If a robot spends enough time around humans, can he learn to become one of them? The Martin family purchases a domestic android as a servant and names him Andrew. Andrew comes to know the man of the house as Sir, his wife as Ma'am, and their daughter as Portia; before long, the Martins suspect that they do not have an ordinary robot on their hands. Andrew seems capable of expressing emotion and generating original thoughts, and the longer he stays with the Martins, the more strongly these human traits manifest themselves. Over the next 200 years, Andrew becomes less a machine and more a member of the family, until a mechanic tells Andrew that he might be able to turn him into a human being.
Directed by: Chris Columbus
. Starring: Robin Williams
, Embeth Davidtz
, Sam Neill
, Oliver Platt
, Kiersten Warren
, Wendy Crewson
, Hallie Eisenberg
, Lindze Letherman
, Angela Landis
, John Michael Higgins
, Bradley Whitford
, Igor Hiller
, Joe Bellan
. Music by: James Horner
Unfortunately, after watching this movie, I'm left with a very bad taste and regret that a great short story (I never came across to read the expanded version that Silverberg put together) was not treated properly.
In fact, the last thirty minutes really ruin what otherwise could have still been a great movie. In the literary version, Andrew's wish to become human is not linked to emotional attachment. That was Columbus' add-on. They probably thought "Mmmmkay, now how would the audience really get the message that Andrew wants to be human, WITHOUT having to think too much?" It seems that unless you create a "romantic interest" nowadays, the Hollywood moguls will think that their products will not raise interest from the masses. That will probably explain, also, movies like the 2001 remake of "The Count of Monte-Cristo", which similarly ravage a literary gem, reducing it to a mere triangle, and putting "love above all." Or why did the filmmakers ask the terribly corny Celine Dion to sing over the Bicentennial Man's credits, in a rip-off of the "Titanic" theme...
The short story could've even made for a great legal thriller - in a sense, most of Andrew's existence is spent in courts, winning little by little the acknowledgment that he is a person. The sad part is that some of us will probably live to see such trials for good, in a few decades, and rather than pay hommage to Asimov's clairvoyance, we will have some hazy impressions of a soapy film.
The implications were also fascinating. Asimov sees Andrew as backed up by a corporation: "If a man had died, the firm of Feingold and Martin lived, for a corporation does not die any more than a robot does. The firm had its directions and it followed them soullessly. By way of the trust and through the law firm, Andrew continued to be wealthy." His metamorphoses are gradual, and occur much slower than in the film - and they are not taking place in a makeshift lab, led by some maniacal, anti-social geek - another romantic cliche too dear to Hollywood, which simply cannot comprehend the idea that the Frankenstein image is dated...
Here's another sample from Asimov's work: Andrew says "I have the shape of a human being and organs equivalent to those of a human being. My organs, in fact, are identical to some of those in a prosthetized human being. I have contributed artistically, literally, and scientifically to human culture as much as any human being now alive. What more can one ask?" So, instead of spending his eternity courting a girl and making jealous scenes (like in the movie), Andrew actively makes the world a better place, acting in not just one (prosthetics), but several directions. Wow! Now, why wasn't that "photogenic" enough for Columbus and Co.?
Here's another example: In the story, Andrew's lawyer tells him "We've done two things, Andrew, both of which are good. First of all, we have established the fact that no number of artificial parts in the human body causes it to cease being a human body. Secondly, we have engaged public opinion in the question in such a way as to put it fiercely on the side of a broad interpretation of humanity, since there is not a human being in existence who does not hope for prosthetics if they will keep him alive." Now, these are issues that are becoming as important and striking as humanity itself. Some of those who still read books will remember that the French writer Vercors raised the same issues regarding the definition of humanity in one of his novels, "Les animales denatures". These are truly important themes that need to be discussed much more than they are...
Last but not least, the film embodies another Hollywood cliche, which I want to criticize harshly. Why is it that so many movies lately (meaning in the past 20 years), have been pedalling on the idea that death is inevitable, that it has to be embraced, that it is "the order of things", and so on? The best - and ludicrous - example was the case of "Cocoon 2: The Return", in which we were treated to similar ideas, but which simply demolished the original film and its characters. Why do filmmakers need to pound us over the head with the idea that even 200 years into the future will people choose to die after living the same 75 years as today? Do they think humans cannot produce and enrich their lives - and those of others - while enjoying a longer span? Not to mention that, in this particular case, THIS BLATANTLY CONTRADICTS ASIMOV'S CENTRAL THEME! Andrew Martin helps people live longer so that they can enjoy life and be happy, and he is, in a sense, sacrificing himself, refusing to follow the same destiny which he brilliantly offered others, but dying happy, knowing that he was officially recognized as a man - while the film steals even this from him.
These, and other shortcomings, make Bicentennial Man a cute movie, but one that is as forgettable as an episode of Friends. I wonder if Asimov would have approved of it. This film could have been a second "Blade Runner", not your average silly "ComedyRomance"... I guess those are choices that were made for us, by the men who tell us, through their on-screen characters, that "To be human is to make mistakes". Wonderful, guys, you just brilliantly proved your humanity!
Note: All the quotes from Mr. Asimov's "The Bicenntenial Man" are given here strictly for educational purposes, and therefore do not legally constitute a copyright infringement.
Review by Alex Savulescu from the Internet Movie Database.