Lost in Adaptation: I Robot

Lost in Adaptation: I Robot by The-_-Dom

Not starting out as an adaptation does not excuse being one of the worst adaptations ever.

About The Dom

Reviewer of games, TV shows and movies. The Dom also likes to look at film adaptations of books and talk about what got lost transitioning from page to screen.


  1. The film isn’t an adaptation of the book. It’s an adaptation of the Outer Limits episode.

    • I very much doubt that. Aside from the name it has even less in common with it than the book.

      • The event that sets everything in motion is the same. The apparent murder of the robots creator.

        Here’s the rest of the trailer you started the review with:

        The first half is the “I did not murder him” interrogation scene followed by a comment about putting a robot on trial. Exactly what happens in the Outer Limits episode.

        Both this robot and the one in the 1995 remake of the episode are resting an attempt to reprogram them for combat. And both are seen as a sort of hero at the end.

        • Interesting hypothesis. However, it would certainly show that the screenwriters didn’t know their source material very well at all. While sharing a name, the Outer Limits episode was based on a much earlier short story (I forget the author…but it was in Amazing Stories, I’m sure). Asimov wrote that he wanted to call the collection by a different title due to this, but the publisher wanted to use it (as I recall the story).

          A proper screenplay was written by Ellison, adding some depth to the Calvin character as the binding aspect between the stories (which makes sense, as if you are familiar with Susan Calvin, even outside of the I, Robot collection, she is certainly the primary character of the the “Pre-Elijah Bailey” series (which later turned into Empire, then Foundation, if you are familiar with the timeline Asimov placed pretty much all of his works on before his death…you can find it in the introduction to Foundation and Earth…assuming you can still find that book, it’s been out of print for a VERY long time.

          Anyhow…official attributes from the screenwriters show that this was a rework of another screenplay that was unrelated to Asimov, and they reworked it specifically to gain the Sci Fi creds the name brought along with it (somewhat popular after Bicentennial Man…which, also wasn’t great compared to the novel OR the short story).

          So, again, neat idea, neat concept…I can see why you’d support that idea. However, the film certainly didn’t take that approach. They claimed to be telling Asimov’s story, and they clearly were not.

  2. I’m sure Shia LeBeef’s character was in the original Asimov stories.

    *checks copy*

    Yeah, page 87. “And Sam said, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no!’ as he tried to hide his new robot behind a curtain from his comedically oblivious parents.”

    Oh wait, this is the novelisation of the Transformers movie…why do I have this?

  3. O_O Holy crap it has happened. Someone has made a Lost in the Adaptation series. I never dared dream this day would come.

    Now if you could review The Tale of Despereaux everything would be perfect and I could die in bliss.

  4. Are you eventually going to do The Thing (Who Goes There?) or perhaps the three adaptations of I Am Legend?

  5. I agree that this wasn’t a good movie. I feel it had good ideas when I watched it when I was younger, but started feeling sick about it when I saw an Japanese Animation movie called, “Time of Eve.”

    Trust me, Time of Eve is a way better way to explore these ideas than the IRobot movie did. The movie isn’t perfect, but it’s great at it’s core. It even touches on the idea of the Robots breaking the 3 laws to uphold the spirit of the law itself to help humans, Not to be Lord Skynet. The strange parts, in this review, Time of Eve also has a bunch taken from the book, which I never read by the way. I am just going off what Dom is saying. I think the last Episode of Time of Eve is the episode I recommend the most if you don’t feel like watching the whole thing. It’s my favorite by the way.

    I have just realized. Did anyone see this program? Or am I just rambling about this with no one getting what I am saying?

  6. It’s a terrible adaptation, but a decent enough movie taken on its own.

  7. The Zeroth Law does actually exist within Asimov’s later work, the whole “One must not harm humanity or, by inaction, allow humanity come to harm”. Likewise some of his other works deal with robots violating the three laws etc.

    If anything, the adaption is “Isaac Asimov’s Ideas: The Movie”, taking a lot of the concepts he came up with throughout his life and melding them together into one action flick. And I still do enjoy the movie, since it helped introduce me to the works of Asimov.

    So while it’s not a faithful adaptation to the book, it’s more of taking the concepts Asimov came up with and applying them to the action film genre.

  8. Let me get this straight: Will Smith’s character is named “Spoony”?

    “I met you on a Thursdaaay!
    Friday, I took you hooome!
    Saturday, I’m begging you,
    Just leave me aloooone!”

  9. So… what you’re saying is Robocop (1987) is a better movie version of Asmiov’s book?

    Color me shocked.

