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BICENTENNIAL MAN

SYNOPSIS:
Andrew (Robin Williams), android to the Martin family, cooks, cleans and repairs things with chronic intelligence. And, to everyone's surprise, a touch of creativity. This proximity to the humans develops a desire for it to be more a he, aided - inadvertently - by Sir's (Sam Neill) gentle and generous lectures about the human condition. Andrew begins to search for the awesome human capacity for emotion. When he realises the importance of freedom to humans, he begs for it, setting off on a road that leads him through the exquisite joys of love to confront the big no-no of mankind: immortality.

"Imagine how simple life would be if all we needed was a power point to charge and sustain us. Wouldn't hurt either if we could tell at a glance an item's functionality or were programmed not to tell certain things 'for family harmony'. That is, of course, if you were one of the pack. But none of us, not even androids, are the same: we are unique individuals whose flaws and foibles make us human. So life is complicated – something that we can all readily relate to. Bicentennial Man is an entertaining family film with a surprisingly good script and splendid performances. It never strays into too schmaltz, yet is moving in a very genuine way. This is the territory Robin Williams is comfortable in: he is wonderful in a restrained performance. Sam Neill, perfect as the android owner, adds to Andrew the android's education by having fireside chats – lovely scenes. Neill's delivery is dry, sincere and engaging. Much of the film's appeal is gleaned from the splendid production design, the super effects and James Horner's uplifting score, resplendent with big orchestration, haunting theme and sung by Celine Dion. Also outstanding are the ageing effects that transport characters through time. It's a bit long and yes, it is 'Hollywood', but Bicentennial Man delivers more than you expect and manages to successfully canvass the very essence of our humanity in a poignant and charming way. Cry a little, smile a lot, Bicentennial Man is a delight: a poignant story about love, friendship, dignity and compassion."
Louise Keller

"Distractingly clever and meticulous in its visual language, Bicentennial Man stumbles on its own good intentions and good effects. Tantalisingly robotic, Robin Williams delivers a predictably smooth but suffocatingly decent characterisation, which shines with craftsmanship - and schmaltz. Like everything else in the film, from Sam Neill's wealthy but inactive family, he is too unblemished - and there is a total lack of shadow to define the complex humanity the film tries to explore. It's a bit soppy, to put it simply. The film needs dollops more darkness to convince, and perhaps a touch of despair. Its lectures on the finer points of being human end up either maudlin or manipulative, lacking the texture of the real thing. The epic story - spanning two centuries - plays like a gimmicky film, having none of density that a reader finds in a novel, where internal voices and time passing is so much more organic and effortless. Between these weaknesses, Bicentennial Man has glittering moments of humour and observation as it takes us on this lengthy journey of turning a robot into a human. It shines with production values, marvellous music and is painless to watch, but it doesn't pierce the heart."
Andrew L. Urban

"The idea of a robot who yearns to be human, a staple of science fiction for centuries, here becomes a vehicle for Robin Williams at his most sanctimonious. (With his bullying, dominating presence and preachy self-righteousness, Robin Williams could be a fantastic actor – think Jerry Lewis in The King Of Comedy – if he could get away from noble, ‘lovable’ roles.) Closely following Isaac Asimov’s original short story, the film in many respects feels quaintly old-fashioned: with their shiny Michelin Man bodies, staring mechanical eyes and clunky motion, the robots on display here (indeed, the whole concept of ‘robots’) seem like a ‘50s throwback that belongs on Matt Groening's Futurama. After decades of films set in post-apocalyptic wastelands or hellish industrial cities out of Blade Runner, Bicentennial Man’s vision of the 21st century is reassuringly retro, gleaming yet folksy, with no hint of political strife or environmental decay. One of the film’s main pleasures is the way futuristic details are constantly slipped into the background: high-tech buildings behind the present-day San Francisco skyline; a daily newspaper reduced to a single page. While the screenplay by Nicholas Kazan lightly touches on numerous real-world issues (from genetics to civil rights to euthanasia) its overall message is extremely conservative: a robot can only achieve dignity, and validate his own existence, by making himself into an exact replica of a human being. The idea that robots might have dignity of their own doesn’t seem to occur to anyone. And at every step along the way, Robin Williams, as Everyman, can exult in the glorious limitations of the human condition. I was moved, in the end – but if we ever do create robots with conscious intelligence, I suspect they’ll find this notion a bit sentimental and offensive."
Jake Wilson

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 2

TRAILER

See Jorn Rossing-Jensen's interview with
ROBIN WILLIAMS

See our
SOUNDTRACK REVIEW

BICENTENNIAL MAN (PG)
(US)

CAST: Wendy Crewson, Embeth Davidtz, Sam Neill, Oliver Platt, Allan Rich, Scott Waugh, Robin Williams

DIRECTOR: Chris Columbus

PRODUCER: Michael Barnathan, Chris Columbus, Gail Katz, Laurence Mark, Neal Miller, Wolfgang Petersen, Mark Radcliffe.

SCRIPT: Nicholas Kazan (Screenplay) Isaac Asimov (Story),

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Phil Meheux

EDITOR: Nicolas De Toth, Neil Travis

MUSIC: James Horner

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Norman Reynolds

RUNNING TIME: 131 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 1999

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: December 2, 2000







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