Thursday, July 23, 2009

“I had a very sad childhood, I'll tell you about it sometime. I never knew my parents; it's amazing I'm sane..”

Well, after viewing The Adventures of Robin Hood, I suppose it was inevitable that I would next turn to 1991’s controversial (in that a lot of people hate it) Kevin Costner flick Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. However, there is one caveat. I am not watching the original theatrical cut, but rather the two-disc extended version (which comes in a rather nice package from Warner Bros. in a similar setup to the 1938 Robin Hood film, which I have to admit, is a nice touch on WB’s DVD department).

A prison break in the Jerusalem leads to two unlikely allies heading to England, where our hero of noble blood discovers that his father has been killed and lands confiscated. Outraged at this, and at the treatment of the people around him by the local authorities, he becomes an outlaw, vowing vengeance and trying to get in the pants of an old childhood acquaintance. He moves to the woods to have ADVENTURE! for 155 minutes in the extended version.

Robin of Locksley/Robin of the Hood: You know, for as much crap as Kevin Costner’s accent in this film gets, its honestly not that horrible. Anyway, Robin in this film has broken out of a Muslim prison in Jerusalem after getting caught while on crusade with King Richard. He’s apparently been somewhat estranged from his father (a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from anthropomorphic personification of Caps Lock, BRIAN BLESSED) and was a jerkass as a kid. On his return, he’s a humbled man, seeking justice against the wrongs he sees going on. However, the movie cheats at character growth, because we only see him as he is now, not how he got there, and the only real arc he has, deciding to protect Marian and become and outlaw, gets settled pretty quickly. Robin also has a distinct lack of IMPUDENCE in this film, being rather more low key in this film.
Azeem: It is a strange habit that modern filmmakers insist on inserting token minorities into period films taking place in homogenous regions in homogenous times. Still, that can be forgivable if the token minority character is played by Morgan Freeman. Freeman brings a gentle charm to the Moor, Azeem, who has sworn a debt to save Robin’s life just as Robin saved his, following him all the way to England to achieve that goal. The character is rather likable, except that he’s written as some kind of Wonder Moor, able to perform a cesarean section without any prior experience and to fashion a telescope some 400 years before their invention. Also, he has a ridiculously oversized scimitar that makes the historian in me sigh bitterly.
Little John: British character actor Nick Brimble in a big fake looking beard. A jolly sort of fellow, and a family man with eight kids. Aside from the family man angle, he’s the standard “big guy” role that usually ends up around Little John.
Lady Marian Dubois: Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Maid Marian (oddly enough not Fitzwalter in this film). She is very attractive and is ultimately a faux action girl, with only her debut as an example of her swordfighting skills. After that, she's straight up helpless for no reason. She knew Robin back when he was a childhood asshole, and grows impressed by Robin’s changed heart. Her brother died in Jerusalem, aiding Robin’s escape. She was okay, but her character didn’t have anything terrific to make her stand out against other Marians.
Will Scarlett: Now this is interesting. Christian Slater plays Will off as an angry young man and, along with Little John, as one of the leaders of the Sherwood outlaws that Robin stumbles upon. As soon as Robin stands up to lead the crew, Will is in his face, calling him out and generally acting like an ass to him. Turns out he has some very personal reasons to dislike Robin of Locksley that get revealed later on. I was personally impressed by the character in this since Will Scarlett is routinely neglected in various treatments of the legend, like in the 1938 version.
Friar Tuck: Who’s Line Is It Anyway? veteran Michael McShane appears rather late in the film, but boy howdy does he make an entrance. McShane plays the fat friar as an unapologetic boozehound, hamming up the screen whenever he opens his mouth. Interestingly enough, he gets an arc about how much Azeem’s religion bothers him, but the two eventually become bros.
Duncan: Walter Sparrow plays the blinded Duncan. Poor, poor Duncan. Blinded because of his loyalty to BRIAN BLESSED (not a metaphor), later in the film he manages to ride to Robin with a waning about Marian, only to die…for some reason. It wasn’t like he was shot or anything, he just died.
Guy of Gisborne: Michael Wincott is the thuggish Gisborne, a pale shadow in comparison to Basil Rathbone. An oily, loutish, marble-mouthed goon for the real villain, he proves to be quite incapable of halting Robin’s aggressions.
Mortianna: Well, here’s a new one: an old, crazy eyed crone who lives in a flooded basement and keeping up the Old Ways of pagan gods and blood sacrifices. She’s a scheming, evil creature with prophetic visions and is the advisor of...
The Sheriff of Nottingham (George): Alan Rickman is your Badass for today. Playing the Sheriff as the Villain, he steals every scene, then chews it up as a gloriously evil, scheming bastard. Dressed in all black at all times, long hair, goatee and just a filthy, lecherous cur of a man, he gets the lion’s share of interesting characterization and dialog (I’ll cut out your heart with a spoon!). I can say with full confidence that he is the absolute best character in the movie.

