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Saturday September 23rd 2023

I, Robot | 2004

I, Robot filming location: Ovaltine Cafe, 251 East Hastings Street, Vancouver, British Columbia
I, Robot film location: Spooner voices suspicions to his superior: Ovaltine Cafe, 251 East Hastings Street, Vancouver | Photograph: Wikimedia / jmv

Apart from the title and the Three Laws of Robotics, there’s not a lot of Isaac Asimov in this enjoyable sci-fi actioner, with robophobic cop Del Spooner (Will Smith) investigating the suspicious death of wealthy robotics developer Dr Lanning (James Cromwell) in the ‘Chicago’ of 2035.

The movie recreates the futuristic city, including the Marina City Towers and the Wrigley Building, in Vancouver.

Studio sets, enhanced with plenty of CGI, were built at Pier 94 in North Vancouver, now regularly used for film production – the ‘Brooklyn Bridge’ set for Fantastic Four was built here.

There are a few practical locations around Vancouver, but notice that there is no trace of greenery in this glossy vision of the future. The production hired greens staff deliberately to keep trees and bushes out of the frame.

The opening scenes, of Spooner chasing what he thinks is a robot ‘thief’, is, ironically, ‘Antique Alley’, a row of shops specialising in collectibles and antiques, the 600 block of Front Street in New Westminster, Vancouver’s eastern suburb. The same street is featured in Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx, and more recently as the weed-infested ‘Japanese’ street littered with abandoned cars in the 2014 film of Godzilla.

Surprisingly, the old-fashioned Ovaltine Cafe, where Spooner downs a beer rather than the delicious malted milky drink while voicing suspicions to his superior Lt Bergin (Chi McBride), is the real thing, a 1942 cafe at 251 East Hastings Street near Main Street.

I, Robot filming location: Shannon Mews, Granville Street, South Vancouver
I, Robot film location: Lanning’s mansion is demolished as Spooner snoops around: Shannon Mews, Granville Street, South Vancouver | Photograph: Justin Norris

The mansion of Dr Lanning, where Spooner heroically rescues a pussycat as the building is demolished around him, is Shannon Mews, 7101 Granville Street at West 57th Avenue. The grand 1925 Beaux Arts mansion, occupying a ten-acre estate in South Vancouver, is also seen in Mike Nichols’ 1971 Carnal Knowledge and in Zack Snyder’s graphic novel adaptation Watchmen.

On his way to investigate the ‘US Robotics’ storage facility, Spooner rides his quaintly antique, low-tech motorbike through the Cassiar Connector, a 730-metre-long traffic tunnel on the Trans-Canada Highway in the north-east corner of Vancouver.

As the scary new NS5 robots impose a curfew on the city, Farber (Shia Labeouf) joins the crowds to repel them. Spooner and Dr Calvin (Bridget Moynahan) arrive in the nick of time at the new West Cordova Viaduct in front of the Shaw Tower, claimed to be Vancouver’s tallest building, 1077 West Cordova Street at Burrard Street in Coal Harbour.