  10. Moviemantweeter1999

    Wow there are a lot of drastic changes they made in the movie. I saw this movie about 4 weeks ago and thought it was all right but clearly we have different opinions and I do respect your opinion on the film. I would really like to read this book to see why your a fan of it. Also Will Smith’s characters name being spoony reminds me of the old spoony who used to be on this site but not anymore. Can’t wait to see the dune lost in adaptation episode.

  11. Now I’m not a huge fan of Lost in Adaptation to begin with as I feel a work needs to stand on its own merits independent of any source material, but this episode was just… Why bother? The movie shares the book’s title and nothing else. Why bother make a Lost in Adaptation episode for something which is very evidently not an adaptation?

    If you wanted to do a review of Isaac Asimov’s “I, robot” you should have probably just done that. I know that Lost in Adaptation is very popular, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing you can do. Trying to twist unrelated titles into the format ends up breaking it, until you end up with the bulk of your video all in one single category. If all this boils down to is “they changed everything” and you’re going to talk about the book exclusively… Why not just talk about the book?

    You have a Dom Reviews show, as well. This episode seems much more appropriate for one of those. And they were GOOD!

    • Even if there are few differences it is useful because it lets those of us who *gasp* read books, know about the book if we’ve seen the movie but not read the book.

      I am literally reading a copy of this book for the first time right now. It is open on my lap. And I wouldn’t be if I didn’t watch this a few days ago.

  12. This video made me really want to read “I, Robot”, I’d never even considered reading it before because, as the Dom points out, the movie is just a bunch of cliche bullshit, and I figured without Will Smith delivering the catch phrases it wouldn’t be worth my time. I had no idea how off the rails the movie was and it had literally kept me from what sounds like an incredibly interesting story different than anything Hollywood is willing to distill for me.

    Totally gonna pick this up.

  13. Alright, let’s be clear, the movie, in itself, as a movie, is, eh, and cliched, but the “poor” adaptation is not it’s main problem, in fact, it’s not a problem at all. Sure, if you’re only read “I, Robot” you wouldn’t see any robot harming human beings (except for the sentient cars that seem to throw a man off a cliff and start plotting in the shadows, but I don’t think that’s in the “I, Robot” collection).

    However, in the Cycle of Trantor i.e. the Foundation series, there are robots that kill humans. More over, there are two factions of robots, those who think some humans must be killed in order to, following the laws of psycho-history, prevent greater catastrophes, and those who think they shouldn’t, but humans aren’t asked, they aren’t even the wiser, so there’s the first law out the window, right? Well, yes, except if you don’t take into account that Aasimov also wrote about Law 0, which states, “A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.” So, basically, if you go back in time with a robot, put him besides Hitler and say “this is hitler” to him, not only can he kill the guy, he MUST kill him, unless he argues that altering the space-time continuum would be a greater harm, but that’s another story.

    “But, wait!”, you must be saying, “this movie says nothing about the Zeroth Law, so it’s still a bad adaptation, because a robot, with it’s three laws, couldn’t hurt a human”, and you would be wrong. There’s a specific tale in “The Complete Robot” dedicated to how a robot, with it’s three laws, could bend them not only to harm a human, but to consider itself a “more capable human” than the other humans, thus valuing himself as the one to be saved first in a life-or-death situation. I won’t go in detail on that subject. For references, take a look at “The Complete Robot” and see how there are several instances of robots harming humans, even to the point of nigh-rebellion.

    • …that thou art mindful of him. That’s where the robots essentially come to the conclusion that they’re super humans.

    • With all due respect, and while I know the Estate supported those works and the authors had access to Asimov’s notes, they didn’t have the luxury of his input (such as Foundation’s Fear and Foundation and Chaos), they really were not representative of the entire nuance that Asimov appeared, imho, and this is my opinion, be setting up.

      Robots and Empire it’s touched upon briefly, but that was to transition to the Empire series and out of the Elijah Bailey “Robot” series.

      Asimov quite clearly broke down the “web’ of the Foundation universe in the introduction to Foundation and Earth, which was the apex of how HE viewed the series, not publishers looking to extend it further with the blessing of the estate.

      But, the Second Foundation Trilogy really isn’t “Asimov” to me. Sorry. Especially considering the major reveal in Foundation and Earth (which WAS penned by Asimov) as to the true identity and purpose of R. Daneel.

  14. It almost seams as if the film makers wanted to adapt Asimov’s Caves of Steal witch is about a detective who suspects a robot of murdering someone. And threw in some ideas from a book inspired by Asimov’s robots Caliban which brings in the ide of an alternate intelligent robot brain the gravitic brain witch has no laws.

