Review of 'I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay'

I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay by Harlan Ellison, and Isaac Asimov

i_robot_illustrated_screenplay.jpg Science Fiction author Isaac Asimov is perhaps best known for his novel “I, Robot” which, in fact, is a series of short stories which were originally published in American pulp magazines “Super Science Stories” and “Astounding Science Fiction” between 1940 and 1950. Though never much interested in adapting any of his material for the film, Harlan Ellison, a famous SF author in his own right, suggested he could, with Asimov's blessing, draft a screenplay as he believed the story was perfect for the big screen. Asimov loved Ellison's vision of his work and for years the screenplay floated around Hollywood though never quite made it into production.

This screenplay is not to be confused with the 2004 big-budget SF action film “I' Robot” staring Will Smith which bore little resemblance to the source material. “I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay” is a much truer reflection of Asimov's vision and a much more cerebral affair.

Dr. Susan Calvin, reclusive famed robopsychologist, attends the funeral of Stephen Byerley, first president of the Galactic Federation, shedding a tear over his grave. Robert Bratenahl, reporter for Cosmos magazine, becomes obsessed with breaking the cloak of silence to obtain an interview with Calvin to learn her connection to Byerley and figuring out what she has been up to out of the public eye for the past 20 years. Through a series of flashbacks we learn of the huge personal impact robots had on Calvin throughout her life beginning when she was a small child. Bratenahl's obsession risks his job and even his life as he seeks to uncover the truth though is the world ready for it?

A compelling screenplay that vividly brings the world of Asimov's robot books to life. It is easy to imagine what an impressive film this would have been if it had ever been made though perhaps the cost of special effects alone deterred Hollywood. The characters we see in this script are much more human and real than Asimov's books which he readily attributed to Ellison's contribution and, indeed, this is more Ellison's work than Asimov who really provided the world, characters and framework used in the draft. Here we even see signs of sensual moments between the characters which are often missing from Asimov's work.

The story does appear to jump around a fair amount, dipping in and out of the various “I, Robot” stories which can be a bit confusing though the big reveal at the end does quite nicely tie everything together though not, perhaps, coming as a huge surprise. Obviously, attempting to envision the film that was never made was always going to be difficult and no doubt it would have differed from this script so getting at least a sense of this is the best we can now hope for. I think it would have made a very good film…if the studio that made it was willing to spend the money. This is not Mr. Smith blowing up robots but it seems to me it would have looked very cool.

An interesting and enjoyable read for die-hard fans of the source material and for those wondering what might have been had Asimov and Ellison been able to have this faithful adaptation transferred to the big screen.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2020-09-04

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Warner Aspect

Publication Date: 1994

ISBN: 0446670626

Other reviewed books by Isaac Asimov: