fox have tried to be clever with the user-interaction of this disc, but it all amounts to a needlessly flashy operating system. Some players experience delays when popping in and out of the featurettes, sometimes even spinning back to the start of the same featurette again just after it had finished which can naturally be tiresome.
VerdictThe more I see I, Robot, the more I enjoy it. Smith is a thoroughly engaging lead and the slick, glossy look of the film goes hand-in-hand with the clean, utopia-building ethics of the story. The action is terrific, with a couple of barnstorming set-pieces guaranteed to rock the house and even if the tale ultimately pitches in a lot of conventional genre staples, it delivers them with enough flair and panache to whistle by with breakneck gusto. Comic-book and glibly user-friendly, the bigger issues about artificial intelligence and the essence of personality are flat-packed and easily digestible and Proyas really just wants to wow you with spectacle.
On Blu-ray, the film looks and sounds excellent as well, Fox doing another bang-up job of transferring a visual extravaganza to 1080p. The disc doesn't really deliver the goods when it comes to the extras though. It may make use of “drop-in/drop-out” featurettes incorporated into the movie, but these are no substitute for a proper full-on making of. But, as it stands, I, Robot is definitely in the top tier of Blu-ray titles, a pure platform transfer that literally ignites the screen. Highly recommended for its sheer visceral rush and knock-out AV quality, but little more than big, dumb fun when it all comes down to it .
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.79
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