Judge Steve Power doesn't rise, or rise again without a decent cup of coffee.
Our reviews of Robin Hood: Season One (published June 27th, 2007), Robin Hood: Season One (Blu-Ray) (published October 1st, 2008), Robin Hood (1973) (Blu-ray) 40th Anniversary (published August 6th, 2013), and Robin Hood: Season Three (published April 30th, 2010) are also available.
"You build a kingdom the same way you build a cathedral, from the ground up!"—Robin Longstride
Director Ridley Scott (Kingdom of Heaven) and Russell Crowe (American Gangster) are back together for a fifth go-around in their much maligned take on the legend of the world's most famous outlaw. Does this latest traipse through mud and fog with sword and shield live up to the past exploits of Sir Ridley and his affable(yes, I said affable) Kiwi cohort? Are we not entertained?
Facts of the Case
Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe, Body of Lies) is just another archer in King Richard's army. When "The Lionheart" is killed in battle on the road home from the Crusades, Robin and his cohorts, Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes, Band of Brothers), Little John (Kevin Durand, Legion) and Alan A'Dayle (Canadian Folk Musician Alan Doyle) desert and make their way back to merry 'ole England. A chance encounter with the King's knights along the road sees Robin assume the role of Sir Robert Loxley, son of the lord of Nottingham, and sees him tasked to return a precious sword to Loxley's father, Walter (Max Von Sydow, Shutter Island). Along the way he makes friends and enemies, discovers the truth of his hazy past, and fights off a French invasion. It's all in a day's work for the man who would be Robin Hood.
(NOTE: This particular section is dedicated to Robin Hood in its Unrated Director's Cutform.)
When originally announced, the filmmakers proposed radically different takes on the Robin Hood legend; at one point Robin Hood was a sort of medieval English vigilante, actually the alter ego of the Sheriff of Nottingham himself. On another occasion, Robin Hood was the villain, while the Sheriff of Nottingham was a sort of Medieval Gil Grissom, hard at work on the investigation that would bring the notorious outlaw to justice. While these ideas sounded great in soundbite form, somewhere along the line, someone recognized the foolhardiness of these plans and sanity prevailed. I'm unsure whether it was Ridley, Crowe, or producer Michael Grazer, but someone steered the ship in a more classic direction, and we wound up with a surprisingly effective telling of the origin of Robin Hood, based on the classic yarns, but more grounded in 13th century reality. This is a tale of the strife of the little man in the face of adversity from crown and country. A tale of standing up and being heard when you've been all but abandoned by those who would be your governors. Rising, and rising again, until the lambs (the commoners, the workers, and the farmers) become lions. It's a simple metaphor for sure, but one at the very heart of the Robin Hood tale.
The script, credited to Brian Helgeland (Payback), certainly does move around, from the road home following the third Crusades and the death of King Richard, to the coronation of King John and a foiled French Invasion led by King Philip. Shoehorned in there is the tale of a simple archer, and what his namesake meant to the people of Northern Britain. There's also the large group of orphans who inhabit Sherwood Forest and prey on the already stretched thin town of Nottingham, King John's taxing of the Northern Barons to refill the crown's exhausted war-coffers, and Marion's efforts to maintain her lands and status in Nottingham in the face of the Sheriff and his hunt for back taxes. There are quite a few balls in the air at any given time and Helgeland does an admirable job of juggling all of the subplots, keeping them weaving in and out of the central narrative without shifting the focus too much or feeling like one plot or another is getting the shaft. What's more, he's managed to instill a bit of interest in each without them feeling superfluous. Just when you think that maybe one plot element too many has been added to the mix, one of the existing elements is resolved. It keeps things moving pretty rapidly, and allows the audience to shift gears along with the film.
There's plenty of drama here that's perfectly typical of the full bodied historical period piece; much politicking abounds with talk of taxes, crowns, kings, lords, and human rights. Not exactly what some may be looking for in a typical Robin Hood flick, but that said, the script does infuse the characters with a little bit of life, and dialogue often has an undercurrent of humour and wit. While the action and the plot are rife with the heady human drama you might expect from the man behind Kingdom of Heaven and Gladiator, there's also a breezy, laughably adventurous feeling running beneath that can only be described as the spirit of Robin Hood. At first glance, it may not look like it, and it certainly doesn't play like it, but make no bones about it, this is Robin Hood. If you'll permit me to use a cliché, Robin Hood as you've never quite seen him before.
Much of the sense of joy comes from the cast, which is universally fantastic. Russell Crowe owns the screen. Proving once again why he was ever considered to be one of Hollywood's best leading men. His Robin of the Hood is a more world weary, roguish figure, though not without his charms. I haven't seen a character come this close to Crowe's own heart since Captain "Lucky" Jack Aubrey in Master and Commander. Russell puts a lot into this one, he's having a great time, and it shows. Cate Blanchett is equally captivating as Marion. She is the sort of tough woman Cate excels at portraying; no nonsense, tough as nails, and ever resistant to an opposing force, if not opposing charms. From the opening scenes, catching her in the midst of being invaded by brigands, to her relationship with Robin, to her appearance in the final act, Cate excels at making the role her own. She plays off of Crowe incredibly well, and it's very nice to see these sorts of "aged" movie stars still playing up the romance. Scott Grimes, Alan Doyle, and Kevin Durand fill the role of Robin's "merry men," and do so with ease. Each scene they appear in is a romp, and the fun these actors are having is infectious. Alan's skills as a minstrel come in handy was well, with several songs appearing in the film, belted out with the gusto you expect of the frontman of Great Big Sea.
