Bicentennial Man (film)

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Bicentennial Man
Bicentennial man film poster.jpg
Promotional poster
Directed by Chris Columbus
Produced by Chris Columbus
Wolfgang Petersen
Gail Katz
Laurence Mark
Neal Miller
Mark Radcliffe
Michael Barnathan
Screenplay by Nicholas Kazan
Based on The Positronic Man 
by Isaac Asimov
Robert Silverberg
The Bicentennial Man 
by Isaac Asimov
Starring Robin Williams
Sam Neill
Embeth Davidtz
Wendy Crewson
Oliver Platt
Music by James Horner
Cinematography Phil Meheux
Edited by Neil Travis
Production
  company
Touchstone Pictures
Columbia Pictures
1492 Pictures
Laurence Mark Productions
Radiant Productions
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures
(North America)
Columbia TriStar Film Distributors International
(International)
Release date(s)
  • December 17, 1999 (1999-12-17)
Running time 132 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $100 million
Box office $87,423,861

Bicentennial Man is a 1999 American science fiction family drama film starring Robin Williams. Based on the novel The Positronic Man, co-written by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg, which is itself based on Asimov's original novella titled The Bicentennial Man, the plot explores issues of humanity, slavery, prejudice, maturity, intellectual freedom, conformity, sex, love, and mortality. It was directed by Chris Columbus and a co-production between Touchstone Pictures and Columbia Pictures. The title comes from the main character existing to the age of two hundred years, and Asimov's novella was published in the year that the U.S. had its bicentennial.

Plot[edit]

In 2005, The NDR series android "Andrew" (Robin Williams) is introduced into the Martin family home to perform housekeeping and maintenance duties. The family's reactions range from acceptance and curiosity to outright rejection and deliberate vandalism by the eldest child, Grace (Lindze Letherman), which leads to the discovery that Andrew can both identify emotions and reciprocate in kind. When Andrew accidentally breaks a figurine belonging to Grace's sister, "Little Miss" Amanda (Hallie Kate Eisenberg), he carves a replacement out of wood. The family is astonished by this creativity and “Sir” Richard Martin (Sam Neill) takes Andrew to his manufacturer, to inquire if all the robots are like him. The company's CEO (Stephen Root) sees this development as a problem and wishes to scrap Andrew. Angered, Martin takes Andrew home and allows him to pursue his own development, encouraging Andrew to educate himself in the sciences and humanities.

In 2025, Andrew has an accident in which his thumb is accidentally cut off so Sir again takes him to NorthAm Robotics for repairs, ensuring first that Andrew's personality will remain unharmed. Andrew requests that while he is being repaired his face be upgraded to allow him to convey the emotions he feels but cannot fully express. The CEO bitterly informs them that upgrade modification will be very expensive (larger than the sum he earns in an entire year) but the price is well within the Martin family's means, comprising a month of Andrew's income from the sale of his carpentry and other woodworks and crafts. He is upgraded just in time to witness the wedding of Little Miss (Embeth Davidtz).

In 2037, Andrew realizes there are no more orders for him to run so he asks for his own freedom much to Sir's dismay. His elderly owner grants the request but banishes Andrew so he can be "completely" free. As Andrew leaves, Sir comments that he stopped referring to himself as "one". Andrew eventually builds himself a home at the beach and lives alone. In 2053, Andrew sees Sir one last time. On his deathbed, Sir apologizes for banishing Andrew, knowing that letting him have his freedom was the right thing as he bids farewell to Andrew, stating that it was an honor serving him.

After reluctant help from Lloyd Charney (Bradley Whitford), Little Miss's son, Andrew goes on a quest to locate more NDR series robots to discover if others have also developed sentience. After more than a decade of futility, he finds Galatea (Kiersten Warren), an NDR robot that has been given feminine attributes and personality. These however are simply aspects of her programming and not something which she developed as Andrew did. Galatea is owned by Rupert Burns (Oliver Platt), the son of the original NDR robot designer. Rupert works to create a more human look for robots but is unable to attract funding. Andrew agrees to finance the research and the two join forces to give Andrew a superficial human appearance.

