What most people know of Science Fiction isn't really Science Fiction, at least not in the classical sense. That is, if Science Fiction can even be accused of having a "classical sense" at all. I call what we see at the movies "sci-fi" which differs from Science Fiction in a few key ways. Principally I think that proper Science Fiction is always an extrapolation of some scientific discovery, fact, piece of technology, or cultural observation - set in the future where that conclusion has been drawn to its natural end. "Sci fi" on the other hand, is just action or drama in a futuristic setting; the science isn't integral to the story, it's just a prop.
An example of a real Science Fiction movie: Gattaca. I loved this movie, though it was underappreciated. It was a great cultural commentary, and the progress of genetic engineering and genome mapping was intrinsically part of the story, and a very keen observation on our culture and where it's headed. Even the title is a nice science pun. An example of Sci-Fi is Star Wars. You could extract any technological elements from the story, and not substantially change it; it could as easily take place in a fantasy world as a technological one. (Which would make Han Solo a pirate, which is just cool... but I digress.)
"I, Robot" is a Science Fiction movie. It's been terribly, terribly misadvertised. Perhaps cleverly so, really - because now people who just want a summer action spectacle will go see it - and probably be bitterly disappointed. But maybe not - there are a lot of sly nods to action movie cliches that an unsuspecting viewer might take for the cliche itself. I think Isaac Aasimov would love this movie. (Except that he was a dirty, dirty old man, and there were no women with gigantic boobies, which he was notoriously fervent about... I met him several times, and h is skills as a judge in the costume contests were infamous. The biggest boobs always won.) The various pieces of short fiction about U.S. Robotics and the Three Laws were an engineer's dream - they were this important and powerful part of society that had moving parts and gears and positronic brains! Each story was about how the Three Laws would interact, and other than that, character was more or less irrelevant. What mattered was at the heart, some technical problem was examined, and how that problem might make itself known.
This movie is wholly consistent with that tradition. It's intensely plot-driven - it starts with a murder mystery, which unfolds into a much more complicated conspiracy. The script and story are very tight- there are sorts of little details that seem like throw-aways early on, but become crucial to the resolution of the story. This is in character for Alex Proyas, who also directed "Dark City" - a movie one has to pay careful attention to all the odd little details in for the plot to make sense at the end. Proyas does a bang up job with "I, Robot" as well. It's a great mystery - and a great conspiracy. Yes, there certainly are action scenes, but they are superbly well done, and all advance the plot in important ways. The effects are top-notch. Personally, I'm not too fond of excessive CGI - it can stink up a good movie. The first Spiderman, for instance, had atrocious CGI which was way too fake looking. The trick to good CGI is not to try and animate human beings or cloth. The tech just isn't good enough yet - and in "I,Robot" the robots are all animated, but it's okay, because they're robots, see? The eye is fooled entirely - and not to mention, the animation is extremely well done.
The movie is not without faults - so I think I'm going to back off of my "best Science Fiction Movie Ever" claim. Some of the characters are too stereotypical -- the wiseguy detective (Will Smith) and his grumpy Captain who's always hollering at him (Chi McBride) - but you know, it's plot-driven, not character-driven, so I'll let it go. There are three dimensions to the characters - what at first seems an irrational (and cliched) stance on Det. Spooner's part (Smith's Character) is explained... and is also central to why he is involved in the plot at all. It, like several other things in the movie, seems cliched at first... but is later revealed to be much more complicated and clever than that. Another fault of the movie is the sort of turgid dialogue between some of the characters... it seems like too character colliding rather than two people collliding, if you take my drift.
Ironically, the most human character in the movie, and the one with the most pathos, is one of the robots. ( A nice piece of trivia - the guy who plays "Steve the Pirate" in "Dodgeball" is the main robot in the movie. Bizarre. )I shan't say aught else though, or it'd be a spoiler. Compared to the robot, many of the characters are much colder, clinical, and calculating.
The plot is convoluted. There are several twists and turns (though nothing to exceed "Usual Suspects" ) that keep the viewer guessing, or ... if like me, you went into the movie dismissive of its intelligence, you might have watched the first five minutes and thought, "Oh, I know how this is going to end ---" and made an entirely reasonable and obvious guess about what the plot is. Only... you'd be wrong. And Proyas knows you'll be thinking that, too - so he'll feed lots of clues that, on the surface, support the obvious conspiracy theory. Only... that's not it, at all.
It's a great movie. The pacing is fast, fast fast! The action is breathtaking. There are some sly observations about our world, through the lens of the future. (I want the parking garages of the future RIGHT NOW, please!) The story revolves around the interaction of the Three Laws - but struggles also with questions of what it means to be alive, what is free will and freedom, and comments on the reckless way humanity creates without concern for the impact of its creations. There are some genuinely funny moments, too. The plot is sophisticated, intelligent - and will keep you guessing.
I wholeheartedly recommend this movie. I hope it's a huge successs - so that Hollywood will get the message that an exciting movie with a very intelligent script is better than an effects spectacle devoid of story.
On my Five Rings scale - I give it Two Rings. (One Ring is the Greatest.Movie.Ever. Two Rings is an enduring classic. Three Rings is so good one ought to own the DVD. Four Rings is missable... maybe on cable. Five Rings is wanting the time spent watching it back.)