Bicentennial Man (1999)

Rating: C+

Dir: Chris Columbus
Star: Robin Williams, Embeth Davidtz, Sam Neill, Oliver Platt

What does “being human” actually mean? That’s the question this asks; just a shame it takes so long to address it. Really, you could miss much of the first hour here, as Andrew the android (Williams), gradually realizes he is not like others, because he has creativity and emotion, beyond what is programmed into him. He achieves financial and personal independence, but yearns to be regarded as a human, and spends the ensuing decades – and centuries – ‘upgrading’ his mechanical parts with organic ones, towards that goal? But can anything that is immortal, as Andrew is, ever be truly regarded as human? Or, indeed, something which is positively saintly: being human is, I’d say, about taking the rough with the smooth: without cruelty, can there be kindness? As you can imagine, given a story that spans 200 years, the pace is leisurely, and there is not really any sense of conflict or narrative drive for the first hour.

While the results are mildly diverting, it’s mostly wondering if that’s really Williams inside the suit, since he starts off with an emotionless metallic face. We also discussed whether James Horner simply put his Deep Impact soundtrack on shuffle and sold it again [we also note, Celine Dion warbles the end credits!]. However, the second half does actually develop on a more emotional level, and builds towards an ending that, while emotionally manipulative, is undeniably effective [well, it certainly affected us]. The script never answers the question is poses, so really only gives the appearance of depth; fortunately, Williams is relatively restrained here, and is more effective as a result – two hours of kookiness would be too much to tolerate. While the production design is impeccable, frankly, Blade Runner covered the topic an awful lot better, as a sidelight. Still, it’s not I, Robot, and that’s a relief.