But in stewing over my gut level reaction that I didn't really feel like it was his most phenomenal acting or anything and that the movie is hardly one of my favorites of his, something sort of clicked.
Sometimes there is a story that is done so well that other renditions of that same story lines in other times or whatever, will just never be able to hold a candle to the version that was so exceptionally done.
For me, the story of Peter Pan and the follow up movie Hook, that Robin Williams was also in, are much the same story as Bicentennial Man. And both the original written story/sceen play and Hook are so utterly exceptional in my mind that very very little could top them. Granted, Robin Williams has a better chance than most at being able to top one of his previous performances. And certainly he was exceptional in the role in any objective sense, but it just can't compare to my love of PP and Hook.
Both stories are stories of the nature of being outside of the course of life. The effects of having the choice between being human or being eternal. Both are stories of the importance of a fall from grace and the need for humanity and curiosity that sparks it. Pan realizes as the people he loves on earth age and leave him that there is something more fundamental than grace. He takes the apple when he picks his happy thought and wants to be a father. Andrew takes it when he begins to feel remorse and love for a little girl and wants to know her in every way possible.
Both are trapped with the dilema of their own mortality in exchange for their ability to love and grow and be human in all respects. Both know that it was easier to fight, crow and serve than it is to understand what it is to be whole, but both are driven by what is perhaps the core of humanity, their curiosity and need for love.
For me, both of those renditions are fascinating representations in some sense, but to me, the magnitude of ability to accurately portray a child and child like innocence without overdoing it or making it trite is far more of an acting challenge than being a robot. Williams is good at both, but I know that he spent many years as a mime and that something mechanical is one of the most basic fundamentals of that art. He was exception at it, by any realistic measure, since he put himself through school on such performances. But it takes...a certain development of extreme art beyond just skill to capture a child without simply capturing the characature of a child...without giving into the hollywood stereotypes. Robin Williams is one of the only men I can imagine capable of doing so so well.
Bicentennial Man is certainly a good movie, and one that I would happily watch again, but I think that it will never touch me as deeply as Hook has, or stay with me as long. It endures for me much more on the basis of a line from a Robert Fulghum essay than because of it's overall effect. "Just-a-man who loved just-a-woman for just-a-time more than anything else in the world." On that front it can always make me cry. But it does not haunt me and return to my thoughts the same way as his emotion as a child.