Considering that their last effort, 1993’s ”Mrs. Doubtfire,” grossed $219 million, you’d think any project featuring Williams and director Columbus would be an easy sell. But within weeks of ”Bicentennial”’s start date, Disney pulled the plug on the film — in which Williams plays a domesticated robot who gradually becomes human — saying the budget, approaching the centennial mark itself, was too high. ”I was kind of surprised,” says Columbus. ”Sets had been built, people had been hired. But my head went immediately into ‘How can we fix it?”’
The director says he trimmed ”nooks and crannies” from many of the film’s departments (like production design and wardrobe), but his headaches weren’t over. While the crew was filming in San Francisco’s newly remodeled city hall, one of the production’s 10K lights set off the building’s sprinkler system, causing a minor flood. ”The mayor showed up right away,” Columbus remembers. ”It put a stop to everything that night. That was not a wonderful moment.”
And the studio, it seems, still had one major concern: Williams’ robot costume covers the film’s most valuable asset, namely the star’s face. ”They were very worried at first whether people would tolerate it,” says Williams. ”You get notes from executives [like] ‘Does he have other expressions?’ No, it’s a robot, man. I got a note from an agent years ago when he saw the first dailies from ‘Popeye’: ‘Can you open your other eye?”’ BUZZ FACTOR: 6
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