I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay

I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay

by Harlan Ellison

Until the recent announcement of the Will Smith/Alex Proyas collaboration scheduled for release in 2004, numerous attempts had been made to adapt Isaac Asimov's classic story-cycle, I, Robot, to the motion picture medium.

He accepted, and produced an astonishing screenplay that Asimov felt would be "The first really adult, complex, worthwhile science fiction movie ever made." That screenplay is presented here in book format, brought to scintillating life by the illustrations of artist Mark Zug. After you read it, then decide: Is this not the greatest science fiction movie never made?

  • Language: English
  • Category: Science Fiction
  • Rating: 4.02
  • Pages: 271
  • Publish Date: April 1st 2004 by iBooks
  • Isbn10: 0743486595
  • Isbn13: 9780743486590

Read the Book "I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay" Online

The idea that people would be resistant to a robot president is somewhat more understandable; Asimov wrote that idea as an allegory for anti-Semitism and it's obviously true that prejudice has been far from conquered.

In 1977 Harlan Ellison tried to adapt Asimov's groundbreaking collection of robot stories for the silver screen. Each interview is then relayed as a flashback; each corresponding to a different Isaac Asimov short story, so we get to watch how society evolved over time, just as in the book. Second, Harlan inserts Susan Calvin into each of the flashbacks making her the focus of the story. Ellison included aliens and teleportation in his future world; neither were consistent with Asimov's vision and they smacked a little too strongly of Star Trek. I wish he had stuck to the facts of Asimov's short stories "Evidence" and "The Evitable Conflicts", which showed how a robot manipulated mankind to save man from himself.

In the 70s, when Asimov was still alive, Harlan Ellison got tapped to write a screenplay for I, Robot; but the script that we have is 270 pages long and Ellison was not shy about calling executives idiots, so this version never got made. And Ellison nicely chose not to write these stories as an anthology script (Tales of Robots!), but as a Citizen Kane-style recording of remembrances with Calvin put in to all the stories. For instance, Ellison has all of these aliens in the story, and the Robot stories of Asimov are rather famously alien-less.

Harlan Ellison's I, ROBOT is an interesting (if flawed) read that manages simultaneously to surpass the awfulness that is Proyas's film and fall short of Asimov's original text. The cast of characters changes in each story (Calvin is mostly, but not completely, constant) and only the theme of the laws truly ties the tales together (much like Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, which was also a great book adapted into an abysmal film).

Having said this, I also want to acknowledge that this is a script for a true SCIENCE FICTION film, not one of the the horror films and action films dressed up with androids and aliens that we usually get from Hollywood.

Ellison does what Asimov did not: write a compelling story centered on a character.

The lead character Robert Bratenahl (Ellison's dream casting of Martin Sheen deserves a nod to Sheen's roles in Apocalypse Now and Gandhi) plays the part of Kane's reporter/biographer Jerry Walker, and Joanne Woodward was his choice to play Susan Calvin. Ellison uses the 4 Asimov shorts (Robbie, Lennie, Liar and Speedy) in flashback sequences in order to uncover parts of Calvin/Kane's life, taking an acceptable small licence in the first case replacing "Gloria Westerbrook" in Robbie with a young Calvin herself as the little girl with a robot playmate. However I love both authors and Susan Calvin was one of my fictive role models growing up. Ellison's gift was to bring that world back to life.

And while I understand there can't be illustrations like in a graphic novel/comic book, I expected to see much more about the robots and the characters. ** The back cover actually says "With 16 pages of full color art by Mark Zug" but maybe they should've added "...

He wrote for the original series of both The Outer Limits and Star Trek as well as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour; edited the multiple-award-winning short story anthology series Dangerous Visions; and served as creative consultant/writer to the science fiction TV series The New Twilight Zone and Babylon 5.