Based on an Isaac Asimov short story, Bicentennial Man is the
story of a robot's 200 year quest to become human.
Robin Williams is perfectly cast as Andrew, a domestic android
programmed to carry out household duties - a sort of futuristic,
robotic Mr Doubtfire, crossed with The Wizard Of Oz's Tin Man. But
Andrew is unique, and has a wit and creativity and a personality that
surprise and enchant his human family over three generations. Under
the guidance of his master (Sam Neill), Andrew's abilities are
fostered and developed, and the robot becomes more intrigued by
understanding what it is to become human.
But it is Andrew's feelings for little Miss (played at various
ages by an enchanting Hallie Kate Eisenberg and Embeth Davidtz) and
her grand daughter (Davidtz again) that inspires him to acquire a more
human personality as well. With the help of a sympathetic scientist
(the ubiquitous Oliver Platt) he gets a make over that eventually
brings him closer and closer to his ultimate dream.
This futuristic comedy basically explores what it is that
essentially makes us human - our feelings and emotions, our mortality,
our flaws and imperfections, and our ability to make mistakes. Writer
Nicholas Kazan (Reversal Of Fortune, etc) and director Chris Columbus
(Home Alone, etc) gloss over much of Asimov's vision of the future,
and they tone down the darker edge and overtones of prejudice and
intolerance that shaped much of his original tale. However, there are
some nifty special effects briefly on display here, and the make-up
that ages the actors is also very convincing. Columbus directs with
his usual slick and light weight style, although there is less
slapstick or physical humour here. The role of the android with human
feelings is perfect material for Williams, who seems to prefer these
earnest roles of late. Columbus manages to tease a far more
restrained and understated performance from his star, who is hidden
under some clever hi-tech make-up for much of the duration. However,
there are several scenes in which one can almost sense Williams' more
manic personality threatening to burst out of his constraints.
Neill brings dignity and class to his role as the droid's
compassionate and understanding master, while Davidtz brings warmth to
her dual role.
The film has a number of touching, heart warming moments, and
Columbus is a rather manipulative director who turns the saccharine
factor up to almost cloying levels at times. Bicentennial Man is also
somewhat slow paced, especially in the second half, and its overly
generous running time may test the patience and endurance of many.
Copyright © 2000 Greg King