With the book I’ve recently started (more on this later), I became tempted to go back a look at Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves again. Amazon has the extended cut of this film (as well as the original) available for free streaming for Prime subscribers. Finally, not being in the mood for anything else, I decided to watch it again.
It is much worse than I remembered it.
I read in online-review comments somewhere that some of the flaws are typical for 1990s movies. If that’s true, there may be a lot of other movies from that time that need a serious downgrading from how I remember them. I only watched Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves once before, when it came out on video. I thought it was OK but not great. It was a big-budget title that more than earned its keep at the box office. Whatever flaws there were in the implementation, I felt, were balanced by the big-budget entertainment value. How I ever thought that, I don’t know.
This film is confused. Is it mean to be a period piece, placing the characters of the Robin Hood legend in a realistic setting? Is it meant to be a fantasy/fairy tale? Is it action? Romance? Comedy? Not only am I, the viewer, confused about it but nobody seemed to convey the vision to the actors.
Some of the actors seem to be treating it as a stage play. Others realistic. Some are going purely for comedy, even outside of where “comic relief” would fit into a serious film. Costner himself seems like a high school kid trying to play Shakespeare. Or maybe junior high. He essentially acts as “himself,” but trying to alter his wording so he sounds a little less 1990s California. So all his “can’ts” become “can nots.” Beyond that “Kevin Costner” presence, there doesn’t seem much to his role. A few nice moves by his stunt double aside, he’s not particularly heroic. Nor passionate. Nor much of anything. His “understated nice guy” personality, which may have worked in The Untouchables or Dances with Wolves (do I dare watch those two again, now?), is just all wrong for this character.
Alan Rickman is often cited as the high point of this film (even in the marketing copy on Amazon, I might add), and perhaps he is. But his performance, reviewed today, is not as great as memory would have it. He is capable of portraying villains masterfully, so one assumes that he is going to carry the Sheriff of Nottingham easily. And yet has so much working against him. His looks of evil are overblown by using these ultra close up, fish-eye shots of his face – to make him look extra evil, I suppose. Other scenes have weird jokes tossed in. In fact, several of the most jarringly out-of-place lines I have since read were ad-libbed by Rickman because he thought the script was so weak.
The “extended scenes,” while we are at it, don’t really alter the movie that much. Unlike some other DVD treatments, the extra material doesn’t really alter the underlying story. They add about 12 minutes of the film and augment a couple of themes, but there is nothing revealing here.
That script, as a whole, is such a weird mish-mash of stuff, as I said, I don’t know what to make of it. You’ve got the Marion as Ninja and the Nobel Muslim schooling Friar Tuck and all the other heathen Christians what it means to be civilized. It is an early political correctness run amok, but before the current culture wars made it so obvious. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind a little revisionist exaggeration of the technology and culture gap between the Christian and Muslim worlds of the 12th Century. If anyone is going to lecture us on our Christian bias, Morgan Freeman is probably the one to do it. But this goes beyond the pale. Freeman’s Moor is a jack of all trades and a learned scholar regarding science, religion, medicine and, well, you name it. It’s a MacGyver meets Kwai Chang Caine and then some. These details shouldn’t obscure the holes in the film’s premise. That a sheriff is going to seize the throne from King Richard, who is apparently known to be in France at the time, by gaining the backing of a handful of Baron’s who are into witchcraft? Or something like that.
It starts to become almost painful to think about.
The saving grace was to be the big-budget action sequences. Don’t think. Just watch and enjoy the ride.But even here, time has not been favorable. We’ve entered an era where we expect our period dramas to get that period right, and Robin Hood just seems sloppy to the modern eye. One particular scene that slapped me in the face was where the troops of the Sheriff attack the Sherwood Forrest stronghold of Robin, after he has driven off some Celtic mercenaries. We have some impressive scenes of fire archers and even catapults raining destruction down upon the women and children seek reference among the treetops of the dense forest. So how do you film a company of archers launching flaming arrows through the forest? Short answer, apparently, is you can’t. When the archers are drawn up for the dramatic foreshadowing shot, we see them hidden behind some trees. When they launch their arrows, they are clearly in an open field. Made today, we would have been treated to some CGI magic to fix this. Back then, you had to actually film archers with arrows aflame. These are small complaints, but with this being the only leg the move had left to stand on, it becomes my final straw.
I haven’t even got so far as to see Sean Connery’s cameo, but I think I’m going to try to stick it out until end. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.