Not So Bad: I, Robot and Nanny McPhee

When I first saw I, Robot I was very, very disappointed. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov is one of my favorite books. I prefer his robot books to his Foundation series, and I love the format of I, Robot (a reporter eliciting robot stories from Susan Calvin; it is actually a collection of stories Asimov wrote earlier).

Now I've spoken elsewhere, and at length, about how books need to be changed in order to work as movies. What burns me, as I'm sure it burns others, is when a book is used (or ostensibly used) but not taken advantage of. My favorite example of this is The Robe, which is a rather dull movie but didn't need to be. The book upon which it is based is quite exciting, full of chase scenes and such. I can understand screenwriters coming up with dull material on their own. But it really confuses me when screenwriters produce boring material despite having the copyright to exciting material. I mean, huh?

I, Robot (the movie) is not boring, but I, Robot (the book) has some stellar plots, and why, why, why, I asked myself, didn't they use them? However, I later learned (this could be rumor, but it makes sense) that the I, Robot people had a robot movie and then, the copyright for Asimov's I, Robot became available so they decided to use the title (as well as a few Asimovy ideas). I understand their thinking, but I'm not sure it was wise. If I'd seen the movie, sans Asimov's name, I would have thought, Hey, they borrowed a bunch of stuff from Asimov; I wouldn't have thought, Why isn't this more Asimovy?

In any case, the movie is far closer in feel to Caves of Steel by Asimov (which copyright is probably not available yet). Which I also like. And, in fact, I enjoyed the movie very much the second time around. Will Smith is a favorite, the movie has a good plot, not to mention James Cromwell (another favorite). The stunts are a little over-digitalized but still cool. Asimov was more of a pro-technology guy than the movie implies; he stated once that there are two robot plots: evil robots taking over the world; good robots saving everyone. Viki and first Hal (2001) fall into category one. Sonny and Data fall into category two. Asimov favored category two; he believed that in the long run, science was better than no science. However, I think he probably would have appreciated I, Robot, the movie (Asimov, if nothing else, was an author capable of taking advantage of an opportunity). And finally, there is the movie's simple, yet always profound, concept: goodness cannot survive the loss of agency. Unless we have the freedom to not be good, we can never be good. So, I really enjoyed it.

I also recently saw Nanny McPhee. It was advertised as the next Mary Poppins, but didn't last long, and I was a little suspicious, despite admiring Emma Thompson and Colin Firth. Well, it is wonderful. It isn't Mary Poppins. Mary Poppins, which I also admire, is very American. Nanny McPhee is very British (think E. Nesbit). Consequently, I think the director made a mistake by cutting a number of comedic scenes. All the scenes that he cut had this Monty-Python feel to them--extremely hilarious stuff. He says he did it to streamline the plot. Personally, I think he did it to give Nanny McPhee a more American feel. I think he should have trusted us viewers more. We love British TV over here, and I think Nanny McPhee would have found a following. As it is, it is still funny, with a sly humor to it, but it isn't as outrageous as it could be and hence, has a slightly uneven tone. (For one thing, it isn't a sweet kiddy type of movie. It's more Pixar/Wallace & Gromit than My Little Pony, but it was advertised as more like the latter than the former.)

However, the cut version is still worth watching, the children are fantastic, the adult actors (including Derek Jacobi!) are great. Colin Firth is quite a good comedic actor (despite being type cast forever as the only slightly humorous Darcy. However, even in Pride & Prejudice, he managed to work in some eye-rolling, and the fact that Firth could get away with such subtle Austenish eye-rolling is much to his credit).


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