In 2073, Andrew comes back to visit but instead sees Little Miss has aged significantly and meets Portia Charney (Embeth Davidtz), her granddaughter (and Lloyd's daughter) who looks almost exactly like a younger version of Little Miss due to a genetic likeness. As Andrew gets to know Portia, Little Miss is hospitalized after suffering a stroke. Andrew and Portia visit her, noticing that she is clutching the wooden horse he carved for her when she was young. After Little Miss silently passes away in her hospital bed, Andrew feels the pain of not being able to cry and realizes that every human being he cares for will eventually die.

As time passes, Andrew and Rupert begin to study medical designs capable of producing mechanical equivalents of human organs, including a central nervous system, which eventually allows Andrew to acquire tactile sensations and taste. A short sequence also suggests that Andrew tampered with Galatea's personality chip to make her sentient as well or at least appear to be sentient. Meanwhile, his friendship with Portia evolves into romance. At first, Portia is uncertain about "investing her emotions in a machine" and almost marries someone else, but Andrew confronts her about her emotions and they eventually engage in a relationship that is both romantic and sexual. When Andrew and Portia realize that their relationship would never be socially accepted, Andrew petitions the World Congress to recognize him as a human being, which would allow him and Portia to be legally married. The Congress Speaker rejects the proposal, however, arguing that while society can tolerate an everlasting machine, an immortal human would create too much jealousy and resentment.

Many years later, Portia is only physically middle-aged due to Andrew's medical breakthroughs but decides that she doesn't want to have her life prolonged forever. Realizing that he wouldn't want to live without her, Andrew asks Rupert to introduce blood into his system which will cause his brain to gradually decay and allow him to age to which his elderly friend welcomes him to the human condition. It is also suggested that Rupert Burns became wealthy and founded Rupert Burns Enterprises from producing the mechanical equivalents of human organs.

Three to four decades later, Andrew has become physically elderly with Portia. With Portia watching, Andrew meets with the World Congress a second time to once again petition to be declared human. Interestingly, the Congress President decides to review the case before making a final determination. After Andrew leaves with Portia to await the decision, the two continue to become more physically aged than any other human before.

In 2205, Andrew and Portia reside in a nursing home with life support machines and Galatea (now human-looking) nursing them. As all three listen to a broadcast, the Congress President finally acknowledges Andrew's humanity by declaring that the 200 year old is ("with the exception of Methuselah and other biblical figures") the oldest human being in recorded history and validates his marriage to Portia. Despite his life support machine, Andrew peacefully dies while listening to the broadcast. Afterwards, Portia requests Galatea, to unplug her and then dies quietly hand-in-hand with Andrew, saying her last words to him, "See you soon."

Cast[edit]

Reception[edit]

Bicentennial Man received mixed reviews; the film holds a 37% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes with 35 out of 93 critics giving it a positive review with an average rating of 4.8 out of 10,[1] with a consensus saying 'Bicentennial Man is ruined by a bad script and ends up being dull and mawkish', while the review aggregator Metacritic gives it a score of 42.[2]

Roger Ebert gave it two out of four stars saying, "Bicentennial Man begins with promise, proceeds in fits and starts, and finally sinks into a cornball drone of greeting-card sentiment. Robin Williams spends the first half of the film encased in a metallic robot suit, and when he emerges, the script turns robotic instead. What a letdown."[3] William Arnold of Seattle Post-Intelligencer said the film "Becomes a somber, sentimental and rather profound romantic fantasy that is more true to the spirit of the Golden Age of science-fiction writing than possibly any other movie of the '90s." Todd McCarthy of Variety summed it up as "An ambitious tale handled in a dawdling, sentimental way".

Accolades[edit]

References[edit]

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