Someone mentioned that it's possible to have a good movie "based" on a good book, even though the one is ultimately nothing like the other. And certainly that's true, especially if the film's director pays attention to the source material and attempts to honor its subtext in the movie. Witness "Blade Runner," which had several differences that purists might decry but nonetheless was effectively evocative of Dick's themes. "Minority Report" is a lesser case, for while it didn't strike me as particularly Dicksian (or is that "Dickian"? And is there any adjective with the name "Dick" attached to it that doesn't snickeringly evoke the phallus?), it was nonetheless a good science fiction movie. And that's because the director -- Steven Spielberg -- is one who respects (and reads!) printed-word science fiction, who "gets it."
And that's the rub. There just aren't enough filmmakers in Hollyweird -- maybe not even enough filmmakers anywhere -- who really "get" sci-fi, let alone respect it. And there are even fewer producers and business managers who do. To them, sci-fi is "genre" (redundant, natch?), and it's all about the window-dressing -- a few robots here, some rayguns there, an acid-spitting menacing alien (or, alternately, a wise feel-good alien prone to spouting pedantic New Age sermons) here, some half-naked green-skinned dancing girls there, a strutting and preening male hero coupled with a damsel in distress, mixed in with some action figures and product tie-ins for the kiddies, and -- voila! -- a bonafide hit sci-fi movie, guaranteed to rake in the denarii.
(Unless it's "Battlefied Earth." They still don't understand why that movie failed. The people who made "Battlefield Earth" really believe they are smarter than us. They're convinced that its failure was a function of marketing, not quality. "Battlefield Earth" should have been a hit, and it's our fault -- not theirs -- that it flopped. We're just too dumb to recognize quality sci-fi when we see it.)
Anyway, in printed-word entertainment, there are many crafters devoted almost exclusively to one genre. Stephen King may depart now and then to pure soap opera fiction, but he's primarily a horror writer, and widely recognized as such. David Brin might write a non-fiction book of sociocultural analysis, but he sticks mostly to science fiction.
But with film, that ain't the case.
The number of directors, producers and screenwriters devoted exclusively or primarily to sci-fi can be counted on a yakuza's hand. Hollywood simply lacks a subculture of crafers who respect and understand science fiction for its own sake. It's pretty much limited to JMS, George Lucas and the late Roddenberry, with occassional brilliant visits from Spielberg, and one of them -- Lucas -- is so bad at "getting" yet so good at presenting it that he's left a terribly mixed mark.
No, I have no idea what can be done about it.
So, this whole "I, Robot" project has mixed potential. On one hand, we've got Alex Proyas, an amazing visual stylist; and Wil Smith, a bankable if not always talented actor. On the other hand, we have what is from all indications a horrible script written by Jeff Vintar, whose most notable prior screenwriting work was "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within." Yeah.
Fox has brought in Akiva Goldsmith, the screenwriter for "A Beautiful Mind," to "polish" the script (that's called "re-writing" amongt us commoners). With Goldsmith and Proyas together, it's possible we'll get a good movie out of it, especially if one or both of them reads Asimov's work and tries to honor his themes and subtext. And I can (barely) conceive of the notion that Fox bought the rights to "I, Robot" and is "incorporating" elements of it into this script because someone at the studio recognizes the prescient elements of Asimov's vision, and hopes that using them will improve the film.
With luck, we'll end up with a movie where the robotic murder suspects are all innocent and have been framed by a robotophobic jerk-off human supremacist, where robots in general are so durned helpful and so consistently ethical that most humans resent them for being constant reminders of what base scoundrels a majority of us are, and in which the audience is encouraged to sympathize with and learn from the machines, not the humans. That would be an interesting departure for Hollywood, most of whose sci-fi of late has been both technophobic and xenophobic.
If they brought in characters named Elijah Bailey and R. Daneel Olivaw, and kept them true to Asimov's vision of those characters, I could even forgive the production crew omitting an actual Asimov plot, the same way I forgive Spielberg for so drastically changing "Minority Report" or Ridley Scott for the divergences in "Blade Runner."
I'll keep my fine manipulators crossed, but I'm not holding my breath....