Cyberpunk Review » Bicentennial Man

April 4, 2006

Bicentennial Man

Movie Review By: SFAM

Year: 1999

Directed by: Chris Columbus

Written by: Isaac Asimov & Robert Silverberg (short story/Novel), Nicholas Kazan (Screenplay)

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Low

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Medium

Key Cast Members:

  • Andrew Martin: Robin Williams
  • Little Miss Amanda Martin/Portia Charney: Embeth Davidtz
  • ‘Sir’ Richard Martin: Sam Neill
  • Rupert Burns: Oliver Platt
  • Rating: 6 out of 10

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    Overview: What a strange movie to try to categorize. Bicentennial Man seems like a Sci-Fi movie at times and a drama at others. In many ways, Bicentennial Man is hit or miss. Robin Williams and Embeth Davidtz are terrific, but the script itself really has trouble figuring out what movie this is going to be. Still, but there’s enough here to make it worth a viewing, as long as you don’t mind overly sappy movies.

     

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    The Story: In the very recent past (2005 – but it was the near future in 1999), the Martin family has gotten a new appliance – a robot named Andrew. And while Andrew obeys the three laws of Robotics, and Andrew (Robin Williams) comes right out of the box with a sense of unexpected wonder. Andrew seems interested in all sorts of things that Robots aren’t normally interested in. In spending time with the youngest daughter, Little Miss (Embeth Davidtz), Andrew learns the meaning of love and humanity. Richard Martin, the father (Sam Neill) is intrigued by this and brings Andrew back to the corporation to talk about his “uniqueness.” The robotics maker is worried that this “bug” will ruin business and wants him terminated immediately. Luckily for Andrew, Richard likes his uniqueness, and decides to spend his time teaching Andrew everything a sentient person needs to know.

     

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    Andrew continues to grow and expand his capabilities and thinking. He becomes a master clock maker, and after working out the specifics of getting a bank account, makes millions in selling them. Time hurries on (well, not really – this part could have been edited somewhat) and Andrew’s family grows old and starts to die off. Andrew eventually asks and is granted his freedom, but still hangs around the family, especially Little Miss. He eventually goes in search of others like him, and then later finds ways of “upgrading” his appearance to become human-looking. It is at this point that he meets Little Miss’s grand daughter, Portia. He is captivated by her immediately, and begins to contemplate sharing the love with a human. But in order to do so, he decides he must be “declared” a human – this too will require change.

     

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    Is it cyberpunk? I was really torn about whether or not to include Bicentennial Man on this site. It clearly is not a cyberpunk movie in tone, in that the near future is closer to an idyllic situation than a dystopic one. We also don’t see a massive corporation controlling society. In fact, the story isn’t focused on society at all – it’s on an individual. So why include it in a cyberpunk site? Because of the post-human nature of the story Bicentennial Man presents us. Here we see an example of an android as a post-human versus a human transformed into a cyborg. The whole question of sentient androids and their quest for freedom and self-determination is raised and explored, although not to the extent I would have liked. In this Idyllic future, Androids are essentially still considered high-tech kitchen appliances. In its better moments, Bicentennial Man poses the question our society may face one day – when do we grant human rights to the products of our innovation? But again, I do fully appreciate that this move sits more in the gray area than it does as a cyberpunk flick.

     

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    What defines humanity? One really wishes Bicentennial Man spent more time elaborating these questions instead of getting mired in a love story. While the love story was interesting and well done in an overly sappy sort of way, it is far less interesting than the question of what would make androids human. Here we have two androids – one clearly nothing more than a kitchen appliance, and the other something significantly more. Andrew has freewill, self-determination, is self-motivated, and clearly seems to “feel” love. Over time, he upgrades his body with the help of robotics tinkerer, Rupert Burns (Oliver Platt) so that he is human in virtually every way (can feel, have sex, etc.). In Bicentennial Man, Andrew pursues being declared “human” versus having human rights. Unfortunately, the movie glosses over how Andrew had the rights to maintain a bank account, own a house on the beach, or even a company. It’s clear that humanity encapsulates quite a few requirements – this movie focuses on our lack of immortality as a defining characteristic of humanity. While this may be true, it’s hardly complete. We are left with the idea that Andrew has all the other (unstated) traits but this one.