    • Ah, ya beat me to it. I commented later that had they just made this Caves of Steel (and still stuck more with the whodonit/action nature of the book), this would have been much better.

      I could totally see Will Smith as Elijah Bailey, and there are FOUR books for them to work with in that series!

    • As I recall, that was their intention. It is a (still admittedly VERY loose) adaptation of Caves of Steel, but the director or writer thought I, Robot was a better title…so they used that instead.

  15. the notorious white moth

    “We designed them to be trusted – but did we design them to be trusted?”
    …that depends: are you trolling me, or are you just that stupid?

  16. Are you ever going to do an episode on Bicentennial Man? It’s one of my favorite movies, I do know that’s not an exact adaptation of the Asimov story.

    • It was much closer than I, Robot was. There are two versions that were penned or partially penned by Asimov…

      One is the Bicentennial Man, the short story (which is amazing, imho). The second is the Positronic Man, which I didn’t like as much and it was co-written with someone.

      Asimov never did the “co-author” thing well, imho. Nightfall is another example. His short stories are so amazing because they say so much in so little…and dragging it out seemed to fall on the backs of the guy he was working with. Silverman, I think? I can’t remember his name, and I’m too lazy to go check my bookshelf or google it.

      I was disappointed by Bicentennial Man, but though, ok, I get why they made their changes (and I agree an episode on that would be fantastic)…and when I, Robot was announced, I was like, WOW GREAT!

      And, then I saw the previews and I thought…ok, this is gonna be called I, Robot, but really it’s Caves of Steel…which, I can get behind if it leads to say a trilogy of Elijah Bailey films that then go into Empire films that then go into Foundation films…HECK YEAH!

      But…alas…nope…that wasn’t what I was treated to at all…

  17. I have to wholeheartedly disagree with you.

    Firstly, an ‘adaptation’ can change parts of the original story to ‘adapt’ it to a different medium or genre, in this case a sci-fi action movie. Secondly, if the twist/loophole involving VIKI deciding to control mankind for their own safety is not in any of the original stories then I applaud the screenwriters of this movie for creating an interesting and original plot.

    I wasn’t a huge fan of this film when it came out, it looked like a glitzy, shiny action film. On a second viewing, it grew on me, the philosophical and ethical dilemmas were interesting, well thought out and well played out throughout the film.

  18. Well… that’s a damn shame, we could use more mainstream stories about enlightened, distinct and different perspective on the role of robotics and artificial intelligence in the future.

    I saw the movie when it first came out and thought it a decent mystery that led into a decent brainless action climax, but to hear it so completely ignored such potential… I’m sad now.

  19. As a sci-fi guy, I really don’t see mitch wrong with this film. I can’t really call it am adaptation as it was “inspired” by the source material, not so much a direct adaptation. It was successful in telling a coherent story, and entertaining enough for me. Are there problems? Yeah, but calling this one of the worst adaptations out there is pushing it if you ask me. I actually watched the film for the first time on a few years a couple nights ago. I still had a good time.

  20. Wait…Will Smith’s character was called SPOONY? Sweet. 🙂 I wonder who the Spoony One might like better. This guy…or the kid from ‘Massacre at Central High’? Will Smith is cool but there is no naked canyon sequence in I, Robot so… 😉

    I loved that shot of Stephen Hawking with a figure of his Futurama self in the foreground.

    • Almost forgot, I thought the motivation Smith’s character had for not trusting robots was STUPID!

      After an accident leaves him and a little girl in mortal danger a robot swoops in to help. He orders the robot to save the girl, but it ignores that order because it calculated that he had a much higher chance for survival. How the hell does that translate to ‘no robot can ever be trusted’?!

  21. I really like this movie, but yeah, it’s an in name only adaptation and that’s disappointing. I would like to see a PROPER adaptation of I Robot but I’m not sure it’ll ever happen now because that title was stolen by this movie. I can even see how all those stories could be tied together in a Cloud Atlas style series of multiple stories that resolve themselves separately over the film’s run time, opening with that little girl and her robot friend and closing with the “oh…robots have been pretty much running the world for the past 50 years but nobody noticed…oh well” story.

  22. I’m gonna go read the book now 🙂

    • You should. Great collection. The Bicentennial Man (short story collection, not the novel) is better, imho, but I, Robot is a great introduction to Asimov.

      Nightfall (likewise, the short story, not the novel) is amazing as well.

