Some big event movies tease audiences with trailers a year or more in advance (case in point: ''The Incredibles''). So how come the first image-revealing trailer for Alex Proyas' big-budget spectacle, an action-spiced murder mystery featuring Will Smith as a Chicago detective in 2035 who targets a robot suspect, didn't show up until mid-March? It's partly because Proyas, known for his '90s dystopian fables ''The Crow'' and ''Dark City,'' prefers surprise to saturation. ''I'm of the old-fashioned school of promotion,'' he says. ''A 'teaser' didn't reveal too much and things were kept secretive until the final moment.'' The holdout also reflects the fact that big swatches of the film's CG effects simply won't be complete until shortly before release (not unusual in CG-heavy pictures). Says producer Topher Dow: ''We're still trying to get those last things shoehorned into the film.... We're [working] flat out to make our date.''
The film's production has been a series of sprints from the start. Original plans to shoot in Sydney, Australia, had to be scrapped because George Lucas' final ''Star Wars'' installment would be taking up the main stages in town, prompting a relocation to Vancouver. The Canadian press (and lots of Internet fanboys) speculated that the main reason for the move was because Smith didn't want to spend another year Down Under after wife Jada Pinkett Smith's long gig on the ''Matrix'' films. But the ''I, Robot'' troupe pooh-poohs that as a factor. At any rate, Smith's other commitments -- unveiling a UPN TV show he coproduced, plus reshoots and promotion for ''Bad Boys II'' -- would certainly have been a lot tougher to fulfill had he been half a world away.
As a result of Smith's absences to take care of that business, his costar Bridget Moynahan (''The Recruit''), who plays a robot-friendly psychiatrist, got a lot of time off between scenes. ''It provided little vacations,'' she says cheerfully. ''It worked out fine. I'm sure not for the production company, but for me, just fine.'' When she did work with Smith, it was mainly in a ''greenscreen'' environment that would allow Proyas to fill in all the scenery and robot characters later on. She has little idea what the film will look like, since ''it wasn't there -- all the landscape of it is a mystery to me.'' So is Smith funny or serious in the flick? ''That little slice of humor always comes through,'' she says. ''It's just ingrained in his DNA.''
THE GOOD NEWS Proyas has a gift for visuals.
THE BAD NEWS He's got precious little time to wrap them up.