     

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    The Love Story: Bicentennial Man is a love story, and although it’s sappy, it’s still a complicated one. Andrew was really in love with Little Miss, but neither he nor her (who was also in love with him) were strong enough to admit it. Yet Andrew has another chance when her grand daughter, Portia, is an almost perfect image of Little Miss. Even then Andrew has trouble coming to terms with the possibilities. In the end, Andrew’s potential relationship with Portia represents his last step transforming to human.

     

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    The FX: While Andrew’s expressions are well done, clearly lots more could have been undertaken here. Every so often, we get glimpses of futuristic cityscapes, but unfortunately, these appear more tacked on than integrated. Throughout most of the story, which takes place over the course of 200 years, we see no interesting change in society. Literally, the technology doesn’t seem to affect life at all. This really is an almost unforgivable lack of thought and imagination. While there was scene after scene of little love and caring vignettes, futuristic visions were pretty much non-existent here – they could have easily been integrated.

     

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    The Bottom Line: There is a number of problems with Bicentennial Man which detracts enjoyment. For starters, Andrew’s uniqueness is essentially magical, as no explanation is ever given. I would have hoped as Andrew became an inventor supreme of human and android cyborg parts, he would have spent time questioning his own existence and attempted to replicate it. Also, the length of time spent on Andrew with his family could probably have been edited down somewhat, and the time spent on the more interesting android questions and their effect on society could have been expanded. Still, there is enough here to make Bicentennial Man worth a watch. Williams and Davidtz have great chemistry and make the sappy love story work. And the questions posed are explored in at least enough detail to make you think.

     

    ~See movies similar to this one~

    This post has been filed under 6 Star Movies, Android Movies, Cyberpunk movies from 1990 - 1999 by SFAM.

    Comments

    April 5, 2006

    spikethebloody said:

    I think everything great about A.I. is missed by this badboy. Osmont’s David is 10 times more believable and where A.I. is able to be emotional without being sentimental this film here just absolutely goes for the tear ducts at every opportunity. I hated this one.

    SFAM said:

    I actually got the feeling that Williams was trying to emulate Data from Star Trek more than Osmont. But I agree that Data does a better job of hunizing androids.

    April 6, 2006

    ETM said:

    I kept watching and couldn’t believe what I was seeing - like an elaborate and expensive train wreck. They were playing up the emotional bit all the time, and there I was thinking “They are pushing all the wrong buttons”. I can’t find anything wrong with this movie other than its very existence. And there it is.

    SFAM said:

    OK, so, um, what star rating would you give this?

    ETM said:

    I don’t know. I hate ratings. All I remember from this movie is that lousy gut feeling that tells you “Oh, God, make it stop, but not before I see all of it”. I guess I’d give it my “Can’t believe someone went through such trouble for THAT” rating.

    September 30, 2006

    Guardian Zero said:

    Hi! It isn’t a short movie (130 minutes), but I didn’t feel the time when I watched it.

    In my case, it is a good sign, because you are IN the story (a love story, of course -human nature-).

    My understanding about the story is that Andrew was more human than any other android because somebody made a MISTAKE.

    Be imperfect is human nature, and Andrew tried to obtain this category all the time.

    My star rating is eight stars. ( I watched twice the movie)

    October 1, 2006

    SFAM said:

    Hi Guardian Zero, Bicentennial Man is the type of movie that can reasonably given anywhere from 4 stars to 8 stars. Depending on how much you like the sappiness, and buy the human-robot factor, your milage will vary on this movie.

    March 5, 2007

    meimei said:

    bicentennial movie is such a beautiful movie.
    the movie was so captivating….

    [ETM] said:

    Thinking back on this, I can’t believe how severely miscast it was, how much they missed mark with the visuals… it’s almost as if it’s a spoof trying to tell you an important and seriously emotional tale.

