- A robot will never harm a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot will always obey the commands of a human, except where those orders conflict with the first law.
- A robot will preserve it’s own existence, except when doing so would conflict with the first or second law.
These laws became so famous within the science fiction community that if you wrote a story with robots, you were in danger of being bombarded by letters from outraged 13-year-olds if your robots didn’t obey Asimov’s Three Laws.
Back in the late 1970s, legendary author Harlan Ellison was approached to adapt Asimov’s stories for Warner Brothers. His screenplay for I, Robot has been hailed as the “greatest science fiction film that was never made.”
This 2004 Will Smith vehicle by the same title has nothing to do with Ellison’s masterpiece, unfortunately. Granted, it’s a slick, well-produced actioner and Smith does this kind of movie about as well as anybody.
The script, however, preserves little of what made Asimov’s stories legendary, beyond retaining a few of his character names. Asimov’s stories were great because they explored the logical conundrums that arose when the real world bumped up against his three laws. This film takes the approach of, when the three laws become inconvenient to the plot, they are discarded.
The story leads us to an ending that provides little but an excuse for an extended gunfight and junior high-level “humans will destroy themselves” moralizing. It’s a fast-paced, momentarily entertaining but ultimately empty hour and forty-five minutes.