As the 20th century came to a close and Y2K approached, more and more movies grappled with the implications of technology in our daily lives. Having learned the dangers of bringing dinosaurs back to life in “Jurassic Park,” Sam Neill found out that owning your own robot isn’t all it’s cracked up to be in 1999’s “Bicentennial Man.”
Directed by Chris Columbus, it casts Neill as Richard Martin, who brings home a brand new NDR-114 robot to help out around the house. The android, known as Andrew (Robin Williams), takes a liking to the Martin family, especially “Little Miss” Amanda (played as a child by Hallie Eisenberg and as an adult by Embeth Davidtz). Andrew slowly begins to develop thoughts and feelings, and soon tries to buy his freedom from Mr. Martin, who angrily banishes him from their home. Years pass, and Andrew falls in love with Amanda’s granddaughter, Portia (played again by Davidtz).
Hopes were high for the film, which was adapted from a short story by Isaac Asimov and a novel by Asimov and Robert Silverberg. But as Roger Ebert summed up, “‘Bicentennial Man’ begins with promise, proceeds in fits and starts, and finally sinks into a cornball drone of greeting-card sentiment.” The majority of reviews were just as negative. Todd McCarthy of Variety called it “an ambitious tale handled in a dawdling, sentimental way.” Despite its rotten reception, the movie did earn an Oscar nomination for its makeup, which transformed Williams into a living machine.