Tag Archives: bicentennial man

Robin Williams Double Feature part 2: Bicentennial Man

Good morning, everyone. I finished late last night, but alas, my bed was calling to me. Better late than never, though.


Based on the novella The Bicentennial Man by Isaac Asimov (probably one of the greatest and most prolific science fiction writers in history), this 1999 film explores such complex issues as what it means to be human. The protagonist, Andrew Martin (Robin Williams), is a robot who achieves sentience by some strange freak of technology. Over time, he develops the desire to become more human, much like Lt. Cdr. Data from Star Trek: Then Next Generation. Also like Data, he is constantly studying the humans around him in an attempt to emulate their behavior and “fit in” better. This eventually includes a prosthetic face, and then prosthetic organs (complete with central nervous system) and finally blood which will allow him to age and die. As time progresses, he experiences increasingly complex emotions, including happiness, anger, jealousy and love. Unlike Data, he is eventually successful. The World Congress declares him human in the year 2205, just as he dies on his two hundredth birthday.


The film took on the ambitious task of dealing with a form of prejudice which hasn’t happened yet, prejudice against artificial life-forms. At every step of the way, Andrew is discriminated against. His struggle for the rights that humans take for granted, such as the right to choose his profession (and earn money from it) or to marry the person he loves, mirrors the battles fought by blacks historically and, more recently, LGBT people. If the progress made by the MIT and Stanford AI Laboratories in recent years is any indication, humanity will soon be forced to consider the issue of what rights and freedoms artificial life should have.


The first half of the film was thought-provoking, and dealt with some intriguing issues. Andrew slowly becomes sentient, with liberal amounts of classic Robin Williams humor. He learns about such human concepts as humor and sex. Eventually, he develops a desire for freedom. When he achieves it is about when this movie starts to tank. The next several years are dismissed with a handwave, and then Andrew goes on a failed quest to find other unique robots (another 20 years gone in seconds). It would have been interesting to see what he did with his newfound freedom, and the struggles he would have had to face immediately after. The rest of the movie shows how he wanted to become more human, with prosthetic skin and organs. The story gets dull and plodding here; it suffers from bad scriptwriting. Even Williams’ usual witticism can’t spice it upĀ  much. It tries to show the end stages of Andrew’s struggle for humanity, but honestly I just couldn’t bring myself to care all that much. It lacked the flavor of the first half, which is what would have made it so special.


One thing that absolutely does deserve accolades is the makeup artistry. In the beginning, Williams is wearing a metal suit that successfully fuses Robin Williams with an artificial robot. As time passes, his features become more and more human. The talented artists managed to make it look fantastic at every stage of development. It even won the 1999 Academy Award for Best Makeup.


The wonderful makeup artistry and excellent first half of the movie props it up, but the bad script means that the second half drags. I award it three and a half stars, out of five. Better than average, but it has deep flaws that prevent me from considering it a truly good movie. Still, I don’t regret watching it.


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Filed under Drama, Reviews, Science Fiction