    March 14, 2007

    Nyerguds said:

    Actually, IIRC the point of the movie was probably that his fall out of the window at the beginning of the movie is the cause of his uniqueness… that some microscopic damages in his positronic brain caused him to become so inventive

    March 29, 2007

    David said:

    This is more like a family movie than any a high octane VR reality where the world is controlled by government drones VS the cybernetically upgraded resistance fighters’ type of thing ;)

    I do recall watching this movie when I was like 15, and feeling very moved in places. I think it’s odd how they got Robin Williams to play warm fuzzy characters at first, and then got his to play really dark characters later (I myself don’t find Williams amusing by the way… on or off the screen).

    December 1, 2007

    White Knight said:

    SFAM Your a fucking moron. This movie is definitely a 10

    February 22, 2008

    Vernes said:

    I loved the movie.
    I watched the book before the movie and was able to appriceate how close they managed to create the feeling behind the story with this movie.
    I’d give it a 7.

    February 23, 2008

    Innocent Bystander said:

    really, | think this is just a romance movie that happens to involve androids.
    not meant to be the other way around.

    March 19, 2008

    Synthoid said:

    You know, I actually liked this film. Sure, it’s laden with moments of syrupy, farfetched unrealism, but it’s just a very easy to watch film. Unfortunately, it’s also kind of depressing, when the years go by and you see entire generations grow old and die off, especially Sam Neill. I like Sam Neill.

    June 6, 2008

    Scott Smith said:

    Hi
    I realy like the issac asimov short stories.

    The story about andrew is one of the best that he wrote as it turns the idea of cyberpunk on its head.

    Most of cyberpunk is to what end do we stop being human

    This story defined to what end do we become human

    And it does it very well

    I hadent even relised that this movie was the same story as the book.

    But the book is by far the better

    [alltho i would say that as i am a issac asimov fanboy]

    August 11, 2008

    george said:

    helo

    September 2, 2008

    adam said:

    i love the movie. and allot of the stuff made me think of how my life is to lonely and how i wish i could find love that would last a life time. like Andrew.

    September 21, 2008

    Lucas said:

    I remember this movie, and I have to agree with Scott Smith. Andrew was trying to define himself as a human being. He saw himself as a seperate, unique individual. When he searched for others like himself, and did not find any others like himself, his search was still fruitfull. He learned that it is the differences, our flaws, that we each have that make us unique. I would rate the movie at 7 stars. If for no other reason, than seeing the families reaction to his presentation of the Laws of Robotics.

    Mr. No1 said:

    Wow man, we really are getting cheesy here now… =P only joking

    February 5, 2009

    mocah said:

    well…this movie is such an outrageous one!! typically, I liked it but it seems unbelievable..anyways..Can I ask something?! What are those fields of A.I that covers this movie?!
    any retort is a big help..thanks!

    mocah said:

    P.S.

    I was amazed by this story..A robot like andrew that potrys as human. He believes that every creation in this earth has its own right. To be themselves. To pursue things that he/she deserves..

    mocah said:

    I agreed to what you have said.

    mocah said:

    nice lucas..

    February 20, 2009

    Tom said:

    This is just a romantic movie set in a sci fi genre, but I have to say I have watched it maybe 4 or 5 times and it seems as fresh as the first time. I feel it is a classic of its kind and maybe my simple romantic mind accepts it all too readily for some people. It wouldn’t be everyones cup of tea, but then what film ever has been. I guess I am just a sucker for love stories no matter how they are dressed up….lol

    July 31, 2009

    Xeran said:

    Good movie I just wish he was a chic :)

    For girl robots check out www.synthoids.com.

    August 23, 2009

    I hate this Movie said:

    it sucked

    February 9, 2011

    zetapicer said:

    hello.. my gosh! i really adore and love the movie,, it makes me realize how beautiful to be inlove especially if the person is like Mr. Andrew Martin. Wew.. love it soooo very much!
    its one of a kind movie,

    zetapicer said:

    hello.. my gosh! i really adore and love the movie,, it makes me realize how beautiful to be inlove especially if the person is like Mr. Andrew Martin. Wew.. love it soooo very much!

    zetapicer said:

    so astonishing!

    April 10, 2013

    hate this movie said:

    absolutely hate this movie.
    A robot makes itself as close to human as possible and then wants to criticise everything and everybody it comes in contact with and get married. The idiot woman wants to marry it and then it pushes to have the world senate create a law allowing idiot women to marry robots. Dumbest! give it one out of five stars

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