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By Chris Thilk | July 14, 2004

In “I, Robot”, Will Smith plays Rick Deckard, a blade runner assigned to eliminate five replicants… wait. That may be a different movie. Let me try that again.

In “I, Robot”, Will Smith plays Del Spooner, a robot-phobic detective assigned to investigate how a robot may have violated the three laws inherent in its programming and murdered a human being. Based on the Isaac Asimov novel, this is sure to be a deep, penetrating voyage into the human mind and the world that it creates. With lots of explosions and car chases, which I’m sure was the point of Asimov’s novel.

Anyway, the thinking going into this is pretty simple: Sell Will Smith.

The Trailer

The theatrical trailer for this movie makes it very clear they are selling it on Will Smith’s charisma and charm. At least half the scenes shown have Smith cracking wise, reeling from someone else cracking wise or chasing something while cracking wise. Sense a trend? The robots do look very cool, but, as with most mass appeal trailers, it gives away far too much of the plot. There’s a shot where a robot Smith passes looks at him suspiciously. If they had left it at that and not included the mass CGI hordes breaking through doorways it would have created a much better sense of anticipation.

The Posters

The posters both present a very slick, futuristic look that, quite frankly, made me think of Minority Report.

The teaser version presents a robot that is presumably Sonny, the murderous fiend, in profile. It works at its basic goal of teasing what the robots will look like but not much more. Giving up what the robots will look like on the teaser poster seems almost to me like an act of desperation to build buzz. “What will ____ look like?” is the question fanboys and geeks ask about movie adaptations of all their favorite subjects, from Godzilla to the Elves in Fellowship of the Ring to Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader in next year’s “Star Wars: Episode III” – Thank God Lucas is Finally Done. Giving away the good stuff on the first date leads nowhere, something every father has told his daughter.

The theatrical version doesn’t fare much better. Will Smith stands in front of a legion of robots. Yawn. He isn’t featured in any action pose, such as running, nor does he look all that intense. Instead, Smith looks like he’s getting up from watching “Trading Spaces” to get some pretzels. There’s almost nothing here to work with.

The Website

Like the site for The Day After Tomorrow, another 20th Century Fox production, the website initially gives you almost a dozen locations and/or languages to choose from. I give them credit for expanding the geographic reach of the sites for these movies. Dumb American action films do very well in overseas markets so giving residents outside the U.S. the same sort of access to the website helps build buzz there.

Broken down into three major sections, the website provides all the usual features of modern movie sites with a few surprises.

“USR Labs” is where most of the interactive features live, from a NS-5 Assembly Platform, where you can design your own robot to a quiz on your knowledge of Isaac Asimov to some fairly standard games. The Robot Lab link takes you to the teaser site, which is essentially a mock infomercial for the company that builds robots. There is also a brief video clip of Will Smith explaining Asmiov’s three robot laws: Robots must obey human orders (unless it’s something kinky), robots do not kill humans (except Jessica Simpson) and robots can protect themselves (unless Stormtroopers are looking for them). I may have been making some of that up.

“Downtown Chicago” was a little surreal for me to click on considering I work in downtown Chicago. Anyway, here’s where you can download wallpaper, system icons and, interestingly, an Audi car advertisement disguised as a screensaver. Clever way to sneak in some corporate sponsorship. You will also find the trailer and a featurette (see my previous columns on how I think web features and DVD features are slowly becoming the same thing) and, using the Media Viewer, some slide shows of set photos, almost all containing Smith, and some cool looking concept art.

The “Chicago Police Department” analyzes what age and ethnicity you are, makes snap judgements and, depending on the level of your clout with City Hall, decides whether or not to beat the crap out of you. Sorry, that’s the actual CPD.

This section of the website on the other hand, contains usual PR fluff in the form of cast and crew databases, production notes and a brief plot synopsis. And I really mean brief. Imagine the effort it would take to, say, punch James Van Der Beek in the crotch. If they could have put that much effort into writing more than a paragraph long plot synopsis it would have been a good thing. That doesn’t bode well for the movie.


The posters are uninspired and disappointing. The trailer is uninspired and disappointing. The website has some interesting facets, but is still vaguely uninspired and disappointing. Three strikes and you’re out. There’s nothing here that suggests there’s a good movie behind this push. Instead, it relies almost entirely on the Will Smith recognition factor. It’s one thing to create a great marketing campaign and have the movie ultimately suck, it’s another to create a mediocre to poor campaign and have the movie live up to those expectations.

As moviemaking costs increase, the pressure to successfully market those movies becomes greater. In an attempt to show how marketers are trying to put the most hinders in the theater seats, Chris Thilk breaks down why some movie campaigns work and some don’t. The posters for “The Rocketeer” and “Unforgiven” remain two of his all-time favorites. For Chris’ ongoing movie journal and other various musings, visit his Random Thoughts blog.

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