Acorn Media // 1984 // 700 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // May 5th, 2011
Transports you to another place and time for thrilling clashes of good and evil.
Robin Hood is one of the more malleable characters in the history of literature. The basic story of an archer and his "merry men" living in the forest, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor has been embellished in countless ways throughout the years. Sometimes there's a class struggle, with Robin as a commoner resisting a tyrannical tax collector. At other times he's a nationalist, fighting for the "true king" (usually Richard the Lionheart) against usurpers. He's sometimes even a slumming aristocrat who can demonstrate that even those with titles need not forget the little people. Despite the variety of portrayals and the wildly different forms they've been written in (ballads, plays, novels, films), a few "facts" have solidified around Robin Hood. His merry band tends to be consistent, including Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlett, and his love interest Maid Marion. The Sherriff of Nottingham is the antagonist, and Robin hides from him in Sherwood Forest. Robin of Sherwood keeps those basic facts, but rather than going for a class-based or nation-based approach, instead provides a mystical Celtic origin for Robin Hood. The result is a quality television drama despite some of its dated moments. Fans of Robin new and old will appreciate Robin of Sherwood: Set 1 (Blu-ray).
Robin (Michael Praed, Dynasty) is just a young boy when the small hamlet of Loxley is burned down to make room for the king's hunting ground. When he grows up, he finds himself a poacher. Once caught he decides to rebel against the local government, represented by the Sheriff of Nottingham (Nickolas Grace). This brings him to the attention of Herne the Hunter (John Abineri, The Godfather: Part III), a mystical figure who makes Robin into Robin of the Hood, protector of the forest. Robin then embarks on a series of adventures in the forest, battling evil in all its forms.
All thirteen episodes of the first and second series are presented here across three Blu-ray discs, with a fourth DVD of extras:
* "Robin Hood and the Sorcerer: Parts One & Two"
* "The Witch of Elsdon"
* "Seven Poor Knights from Acre"
* "Alan a Dale"
* "The King's Fool"
* "The Swords of Wayland: Parts One & Two"
* "The Prophecy"
* "Lord of the Trees"
* "The Children of Israel"
* "The Enchantment"
* "The Greatest Enemy"
Watching Robin of Sherwood is a strange experience, as it always feels of two different worlds. Part of this is the fact that the show takes such a familiar character and sends him on new adventures. The first two-part episode of the series presents a pretty faithful rendition of Robin Hood most of us know and love. There's the fight with Friar Tuck, the battle with Little John on a footbridge, the Archery contest, and the falling in love with Maid Marion. After that, however, it's new adventures for Robin and his men, often involving the occult or supernatural. This strange split is reinforced by the show's photography. Much of it is shot in the woods, full of gorgeous greens and browns. Then the show will switch to a staged interior and start to feel like an old Masterpiece Theater episode. The show does a fine job conjuring a period atmosphere, with wonderful sets and costume, but then it gives Robin an Eighties mullet and puts Clannad's synths on the soundtrack. The contrast can be a little disorienting on occasion.
Despite these sometimes strange contrasts, Robin of Sherwood is a quality drama. The stories behind individual episodes are solidly written, characters change and grow throughout these seasons, and production values are generally pretty high. The actors involved are worth highlighting, from a young Ray Winstone (as Will Scarlett) to guests like John Rhys-Davies (as Richard the Lionheart) and Richard O'Brien (The Rocky Horror Picture Show).
Like the series itself, this Blu-ray set from Acorn Media is a set of contrasts. This starts with the look of the show. Although this 1.33:1 AVC-encoded transfer is generally strong, with wonderful color rendition and solid black levels, the original elements from which the transfer were created are not in the best of shape. There's damage to the original prints, including speckling, stray lines, and a kind of smeary grain. So, some scenes look pristine, like they were shot yesterday, while others look like the print was left on the dashboard of a PA's car before being transferred. However, even the worst scenes are a step above DVD, with a certain hi-def punch that's hard to knock. The Dolby stereo tracks keep the dialogue audible and do a decent job of spreading the Clannad soundtrack across the soundstage.
Generally, Acorn Media is known for releasing giant box sets of British programming, often entire series at once, but they're not known for their extras. Hopefully this Robin of Sherwood set is a sign of things to come, because it is loaded up with great extras. They start with five commentary tracks, three from series creator Richard Carpenter and director Ian Sharpe, and two from director Robert Young and producer Paul Knight. These are followed by three different documentaries about the series (running almost two-and-a-half hours all told), plus three featurettes, 16 minutes of outtakes, an extensive gallery of production stills (in HD), and PDF extras (including the original story document) on the bonus DVD. One of the more interesting special features is the appearance of music-only tracks on four of the episodes of Disc Three. Considering the importance of Clannad's contribution to the show, this is a great opportunity for fans to hear the music. Finally, there's a generous booklet with a long essay about Robin Hood, the series, and its impact.
Robin Hood purists (if such a thing exists) might balk at this somewhat radical reimagining of their green-clad hero. Other viewers might have trouble with the Eighties haircuts and music. Those not willing to forgive these small faults should probably avoid Robin of Sherwood.
Robin of Sherwood: Set 1 is a solid release of an interesting TV show. Whether you view Robin of Sherwood as the definitive Robin Hood or just an artifact of the Eighties, this set does an excellent job preserving the show in hi-def, with plenty of supplements to keep fans informed.
Robin of Sherwood is free to go back to the forest: not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* Full Frame (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 700 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries
* Isolated Score