Max Von Sydow stands out in a supporting cast full of recognizable faces. He brings just enough gravitas and a contrasting degree of humor to his role as the aged lord of Nottingham as to leave a lasting impression. His scenes with Crowe come damn close to those magical moments between Crowe and Richard Harris in the first act of Gladiator. Other notables include William Hurt (Mr. Brooks) as a former aide to King Richard and friend to Walter of Locksley, Eileen Atkins (Gosford Park) with a chilling turn as Queen Elanore, a virtually unrecognizable Danny Huston (The Proposition) as King Richard The Lionheart and Mark Addy (A Knight's Tale) as the typically humorous Friar Tuck.
The rogues gallery is equally impressive; most notably the rock solid Mark Strong (Body of Lies) as the French double agent, Godfrey. Strong is quickly becoming the go to guy for villainy, and he does it oh so well. He rips through scenery like a buzzsaw, and by film's end, you want to see him get his. Meanwhile Oscar Isaac (Body of Lies) is truly detestable as King John, a subhuman ego maniacal tyrant. Matthew Macfayden (Frost/Nixon) plays the traditional baddie, the Sheriff of Nottingham, here relegated to that of a minor ancillary character. Still, he gives it a good effort and leaves an impression.
There's a significant degree of historical inaccuracy and anachronisms at play. For one thing; I'm pretty sure the French didn't use oar-powered Higgins Boats to invade Great Britain; sure it looks like Saving Private Ryan writ medieval, but if you really think too hard about it your brain may bleed out through your ears. To further pick nits, King Richard didn't die in any manner even close to what was portrayed in the film, though there was an arrow involved. Still, if Robin Hood's lack of accuracy gives you a headache, you'd have a brain hemorrhage with Gladiator, and your head would probably erupt Scanners-style if you watched Kingdom of Heaven. Ridley Scott's greatest gift as a director has always been his way of telling a tale in a world so detailed, so well conceived, and so fully realized, that history and truth be damned. You believe in his films because the world in which his stories are told is just so damned believable. Robin Hood is no exception. Ridley's typically excellent visuals are in full effect as well, with some gorgeous landscapes, wonderful widescreen composition, and truly energetic battle sequences.
The 1080p AVC encoded image captures the great look perfectly. Fine detail abounds, and there's a little grain present, which is common of all of Sir Ridley's films on Blu-ray, but it never looks anything but natural. The colors range from striking and warm to dreary and grey depending on the surroundings, but always look great. I didn't notice any blurring or edge halos (save for one scene towards the end), but there was definitely a little bit of shimmer here and there, particularly in some of the costumes that's barely worth mention. It's not quite the visual powerhouse that Avatar or Iron Man 2 might be, but the look serves the film very well, and should satisfy.
The DTS HD Master audio track on the other hand, is a roaring and immersive mix that's about as good as it gets. From the booming fury of the action scenes to the quiet ambiance of the more mundane moments, the sound is completely immersive and never anything but crystal clear, with directional effects incredibly well implemented. Marc Streitenfeld's great score is mixed perfectly as well, rousing and booming or quiet and subdued as the movie requires. This is reference quality stuff.
On top of two cuts of the film, the extended director's cut and the theatrical version, the slate of extras provided is also pretty extensive, Chief amongst them is Rise, and Rise Again an hour plus look at the film that begins in the very early "Nottingham" days and leads right into release. It's not as exhaustive as some of Scott's past offerings, paling in comparison to "The Path to Redemption" (from the Director's cut of Kingdom of Heaven) or "Strength and Honor" (from the extended version of Gladiator with their three hour-plus runtimes. It is however, an engaging watch, and it's more than adequate compared to most of the marketing fluff that's out there. There are a few additional scenes present, with an intro and commentary provided by Editor Pietro Scalia, and the usual collection of production stills is present, including the now traditional Ridleygrams. There's a particularly neat feature that's been popping up on a few Blu-rays lately that allows you to use an iPod Touch or iPhone as an interactive remote control. Sadly, technical issues kept me from trying it out. We're given a standard definition DVD to serve as a loaner or a drink coaster, and a digital copy of the film's theatrical cut, allowing us to watch Robin Hood wherever our technology will allow us.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Upon viewing the theatrical cut of Robin Hood, I suddenly understood why opinions were so torn initially. Much like another Scott epic, Kingdom of Heaven, the Director's cut is pretty much the only way one should experience Robin Hood. Upon checking out the theatrical version, admittedly following my viewing of the Director's cut, there were several scenes I missed immediately, scenes that were integral to the flow of the film. While not a complete failure, the theatrical feature comes off as feeling half cooked, with some sub plots that aren't given the time they need to be fully fleshed out. If you liked elements of the theatrical version, but ultimately found things a little too scattered or disjointed, I'd recommend taking a look at the extended version. It's not so revelatory as the Kingdom of Heaven Director's Cut, but it's a marked improvement that definitely smoothes out the bumps in the road.
Sure, it could be argued that the original concepts bandied about were more interesting than the finished product, and sure, many may feel that Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe have made better films together, but the cloud of negativity that surrounds Robin Hood's 2010 incarnation is largely unwarranted. Sir Scott has crafted a fine historical piece that sits pretty handsomely in the upper middle tier of a pretty exemplary body of work. Universal's Blu-ray is every bit as good as the feature, and will make a worthy addition to any collection that holds Scott's past historical epics. Robin Hood, may not look like what we've come to expect of the Sherwood Outlaw, but that spirit is alive and well in this more grounded take on the classic legend.
I hereby declare Robin Hood's detractors to be OUTLAWS!
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• Theatrical Cut
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