Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bicentennial Man (1999)

Williams/Columbus Engage Smith/Proyas In An Asimov Rape-Off

Isaac Asimov didn't like sci-fi movies, dismissing them as showcases for scenes of destruction – and it's hard not to see what he meant, looking upon the sci-fi movies prior to his death and since. Oh, how he would roll in his grave if he knew Roland Emmerich was supposedly attached to film the Foundation story.

For all of its crimes, Bicentennial Man is perfectly innocent of this accusation. The only thing you'll see destroyed here is Asimov's delicate, necrotic sphincter as Chris Columbus and Robin Williams take turns plunging their dicks into it. What we're basically asked to accept in this movie is to watch Robin Williams make the journey from servile automaton to somebody who gets away with farting in bed with Embeth Davidtz.

Sam Neill, for a while anyway, brings the dignity of a father being patient with an intensely curious child to a role of the patriarch of a "not too distant future" (2005) family, which purchases a robot butler, Andrew. We learn that such robot butlers are not so uncommon among the moneyed, though I'm already feeling a little uncomfortable about this arrangement, not because of any possibility of household kill-bottery (I can trust the Three Laws at least that much) but because it seems like a gimme that at least one kid is gonna form a weird, unhealthy attachment to the 'bot that a human butler would at least recognize as weird and unhealthy. Dad attemptes to explain the finer points of the human experience in fireside chats, which allow Williams to do his...thing.

37 minutes in, things start looking like they might be getting interesting. It flash-forwards a number of years – I don't know how many, but Embeth Davidtz plays the younger sister and she was at least 33 at the time of filming - and this remarkably tolerant family has allowed Andrew to accumulate a vast collection of grandfather clocks that BONG BONG BONG every hour, driving mom to drink. That shit would drive me to dry up crack babies and smoke them.

Too bad this is kicked to the shit curb 38 minutes in when suddenly dad is all like, "He's only a machine!" Neill spends the remainder of his scenes bouncing between attitudes about Andrew's sentience, to say nothing of his own ("What floor are we on here?" What the fuck, what button did you press in the elevator?!?!?).

We hear how Andrew is an older model...and then it flash-forwards another dozen years, and Davidtz has her own bratty kids with her almost entirely unseen husband (Asimov certainly didn't shy away from the possibilities of human/robot sexual coupling) and I still have no idea how this world works with its robots. Neill is doing crosswords on an iphone the size of a VCR.

Andrew's apparently been making a fortune from his art. How does the art world receive him? How does the scientific community regard an attemptedly artful machine? Where are the new-generation robots? Where's the non-robot artificial intelligence?

In the movie's most agonizing scene yet, the screenwriters don't even appear to know what a "mutation" is. Later, Andrew sullenly takes the inability of Embeth's granddaughter (also played by Embeth) to emotionally attach herself to a machine as "a genetic trait" – what, has the rest of humanity been humping his leg all this time?

Andrew searches for more of his own kind for ten years. How far has android technology come in this like...fifty years since the beginning of the movie? Nowhere, androids have fallen out of fashion. Out of fashion, what the fuck?!? He finally finds other models like his own. They're either dead, or idiots. He finds a girl version. She has robo-tits, and nobody pays any mind when a forty-year-old robot chick dances around in public to a loudly blasted recording of Aretha Franklin. She's an idiot (the robot, not Aretha). What made Andrew so special? I'm sure the secret ingredient was love.

It's 82 minutes before we see anything that suggests to us that we've gone into the future. 91 minutes in and it occurs to me, this is the first brown person I've seen in this whole movie. She's singing for the entertainment of a bunch of white people. 104 minutes in Andrew excitedly claims he's always been fascinated by human sexual processes, despite showing no evidence of that previously in the movie.

When he is upgraded to be able to taste things, he immediately perceives certain foods as "wonderful" and "marvellous". There's nothing that tastes like shit to him. So what value has his sense of taste? The chief speaker of the One World Goverment or whatever is flanked by Canada and Portugal. Call me snooty if you will, but Canada, I can see; we're nothing if not so all-inclusive of others that we're still bickering about whether we even have our own identity. But Portugal? Bullshit man, the Portuguese are the gold medallists of the douchebag olympics. Just ask any Portuguese guy.

It ends with one of those scenes that extols Robin Williams's heartwarming awesomeness to the strains of James Horner's heartstring-tugging strings. It even follows that up with some sorta Celine Dion-sounding song. WAIT, it actually is Celine Dion, fuck you world, obviously you hate the two-legged plague that walks your surface.

The bottom line with this movie, aside from the expected hand-wringing about Williams's mugging and Columbus's...being all Columbus (there's a scene where idiot-bot sings "If I Only Had A Heart"), is that this was all done in Star Trek: The Next Generation already and it was bullshit then too. An android that doesn't explore the limits of being as awesome an android as it can be before wanting to be a Real Boy is an android I'd ask for a refund over.


  1. Goddammit, I'm already making grammatical errors all over the place. Must be too excited to start anew here.

  2. Dood! Where's your archive?

  3. christine:

  4. I just said, briefly

    (1) Loved finding you again on-line, and loved the old reviews. Looking forward to a revenge of the sith review.

    (2) Hated Bicentennial Man, particlularly the finale, when a robot is ordered to 'pull the plug', in clear breach of the Laws of Robotics as stated in the movie.

  5. Hi ,i just watched this movie today..