Warner Bros. // 1991 // 155 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // August 1st, 2011
Sometimes the only way to uphold justice...is to break the law.
In 1991, it was a box-office smash. Now, twenty years later, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is remembered primarily for three things: Michael Kamen's score, Alan Rickman's performance, and Kevin Costner's accent. Universal's extended edition Blu-ray gives Robin and his merry men one more moment in the sun.
The movie plays fast and loose with the legend, but the basics are still there: Robin of Locksley (Kevin Costner, Dances With Wolves), captured by Turks during the Third Crusade, escapes from prison with the help of the enigmatic Muslim Azeem (Morgan Freeman, Along Came a Spider). Robin's return home turns dark indeed when he discovers that in the absence of King Richard, the evil Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2) has taken control, sending his minions, led by his cousin Guy of Gisbourne (Michael Wincott, Alien Resurrection). Finding himself on the run, Robin makes for the relative safety of Sherwood Forest, where he encounters a ragtag group of villagers who are themselves on the lam. With their help, Robin intends to restore justice to the land, avenge his father, win the heart of Maid Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, The Abyss), and build the bitchingest tree condos in all of Sherwood.
Despite the heavy doses of '90s cheese, there is so much to like about Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Director Kevin Reynolds frames the action well, creating a number of near-iconic shots. As a whole, acting is strong, even from the supporting cast, and Michael Kamen's rousing score has become almost ubiquitous. The main flaw of the film is at times it's a romance, at times it's an action flick, at times, it's an adventure -- but the various parts never quite form a coherent whole, so that you're jerked all over the place. That fragmentation is exacerbated by Kevin Costner's performance, which has the same problem. Forget the accent; actors have delivered great performances with dodgy accents (to his credit, the first thing Costner does on the commentary track is admit that he shouldn't have even tried the accent). The problem is that Costner never seems comfortable in the role, as though he never fully synthesized the various character traits displayed throughout the movie; the few times he essays an Errol Flynn-esque bon mot, they fall flat. No, wait -- it works one time, when they are robbing a nobleman's coach and Robin flirts with the pretty young daughter even as he takes the ring from her finger. He had the Errol Flynn twinkle in that fleeting instant. But that's the only time the vibe really works. Costner's clearly not phoning it in -- both commentary tracks talk about how he threw himself into the part -- but his acting style just isn't well-suited to an extroverted action-adventure lead, a fact underscored every time he's on screen with Alan Rickman.
Alan Rickman. Holy Jesus. Rickman turned down the role of the sheriff several times, only agreeing with the understanding that he would have free rein to explore the character. The result, like Robin Hood himself, is the stuff of legend, with Rickman going so over the top that the only way he could have chewed more scenery was if he had been on the combined sets of The Ten Commandments and Cleopatra. If you gave him a half-ton of Valium with a gallon of laudanum to wash it down, you might get him dialed down to eleven. He sneers, he struts, he shouts, he spits, he crawls on his belly like a reptile...You simply cannot take your eyes off him. As fun as the performance is, it -- as well as the expanded subplot -- feel like both belong in a different movie. At the same time, Costner's Robin is just bland in comparison. Making matters worse, the added footage expands the sheriff's role even further, to the point that only a little tweaking would result in Rickman being the lead in a truly perverse Shakespearean tragedy.
All in all, it's a fun movie, but the parts don't add up to a greater whole.
Technically, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (Blu-ray) is good, but it's not a disc you'll be using to show off your equipment. The VC-1 encoded video is based on the earlier DVD release, and probably would have benefited from a fresh remastering; colors and textures are fairly crisp, though evidence of edge enhancement abounds. The audio isn't quite as good, with serious mixing inconsistencies from scene to scene -- I had to adjust the volume throughout the film. Surround imaging is a little dodgy at times, but the overall feel is effective, and the low frequency response brings out the best in the action sequences as well as Michael Kamen's score (the score has become so pervasive that I had forgotten that it came from this particular movie -- the omnipresence of Bryan Adam's "Everything I Do" apparently overwhelmed all other musical memory from the movie).
The disc brings over the solid slate of extras from the DVD release, headlined by dual commentary tracks, one with Kevin Costner and director Kevin Reynolds, and the other with Morgan Freeman and Christian Slater, as well as the writing/producing team of Pen Densham and John Watson. Both tracks are fun, informative, and both feature multiple instances of people in awe of Alan Rickman. The 5.1 surround music-only track is a worth a listen as well.
It's never going to threaten Errol Flynn, but Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is a fun stroll through Sherwood Forest, though for some reason, you keep expecting to see a pair of fuzzy dice hanging from a tree.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (German)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Italian)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 155 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Isolated Score
* Music Video
* TV Spots