Visuals (Direction/Effects)
Let’s see, directed by Kevin Reynolds. A look at IMDB show him to be also the director of Waterworld. Hmm. Anyway, the movie is shot on location in England, which is a very nice touch that adds to the scenery. The cinematography is also quite nicely shot, although Reynolds does have a curious habit of shooting close ups of people at all times when they’re talking.

One thing I will fault the movie on is the pacing. I know I’ve got the extended cut here, but the added scenes are mostly focused on the Sheriff, which are great and fit in nicely with the rest of the narrative. The overall nature of the story is, well, sluggish in a lot of places. When Robin & his men set up shop in Sherwood and build their own Ewok Village, the narrative grinds almost to a halt. Its not that the scenes individually were bad, but that added together, it was altogether too much sitting around and talking that made me start to get fidgety on my couch.

And speaking of Ewok Villages, what the hell? Robin Hood builds an Ewok Village in Sherwood Forest. On the Silly/Awesome Scale, I’d have to say that it leans rather a bit toward silly. The fight scenes are also a little lackluster, particularly the Battle of Endo-, er, Sherwood Forest and the final duel. Its not that Costner and Rickman don’t try in their climactic fight scene, its just that you can tell they’re actors much more so than swordsmen, and the fight, while not awful, is much clunkier than the Flynn/Rathbone duel. However, the shot where Robin shoots a flaming arrow right at the camera? Bloody brilliant.

The script by Pen Densham is largely competent. Dialog isn’t normally painful and the concepts added to the legend (Robin coming back from Crusades to find his father dead, the presence of a Moor in England, the witch woman, Will Scarlett’s character development, etc) are all quite interesting in their own right. I was even able to turn a blind eye to most of the historical inaccuracies, except for the Celts. That’s where I draw the line. Why in hell were there Roman-era Pagan Celts running around in Sherwood Forest attacking the Ewok Village? There is so much wrong with that sentence that I can’t even think about it without a headache. I don’t even feel like ranting about it. Just do some research on your own, Wiki it or whatever, and imagine it reworded into my narrative voice.

Ah, now here’s something I can heap great big dollops of praise onto. Michael Kamen’s score is a rousing supply of ADVENTURE! in the grand old tradition of Hollywood. I don’t care if I get hell for this or not, but I think it compares nicely to Korngold’s Oscar winning soundtrack for the 1938 version. Kamen’s score may not be quite as perfect, but it’s a close second. The only thing that yanked me out of the musical side of things was the Bryan Adams song that played over the end credits. Its not that I don’t like “Everything I Do” but its just so strange to hear an early 90s ballad at the end of something that had until just then been filled with classically orchestrated ADVENTURE! music.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is an interesting movie when you get down to it. It tries some interesting experiments with the Robin Hood mythos. It also tries to add some modern gritty drama while still nodding heavily back to the ADVENTURE! of yore. Pacing issues (and those stupid, stupid Celts) aside, its an enjoyable movie. If you’re a Robin Hood fan, of course this should be on your list. Also see it for some beautiful English scenery, for the film actually giving a lot of face time to Will Scarlett, but above all, see it for Alan Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham. That alone would be worth your while. Recommended, but with the understanding that there is a better Robin Hood film out there.

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