December 18, 1999 -- Robin Williams is one of those rare talents who can do anything, including play a convincing robot, which he does in this film, "Bicentennial Man," based on a story by the great science fiction author, Isaac Asimov. Those Star Trek fans out there will recognize the story, a robot with a positronic brain who strives to be human.
It is much like the old story of Pinocchio, a wooden figure, given life by magic, who wants to become a real boy. In this case, the magic is provided by advanced technology. The story only touches lightly on the same themes dealt with so eloquently in other works of science fiction, such as the nature of life and of soul, the problem of robots, or androids, being treated as property, or as slaves.
There are a myriad of issues that are avoided here, but at the same time, the movie makes a more convincing argument for the notion that people are superior to thinking machines like robots and androids than some other stories that have attempted this proposition. The "Vulcan" argument is this, that robots, acting solely on logic, unhampered by the distractions of sensation and emotion, are superior to humans. They are incapable of the hatred, bigotry and prejudice that have killed so many of us. The movie argues just the opposite. Here's a robot who wants to throw away all of these advantages so he can have the emotions and sensations, and all of the limitations, of being human. He gives them all away for love.
Williams (of "Patch Adams" and "Good Will Hunting") does a wonderful job as the robot, ably assisted by Sam Neill (of "The Horse Whisperer") who plays his first master; Embeth David, who plays the love of his life, and by Oliver Platt of "Simon Birch," who plays a compassionate inventor who gives the robot human characteristics.
The movie does not really address what happens when the robot is confronted by the evil that also lurks within men. He seems to run across only kind, compassionate, altruistic souls in his quest for humanity. This is a story that is deliberately very limited in scope, but judged within those limits, it succeeds well enough. It rates a B. The marketing of this movie has made it seem like a family film, but for the most part, it is really an adult film. Kids may find a large part of it boring and beyond their interests.
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