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 Méheux
Edited by Neil Travis
Touchstone Pictures
Columbia Pictures
1492 Pictures
Laurence Mark Productions
Radiant Productions
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures
(USA & Canada)
Columbia TriStar Film Distributors International
Release dates
  • December 17, 1999 (1999-12-17)
Running time
132 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $100 million
Box office $87.4 million

Bicentennial Man is a 1999 American science fiction family comedy-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. The film, a co-production between Touchstone Pictures and Columbia Pictures, was directed by Chris Columbus. 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.


In 2005, an NDR series android (Robin Williams) is sent the Martin family home to perform housekeeping and maintenance duties. After mistakingly hearing him being called "Andrew" by the youngest daughter, the family adopts it as his name. 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 after being rejected. The family is astonished by this creativity and “Sir” Richard Martin (Sam Neill) takes Andrew to NorthAm Robotics 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. Instead, "Sir" takes Andrew home and allows him to pursue his own development.

In 2025, Andrew has an accident in which his thumb is cut off, and Sir again takes him to NorthAm for repairs. Andrew requests that, while he is being repaired, his face be upgraded to allow him to convey the emotions he feels but cannot express. The CEO informs them that upgrade modification will be very expensive, but the price is well within Andrew's means due to his carpentry earnings, after opening an account for him via the family lawyer. Andrew is upgraded just in time for the wedding of Little Miss (Embeth Davidtz), to Frank.

In 2037, Andrew realizes there are no more orders for him to run, so he asks to purchase freedom, much to Sir's dismay. His elderly owner grants the request, but banishes Andrew so he can be "completely" free, after feeling jealousy of his being of sentience. Andrew eventually builds himself a home at the beach and lives alone. In 2053, after being asked, 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 to do, as he dies peacefully.

After reluctant help from Lloyd Charney (Bradley Whitford), Little Miss's son after her divorce from Frank, Andrew attempts 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 as part of her programming, but unfortunately, has not developed sentience. Galatea is owned by Rupert Burns (Oliver Platt), the son of the original NDR robot designer, who eventually was kicked out and started a project that Rupert was handed over to when he died. 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 work to give Andrew a superficial human appearance.

In 2073, Andrew comes back to visit, but finds Little Miss has aged significantly and meets Portia Charney (also Embeth Davidtz), her granddaughter (and Lloyd's daughter) who looks almost exactly like a younger version of Little Miss, due to a genetic anomaly. 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 Andrew carved for her when she was young. After Little Miss passes away, Andrew is upset that he feels pain at her death, but is unable to cry and realizes that every human being he cares for, will eventually die.

As time passes, Andrew and Rupert attempt to produce mechanical equivalents of human organs, which could be compatible with human donors as well, including a central nervous system, which eventually allows Andrew to acquire tactile sensations and taste. Meanwhile, his friendship with Portia evolves into romance. 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 immortal machine, an immortal human would create too much jealousy and resentment, thus leaving Andrew and Portia unable to be married.

Years later, Andrew's medical breakthroughs have allowed Portia to age more gradually, but she 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 Positronic Brain to gradually decay and allow him to age. Decades later, Andrew and Portia are physically elderly. Andrew meets with the World Congress a second time to once again petition to be declared human with Portia watching. This time, the Congress President decides to review the case before making a final determination.

Sometime afterwards, Andrew and Portia reside in a nursing home. As they listen to a broadcast, the Congress President finally acknowledges Andrew's humanity by declaring that the 200 year old Andrew 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 unfortunately dies peacefully while listening to the broadcast. Afterwards, Portia asks the now human looking Galatea to unplug her from life support and then dies hand-in-hand with Andrew after saying "I'll see you soon", ending the film ambiguously as it fades to black.



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] Its consensus states that '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".



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