Thursday, 14 August 2014

Bicentennial Man (5 Stars)

I would rather die a man than live for all eternity as a machine.

This is the third film I've watched this week starring Robin Williams. It's always been my favourite out of all his films, but watching it today has struck me just how good it is. It ought to be in my top 10 films list. Most critics have given it bad reviews, complaining about it being overly sentimental. That's the film's strength. It's a film that always makes me cry, however often I watch it.

The film, based on a short story by Isaac Asimov, begins in the near future: the year 2005. That's the film's one major mistake. Scriptwriters and directors should learn that when setting a film in the future that uses future technology the year shouldn't be precisely specified, just in case the film is still being watched after that date and the technology isn't available. In the case of "Bicentennial Man" it was an unnecessary blunder. The film was made in 1999, only six years earlier, and it should have been apparent at the time that the robots in the film wouldn't be invented so soon.

Anyway, the film begins with the delivery of a robot to the wealthy Martin family. The robot is played by Robin Williams, although at this stage of the film he's only recognisable by his voice. He's given the name Andrew, and he is put to work as a servant, cleaning and cooking for the family. As the company that sells him describes Andrew, he's a household appliance. But it soon becomes clear that he's more than this. He develops artistic skills, and he spends his free time listening to opera. Andrew becomes especially attached to the family's 7-year-old daughter Amanda, who he calls Little Miss.

The film is told in episodes over the next 200 years. I don't want to describe the plot at length, except to say that Andrew requests repeated modifications, "upgrades", which are all intended to make him step by step more human. This is Andrew's burning desire in life, to be a human and no longer a machine.

The film is perfectly structured. Many films that are told in episodes stretched over a period of time seem disjointed. Not "Bicentennial Man". We stay connected to the Martin family over five generations as the family members are born, grow old and die. This is a brilliant film. Whatever the critics say.

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