Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Perfect "Robot" Movie

Years ago, my brother Barry told me how much he adored the often overlooked Robin Williams film, "Bicentennial Man". Released around the same time as some other questionable Williams vehicles (like Patch Adams), it was basically a financial flop, and has essentially been forgotten. Realizing that it was available on Netflix streaming services, I decided to finally watch it, and I was floored. It's nothing short of a masterpiece of storytelling, a rumination on the nature of humanity and empathy, and the relationship between people and the technology we create to make our lives better.

Originally marketed as a comedy, it's a serious, engaging and well-written fable, a modern Pinocchio, perfect for these times and technological trappings. Adapted from a story (The Positronic Man) written by one of my favorite authors, Isaac Asimov, the dialog is intelligent and thoughtful in a way that few commercial films can ever aspire to, and the cast is just wonderful (I adore Oliver Pratt as the engineer who keeps upgrading Andrew over the years). While there are certainly very funny moments, this is not a comedy at all, but a drama with comedic touches. The robot, Andrew, undergoes an evolution that mirrors that of the thoughtful mind, an increasing awareness of the human environment he inhabits - yet is separate from - and the understanding that reality is what we make of it. This might be one of the best adaptions of an Asimov story to the screen - if anyone reading this cares to challenge this opinion, show me the frames.

Not a great trailer, but it'll give you the general gist of the film

By the end of the movie, I was in tears. Very few movies are this fulfilling, uplifting, capable of making me feel more alive and in the moment. The Bicentennial Man is a modern classic, and anyone doubting Williams' acting range, should take a couple of hours and immerse themselves in a film that's pretty darned close to being nothing less than awesome. The ending might be one of the most moving, romantic and satisfying few minutes I've ever seen in any film, and left me swooning. It's a wonderful "date film" - at least, for the kind of woman I'd like to watch it with, who would appreciate it as much I as do.

A footnote - one of the movie reviewers I usually agree with, Ebert, gave this movie two out of four stars, and he apparently felt that the movie started strong, and ended weakly, essentially coming to the conclusion that, "Bicentennial Man begins with promise, proceeds in fits and starts, and finally sinks into a cornball drone of greeting-card sentiment".  I have to respectfully disagree with Ebert, I felt tremendously satisfied, especially towards the end. To each their own, I suppose.

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