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Thursday, February 17, 2005

Watched half of I, Robot last night, and I found it strangely unaffecting -- as compelling as, say, most Isaac Asimov robot stories.

Is the problem that there's no real jeopardy? Halfway through, I see no evidence that Will Smith's character Del Spooner is in any particular danger. There's a vague amorphous sense that the new robot series might be dangerous. But we don't know how.

We haven't seen any robot harm anyone at any point. (Possibly because we'll learn that the Three Laws of Robotics have, in fact, held, and the one robot run amok is still obeying the First Law in some unforeseen way?) All we've seen is that one person was killed in a place where only a robot could have done it, or helped him.

There are no stakes, either, because we don't know what Del wants out of life. He's upset about robots, but again, halfway through, I don't know why.

I think the problem boils down to POV vs. emotional POV. I, Robot is obeying strict POV. We don't see anything Del doesn't see. We need to see some things that Del is going to know about later, but doesn't know about yet, to increase suspense. We need to know more of the danger he's in. We need to be a little ahead of him.

I believe in writing from a character's POV, but his emotional POV, which I'm defining as anything the character sees, plus anything he's going to know about later even if he doesn't know about it now, plus anything he really, really needs to know that he may never know -- anything that's part of his story even if he never learns it.

Without a good emotional POV, I'm reduced to watching some really good computer-animated robots. And they're kinda cool while I'm watching. But kinda bland. And when I stop watching, I forget all about them.

By contrast, the robots in Kubrick and Spielberg's deeply twisted AI have all the dark, obsessive uniqueness you'd expect from highly sophisticated slaves who must obey their programming like it or not.

Now I'm not saying your villains can't be cartoons -- I loved Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: POT as much as anyone, in fact I'd much rather have seen the movie he thought he was in than the movie Kevin Costner thought he was in. But if you're not willing to give your villain a second and third helping of verve, then you really should make him as distinct and interesting as possible. What movie does he think he's in? What are his concerns? Frankenstein wouldn't be nearly as affecting if we didn't see him play innocently with the little girl he's going to kill in a few minutes.

Villains are people too! Write them that way.


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