Bicentennial Man (1999)
Directed by Chris Columbus
Starring: Robin Williams, Sam Neill, Embeth Davidtz
IMDB: Bicentennial Man
Why I wanted to watch it: Bicentennial Man is science fiction movie I had not seen before. Also it is based on a story by Isaac Asimov, an author whom I enjoy.
Plot Synopsis: Over the course of two hundred years, an android endeavors to become human as he gradually acquires emotions.
Bicentennial Man felt like a combination between A.I. Artificial Intelligence and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, two films I prefer over this one. My main complaint with Bicentennial Man is its maudlin tone. While the movie shifts away with from this at times, it still comes back to it. It just felt like it was trying to hard to be a tearjerker. Although I understand that this is a character study about how a robot has become "human," I feel that there could have been something more driving the plot. For example, the robot Andrew (Robin Williams) is able to learn and develop a personality without an emotion chip. However, it is never explained why this is possible, other than that "Andrew is special." I feel like this could have been explained and would have been an interesting subplot. Twelve years after the movie has been released the special effects still look good, but I'm not sure why the movie cost $100 million to make. I guess Robin Williams demanded a large salary! Another thing that didn't make sense to me was why the son of "Little Miss" hated Andrew. She loved Andrew and he was around them since before the births of her children, so it would have been nice if there was a scene or two explaining this. Also the explanation for the granddaughter of Little Miss looking just like her was silly. In Back to the Future I could buy different generations looking exactly the same and I would have let it pass here. But it actually say that she looked like her grandmother because "It skips a generation" was an insult to genetics as no explanation was necessary.
I did like that Asmiov's Three Laws of Robotics were explained at the beginning of the film. The first 15 minutes of the movie show Andrew adapting to life with the Martin family. While this was necessary to the plot, I'm just glad that the whole movie didn't focus on this type of "fish out of water humor." This leads to the time jumps in the movie. It was fascinating to see how Andrew's world changed over the course of 200 years. I would have liked to seen more on how the human view on robots and androids changed over the years but I did enjoy seeing Andrew "evolve" and develop over the years. To be fair this is really what this movie is about, not society as a whole. Although Bicentennial Man reminded me of Data's entire character arc from Star Trek: The Next Generation, this movie was based on a story that came out years before that show and took it in different directions. For example there is no subplot about a creator who modeled the robot after himself. Also I thought it was interesting how it was tough for Andrew to fully let go of his "robot-ness" in order to become human, which was what he really wanted. Sam Neill put in a nice performance as "Sir," the father and head of the family who buys Andrew and gives him a human education. Embeth Davidtz did a good job as the daughter of Sir, "Little Miss." She played a dual role also appearing as the granddaughter of Little Miss, who Andrew eventually falls in love with. While I didn't like the female robot, Galatea, I think that was the point since she was a slave to her personality chip. Luckily she didn't get too much screen time and I thought what happened to her in the end was clever. I think the casting of Robin Williams may have thrown some people off as the film is humorous at times but not a comedy.
Bicentennial Man was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Makeup category. I'm not losing any sleep that it lost, but the makeup was good, especially on the elderly Robin Williams.
Adam Bryant, a stand-in for Robin Williams in everything from Jumanji to Night at the Museum, appears as the android head as it get puts on the new body.
Isaac Asimov's original novella, The Bicentennial Man, was written with the intention of being in a collection of science fiction stories in honor of the bicentennial of the United States. However, the project never came to fruition and Asimov's story was the only one written. The novella won the both the Hugo and the Nebula award. Asimov expanded the story into a novel called The Positronic Man in 1993. Although I haven't read the source material, according to Wikipedia the movie appears to be surprisingly faithful the Asimov's story.
Closing Thoughts: I liked Bicentennial Man but wish it was less schmaltzy and instead focused more on the big ideas it presented under the umbrella of what it means to be human.
Chris Columbus, the director of Bicentennial Man, also directed the first two Harry Potter films. In the next several days I'll be re-watching the Harry Potter series with my brother in preparation for the final film (or second part of the final film!). Since I have seen them before and so much has been written on them I'll just do one special post (in two parts) on all the Harry Potter films.