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This film follows the 'life' and times of the lead character, an android who is purchased as a household robot programmed to perform menial tasks. Within a few days the Martin family realizes that they don't have an ordinary droid as Andrew begins to experience emotions and creative thought. In a story that spans two centuries, Andrew learns the intricacies of humanity while trying to stop those who created him from destroying him. Written by
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Fine performances and a shapely message are the things that make this misadvertised production work. *** our of ****
BICENTENNIAL MAN (1999) ***
Starring: Robin Williams, Sam Neill, Wendy Crewson, Embeth Davidtz, and Oliver Platt Directed by Chris Columbus. Running Time: 133 minutes. Rated PG (for mild language and some sex-related material)
By Blake French:
Chris Columbus is very good at directing tearjerkers. He has a history of constructing such movies as "Stepmom" and "Mrs. Doubtfire." "Bicentennial Man" is being misadvertised as a humble family comedy. Although it starts out unsatisfying, the film gradually becomes more and more penetrating as we discover the film is really about inner emotions, the changing of times, how people change over time, and the meaning of life from an original point of view. "Bicentennial Man" is a sweet, touching production with lots of heart and a shapely message.
At first "Bicentennial Man" looks to be about a futuristic family who buys an android robot that is supposed to do housework and serve them. The family of four includes two children, one named Little Miss, and the parents who are called by the name of Sir and Ma'am. They adopt Andrew expecting him to be similar to all the other androids in the area. Nearly every household has one. However, Sir soon notices certain features about Andrew that make him unique, different from any other android he has ever seen. Andrew occupies creativity and emotional personality, elements that these robots are presumed not to contain.
The film doesn't contain a good an introduction to the family who adopts Andrew, which is mainly the reason why I was never entirely concerned for the characters. But the reasoning behind the lack of focus on the family is due to the fact that "Bicentennial Man" isn't about the family who buys Andrew, but a narrative of Andrew himself.
A running flaw in the film is our foundering curiosity that only grows more ponderous as the script progresses. The audience desires more information about why Andrew is so different from the other robots. There are obvious reasons, sure, but what I wanted was an explanation of why he is special. A lust for information that is never appropriately granted.
The film skips ahead a generation or so. Sir and Ma'am age and Little Miss grows to be a full grown woman. Many things change for Andrew. He begins to wonder what lies beyond the likes of his household. He longs for emotional reactions to take place on his face and the concept of freedom. Sir has taught Andrew about death, sex, love, humor, and time. He gradually wants more and more independence. This is where Andrew starts becoming interested in turning from a mechanical being to a biological being.
The age advancing make-up is believable and awe-inducing. I could hardly trust my eyes that Sam Neill wasn't an old man in the movie. However, although I can see that the filmmakers had no other reliable option, I disliked the jumps in time the it takes. The time gaps force us out of massive plot pieces, some of which are important to the character development.
There are some really funny moments in "Bicentennial Man." Most of them appear when the picture becomes a bit emotionally heavy, in order to relieve such tension in the audience. This is a wise choice in the writer's part; the viewers who do mistake this movie as a family comedy will gain some satisfaction from these insulated humorous moments.
I wanted more information on how the robot Andrew gradually becomes ''human.'' I felt cheated out of a lot of decent, noteworthy material here. I felt this way because the scenes where we do have the privilege to see Andrew reinvented are wonderfully inventive and interesting. The film should have leaned towards that material a little more.
The movie features super charged performances by the entire cast. Robin Williams offers an emotionally accurate acting job that brings the confusion and imagination of the android Andrew to life. The supporting cast is also filled with fine performances with Sam Neill, Wendy Crewson, Embeth Davidtz, and Oliver Platt.
Even though I can admit that "Bicentennial Man" contains several flawed motives, I still was a little surprised that the film opened to many negative reviews. This isn't a bad movie, just a differently anticipated one. The movie sets up its effective conclusion from the very beginning; it is the only logical climax for such a story. Although it leaves viewers with a sense of well-being, I thought it posed too many spiritual and biological questions. Overall, however, the movie is a well-depicted idea that deserves more appreciation from audiences than its receiving.
Brought to you by Touchstone Pictures and Columbia Pictures.
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