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I know. Shut up.
I have been circling this topic for a very long time, for very good reason: although my taste is already suspect and not exactly befitting of someone who wants to be taken seriously as a film critic, there are certain movies that I like that I feel would probably cheapen anything I say in the eyes of the internet film populace. In essence, I’ve been that kid in high school who wants everyone to like him, with some slip ups (I will never apologize for Batman and Robin for instance).

Then the thought hit me: who cares? This is my little part of the world wide web and I should be able to say whatever the hell I want about whatever films I want to talk about, regardless of flack and what my “peers” and readers think. That brings us to today’s topic of discussion: my love for Bicentennial Man, the 1999 movie directed by every film fan’s worst nightmare Chris Columbus.

I love this movie. I flat out love it. I’ll have moments where I’m sitting down, eating a sandwich, and I’ll randomly think “oh man I really want to watch Bicentennial Man” and then I’ll pop it in (yes, I own it), sit through the whole thing, and be satisfied. Hell, when it was released in theaters, I remember seeing it with my family and a bunch of other people and being one of the only people who didn’t fall asleep or walk out by the end. I goddamn freaking love Bicentennial Man.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have its flaws, because it does: some of the acting and dialogue is horrid, it’s very sappy, and Chris Columbus’ direction can be flat and boring at times. However, the movie excels for me for two reasons: Robin Williams and the overall story arc of his character of Andrew.

Since you probably are smart and haven’t seen this, here’s a longwinded overview: Bicentennial Man begins in the near future when robot technology has gotten to the point of where humankind can now purchase and own a robot to do all the chores and labor we don’t feel like doing anymore (apparently no one in this time period has ever seen The Terminator or The Matrix…). Andrew belongs to a rich family, The Martins: father and patriarch Richard (Sam Neill), his wife (Wendy Crewson), and his two daughters Grace and Amanda. Amanda is affectionally known as “Little Miss” by Andrew and is played by Hallie Kate Eisenberg (the Pepsi girl and sister to Michael Cera lookalike Jesse Eisenberg). At the start, Andrew is just there to do chores and the bidding of his human masters, but soon he shows signs of growing his own personality and ideas. After accidentally breaking Little Miss’ glass horse (why you’d give a glass horse to a robot I don’t know, but shhhh let’s sweep that under the rug), he makes her a wooden replacement just by seeing a design and carving it out of a log.

Richard notices this and fosters Andrew’s growing intellect, teaching him about life and the arts. As the years go by, the Martins grow old as Andrew continues to develop, eventually creating many wooden grandfather clocks and amassing a fortune when Richard starts to sell them (again suspension of disbelief people!). While everything up to this point has been hunky dory, Andrew decides that he wants to be declared free and asks Richard for his independence. Richard angrily agrees, and Andrew moves out.

As the years go by, Andrew watches as the Martins he used to serve begin to grow old and die, and cannot bear the pain. He journeys around the U.S. looking for robots like him, and that lands him in the office of rogue engineer Rupert Burns (Oliver Platt) and with his help, Andrew begins to update his body to become more and more human, from skin to organs, and he strives to finally match how he feels on the inside (much like a transsexual). He even falls in love with Portia (Embeth Davidtz), Little Miss’ granddaughter, but the world does not accept this and that drives his transformation even more. As you can guess by the title, it takes place over a period of about 200 years.
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While writing that synopsis, I can already feel your eyes rolling and I get it, I really do. Some of what I was typing out felt a little suspect. Bicentennial Man runs for over two hours, and the pacing can get to the point of where it drags, but it’s the story of Andrew himself that keeps you engaged. That is thanks to the work of Robin Williams, who takes a cheesy screenplay and injects some of his god given talent into it to make it work. Bicentennial Man takes on the ideas of what it takes to be human and what exactly defines humanity and creates what I think is an engaging tale. It is also helped by an excellent supporting cast, with Davidtz pulling duel roles (as both Portia and the adult/eldery version of Little Miss) and Oliver Platt doing his usual scene stealing excellent work. There are also appearances by Stephen Root as the head of the company that designed the model of robots that Andrew belongs to and Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) as the adult version of Portia’s brother.

Bicentennial Man got screwed over when it came to the marketing and the typecasting of Robin Williams. Back when I watched the trailer as a kid, I assumed that this would be a comedy, with Williams playing a whacky robot. The ads seemed to play up the more comedic elements and I was a big Mrs. Doubtfire fan, so I put two and two together. While there are some funny moments (mainly between Williams and Platt as they design the organs and skin and other stuff Andrew needs for the transformation), this more of a drama about a robot’s plight to become human. You follow Andrew through over 200 years of human development and you watch as the world around him changes even though he himself does not have the power too, and in that regard, it’s heartbreaking. It’s scary to even lose your loved ones, but what if you had to watch everyone you love die when you could not age? All the things we take for granted are the things Andrew wants most in life, and when he begins to achieve them (like being able to taste), you get excited for him. I totally bought into his cause and got more and more pumped as the movie went on and he could finally taste and digest food, and have sex, and all sorts of other human/mammal things.

A complaint I have read about this movie is the fact that Little Miss falls for Andrew once she is an adult, and I feel the need to defend that. When he makes her the horse, it creates a bond between the two and since the Martins treat Andrew like a normal person (except for Grace, who hates him), it makes sense that Little Miss would grow up thinking Andrew was like anyone else and that she would develop feelings for him. I have no problem with this plot point, and I needed to shoehorn this in there to say it.

Bicentennial Man conveys the future as best as it can, but it is hard to judge what the world will be like in 100 years, so I can understand how a lot of it is downplayed. You see the world change in technology and some backdrops of futuristic cityscapes, but this is more a character driven story and it focuses on that, which probably saved them a good amount on the budget. Speaking of, if there is one thing I did not like in this movie, it had to be Williams’ robot suit. It looks insanely hokey and you are desperately waiting for him to finally put on the skin so you don’t have to see that stupid robot costume anymore.

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Unbeknownst to her, Andrew is a Coca Cola robot.
Look, Bicentennial Man is cheesy, hokey, and the pacing will turn some people off. You feel all two hours and five minutes of it, and some of the dialogue and story points can get really eyeroll inducing…but you know what? I don’t care. For me, the movie is about Andrew’s journey and I get 100% invested into it every time I watch it. It raises some good questions about the nature of humanity and Robin Williams (although he probably wants us to forget this) puts in a very excellent performance. If this had been under a different director and could have been a bit less PG, Bicentennial Man could have possibly done better (although it did win an Oscar for Best Makeup, so SUCK IT!).

You know, I feel better already about admitting this. I’m still scared that people will see this and go “wow this joker has NO right to talk about film ever again”, but whatever. As I said earlier…this is my piece of the web and I’m entitled to my opinion, and my opinion is that Bicentennial Man does NOT suck. So there, confession over.
4/11/2010 08:26:37 am

I loathed this movie, entirely because it bastardized the novella so badly, but I can certainly imagine someone who isn't a hardcore Asimov fan enjoying it. I actually think you shouldn't read it as it would probably ruin your enjoyment of the movie.

I do have to give it credit in that was still way more loyal than I, Robot (which had NOTHING to do with the book whatsoever).

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