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IN SHORT: Great flick. [Rated [PG], 133 minutes]
Twenty years ago, Cranky (in his pre-Cranky days) stepped on Robin Williams' foot. Williams proceeded to start a stellar film career. . . hey, I sat through two three-hour Oscar wannabe monstrosities before the screening of Bicentennial Man. I'm punch-drunk enough to take credit for anything.
So, in this holiday season, let us give thanks for Robin Williams (and screenwriter Nicholas Kazan and director Chris Columbus) who take a classic science fiction story by Isaac Asimov, and a novel by Asimov and Robert Silverberg, and bring to the screen a comedy which turns into a bittersweet romance. The little kids in front of me were delighted and the ladies around me sniffled on the way out. Again and again, Williams takes a character with all the potential of a cartoon and infuses it with a humanity that is moving in more ways than one. Which is the point of the story.
By the time the Martin family purchased its NDR-114 series household robot, it was old news on the block. The robot (Williams), always polite, addresses Mr. Martin (Sam Neill) as "Sir," his wife (Wendy Crewson) as Ma'am, and daughters as Miss (Lindze Letherman and Angela Landis) and Little Miss (Hallie Kate Eisenberg and Embeth Davidtz). It wasn't a smooth addition to the household. "Andrew" (named by Little Miss when she misheard her older sister calling the 'bot an android) has problems with synonyms and homonyms, and follows every command to the letter. He cooks. He cleans. He creates sculptures out of driftwood . . .
But that wasn't an order from Sir. It was a decision made independently by the 'bot. By showing indications that it has more than a mind of it's programming, Andrew is an anomaly and one which the manufacturer (Stephen Root) is more than willing to replace. Sir will not have that. He instructs Andrew in the facts of life and more. The 'bot learns to build clocks, which eventually yields a substantial income. He tells fart jokes and burlesk humor. Reads voraciously. And, 27 years after he was purchased, Andrew requests his freedom, to search for other unique beings like himself. 20 years later, he finds Galatea (Kiersten Warren), a rebuilt NDR-115 unit in San Francisco, with an annoying personality and a tendency to blast Aretha Franklin songs out of her built in speakers. Her owner, Rupert Burns (Oliver Platt) becomes Andrews partner, as the 'bot finances the research to upgrade his systems making him look, at least on the outside, human.
Sir dies as will the rest of the family that Andrew has served. Little Miss' granddaughter, Portia (also Davidtz), holds a special attraction -- they don't like each other when they first meet, so you know that's gonna be something special. This immortal man, and the homage to characters in The Wizard of Oz is plain, does not understand life, death and genetics, but he does know that he feels sad when one of his friends "leaves". The desire to "become" human yields a frenzy of activity in his Positronic brain. Andrew and Rupert make a fortune in biologically sound prosthetic parts. Net result, a robot who can feel, taste, emote and -- dare we say it? -- fall in love. And he does.
The problem with that is, even a hundred and fifty or so years into the future is that society won't accept bio/mechanical unions. So Andrew petitions the World Congress to declare him "human". To the congress, "If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it's a robot" and so the quest to become as human as possible continues to the logical end . . . I did say bittersweet romance up top.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Bicentennial Man, he would have paid...
There is an Aretha Franklin song in the flick, but Eisenberg (aka that kid in the Pepsi commercials) doesn't sing it.
PARENTAL NOTE: There is only one four letter word used in the flick (a synonym for "fecal material") that is repeated four or five times in one scene, enough that a 3 year old may pick up on it without knowing what it means. Other than that, this is a finely crafted family flick with the occasional fart joke for the kidlets and double entendre for us old fogeys
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