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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 up  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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Robin Williams Double Feature part 1: Good Will Hunting

A quick “hello” to my readers, and apologies for not posting anything Wednesday or Thursday. I’ve had a hectic few days. Anyway, I’m back. On this wonderful Friday night (probably Saturday morning by the time this gets posted) I’ve chosen a late night double feature of Robin Williams movies I happen to have. The reviews will be posted separately, for easier tracking.

 

The first, Good Will Hunting, is the story of MIT janitor and reluctant genius Will Hunting (Matt Damon). An orphan from the Southie projects, Will had been squandering his gift for mathematics by drinking and getting into fights along with his loser buddies, Chuckie Sullivan (Ben Affleck), Billy McBride (Cole Hauser) and Morgan O’Mally (Casey Affleck). Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård) discovers his hidden genius when Will solves a difficult math problem the Professor left for his students to attempt. Lambeau, a Fields medalist (the most prestigious award in mathematics), realizes how smart Will is, and puts him to work in the mathematics department solving problems he never could. Will came from an abusive childhood in a poor neighborhood (for my non-Bostonian readers, South Boston is the poorest and most dangerous part of the greater Boston area). Before he can pursue his future, he must understand that the past was not his fault, and be able to let go of it. With the help of the Professor, as well as his court-appointed therapist (Robin Williams), Will begins to battle his inner demons and realize his potential.

 

I found this film to be deeply moving. Damon played his part well, giving the character of Will Hunting plenty of emotional depth, not to mention a gorgeous body. I mean, seriously, the only thing that could make the then-27 year-old Damon better would be chocolate syrup dripped down his……..sorry folks, that one sort of got away from me. As a sidenote, I once saw a porn star that looked exactly like Matt Damon. Anyone looking for a treat should check out The Porne Ultimatum. I promise, you won’t regret it.

 

Anyway, Damon did a fantastic job showing us his character’s internal struggle to rid himself of his self-loathing that cripples his present and future. Even his friends recognize that he deserves more, and Ben Affleck’s character tries to give him the push he needs to better himself. I found myself empathizing with Will Hunting as he was torn between his comfortable (but unfulfilling) old life, and an uncertain future. Some of it mirrors what i’m dealing with right now, so I truly was moved by it.

 

Now that i’ve gotten all emotional (and a little turned on), stay tuned for part 2 of the double feature: Bicentennial Man!

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