      Look for a copy that has Asimov’s introductions/notes to the reader in it. He used to print these collections with a short blurb of a page or two before the actual story that gives you some of the history behind the story, and what his goal was. His mind and talent for writing was simply amazing.

      There’s a reason why he was the most prolific (fiction and non-fiction) author (note, no plural) of the 20th century, and one of the most prolific (possibly THE most prolific?) of all time.

  23. Honestly this would make a good start for an Akiva Goldsman subseries that leads up to the big cheese, Winter’s Tale. HORSE!

  24. I’ve read some of I, Robot, enough of it that I knew those first three examples you listed. I think the one set on Mercury does sort of touch on the film’s maybe-message of how the robots react to obsolescence with those older generation they find while trying to reach the shiny new one. The ones that had just been left there on a previous mission, that the astronauts didn’t even know existed, that had been abandoned to just rust away…

    and between I, Robot and I Am Legend, what is it with Will Smith and adaptions that don’t get the point of the book?

  25. Will Smith’s character is named Spooner, not Spoony.

    But, in my opinion, I think he should have been Elijah Bailey. If they wanted to really expand the Asimov universe with this film, and not spit on it as they did, they already had enough of the i, Robot story told to the general public through Bicentennial Man (came out in 1999).

    I could completely understand studios wanting the next “Asimov” film to carry more action to it, and even casting Will Smith.

    BUT, what it should have been is Will Smith as Elijah Bailey and they should have done Caves of Steel…NOT I, Robot.

    Now, that would have been awesome.

    Also, spoiler alert, the ending scene where Spooner finds out he is a Robot is a nod to the grand arch (intended or not) of the Asimov stories across Robots / Empire / Foundation…that being the story of R. Daneel Olivaw (though he want by many…many names).

    Asimov fans will know what I’m referring to.

  26. THANK YOU for this review! I read I, Robot before I saw the movie and I really liked the book. When the movie came out I hated it. What was the most frustrating though was that I couldn’t find anyone who had also read the book. No one understood why I hated this movie and I had to explain the differences over and over. I’m very glad to know someone else hated this movie as much as I did.

    • You were a small voice, but not alone.

      My girlfriend at the time loved the movie (especially the Will Smith scene at the beginning).

      I…was absolutely floored and upset with what they’d done. The movie is ok, good popcorn fare, but how they pooped all over Asimov is not.

  27. I actually really detest the ideas of imposing the three laws on an AI. The second law is basically just programming a person (and yes if it’s an actual AI then it is a person) to be a slave. The third law, and the second portion of the first law, is cruel since it would be forcing a living creature to override its own self preservation instinct (which even non-organic life would have to a certain extent depending on if the intelligence could simply be uploaded to a new body or not) for the sake of a human, which is something that should be the decision of the robot itself since if it is not in a job that requires it to risk itself then it should be able to make its own moral choices. The first part of the first law sounds like a good idea at first but it is still restricting the robot, it would essentially be the equivalent of placing a chip in a person’s brain that prevents them from harming other people, is it a good idea? Certainly in theory but it opens up all sorts of ethical questions and doesn’t really take into consideration the times when harming a person might be justified.

    • Which is actually why in later stories Asimov introduced the Zeroth Law, which stated that a robot could not harm humanity, or through inaction allow humanity to come to harm. So basically there if someone was going to commit a terrorist act which would hurt other people, then they could potentially use lethal force to stop them. Also the end of the novel that The Dom mentioned Susan Calvin begins to notice the way that the super computer are manipulating the world with examples of how they might let a man with bad business practices fail, subtly manipulating things so that his business closes, thereby making the whole economy stronger.

  28. I really enjoy this show! Sounds like the movie would have been more impressive (and something else entirely) had there been no immediate and explicit conflict.

  29. One suggestion for a “Lost in Adaption” episode: Gettysburg, which is an adaption of the book “The Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara. Apparently the film is very close to the book, but I’d love to see what you find they kept the same, changed, and kept out. (And yes, I have read the book and seen the film, both the theatrical version and the extended cut).

  30. They gave the same soulless treatment to World War Z. I freaking love the book, a friend got me hooked. The audiobook was like one of the best radio programs I’ve ever heard. The movie was a marketing atrocity via Pepsi. They put their name on this crap? Quite a few times, apparently. The political intrigue, the history, the meta-physics, the corporate subterfuge, the propaganda. All gone. What did we get? One of the shittiest action movies I’ve ever had the displeasure of watching. Gah, Pac-Man zombies that know your medical history. That was so freaking stupid.

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