Saturday, June 12, 2010

Robin Hood Begins...

First of all, Let me say I really wanted to like Ridley Scott's Robin Hood.  There is so much to like about the character of Robin Hood from the original literature, of which almost nothing was gleaned by Scott or Russell Crowe to make this particular incarnation of the outlaw remotely likeable.  From the revisionist history, through the wooden acting of Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett (could they make her more manlike?) to the anachronistic props, awkward cinematography, cheesy soundtrack and words thinly disguised as a script, this film was a misuse of millions of studio dollars and a colossal waste of two hours and twenty minutes of my precious time.

Of course I shouldn't expect an accurate portrayal of history from a Ridley Scott film.  One needs only to look at Gladiator and his liberal use of revisionism to know that he is rarely impeded by the truth in storytelling.  It's as if he believes his audience will be so enthralled with the story he is telling that they will forget to look up the facts.  Or maybe he thinks he is telling the truth in some alternate Blade Runner universe.  The closest encounter with historical fact in this film was that Richard the Lionheart was killed by a crossbow bolt to the neck.  The events preceding the fatal injury and the events following bear no resemblence to the incident portayed in the film I saw tonight. 

There was the intimation of the rebellious barons of England forcing John to sign the Magna Carta but alas, John evaded that in the movie while his alter ego in history did not.  In this version, John Lackland seemed to have the upper hand in everything, while being a snivelling, pompous, arrogant, conceited, buffoonish two dimensional stock character.  That could have been the fault of the actor, but this reviewer believes it is more likely caused by poor script writing.  These are just a sampling of the liberties Ridley Scott has taken and continues to take with history when he is making films.  Heaven forbid he should be shackled with the truth.
This being said, it is almost certain that the character of Robin Hood is a literary figure, not an historical one.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers couldn't capture the literary essence of Robin Hood either.  The beginning placards talked about how Robin Hood became an outlaw by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, and yet there was almost no other reference to it in the entire film.  He wasn't even labled an outlaw until the last few lines King John spoke at the end of the film.  The Sheriff of Nottingham who is a pivotal character in the story of Robin Hood was barely seen as a minor character with no real bearing on the action.  Sir Guy of Gisbourne, Robin Hood's arch nemesis wasn't even mentioned, instead he was replaced by the antagonist Godfrey who is historically out of phase with the mythos by about a hundred years, give or take a decade or two. 

The Merry Men were sidenotes in this version rather than being integrel to the plot.  None of them were compelling enough in this film to convince me they belong in a (heaven forbid) sequel.  This film seemed to be more like "Robin Hood Begins" than it did Robin Hood.  Perhaps the sequel should be called, "The Green Knight."

Sometimes a poor script can be rescued with great acting performances.  This was unfortunately not the case in Robin Hood.  After Russell Crowe dogged Kevin Costner's portrayal of Robin Hood I expected so much more from him.  Frankly, Crowe's version made me almost forgive Costner of his equally bad version and I found myself wishing for the good old days of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.  Crowe's portrayal of Robin Hood was equally as wooden in his portrayal of Maximus in another Ridley Scott film, Gladiator.  There were times tonight I couldn't tell if I was watching Maximus, Captain Jack Aubrey from Master and Commander, or Robin Hood.  The strong silent tough guy routine is getting old.  Please, Russell, let us see the same passion in your acting that you exhibited when you were assaulting paparazzi. 

Cate Blanchett, whom I almost always like by default whenever I see her in a film, could not overcome the frumpy costume, bad wig and bad writing to become a likeable ingenue.  The costume was unflattering even though Scott tried to show how appealing she was by focusing shots through Robin's eyes at her buttocks and down her blouse as if he could in someway see something that was hidden from the rest of us.  Between the two of them there was almost no chemistry, with the small exceptions when Robin told Marian to ask him nicely.  Those two small moments were not enough to rescue this very long, very tedious film.

The one bright spot in the acting performances was an aged Max Von Sydow, whom I almost always like, and someone who has been acting for so long it should be automatic.  Max did not dissappoint.

For the most part, the design of the film appeared to be accurate and well done.  I especially liked the heavy chain mail that most of the characters wore during battle scenes.  Some of the ruins appeared to be modern interpretations of what a ruin ought to be, and for a set designer like me that was distracting.  I'm speaking specifically of the broken arch in Nottingham that people on horseback were shown riding through repeatedly as if they spent alot of cash building it and wanted to get their money's worth from it. 

The design of the film seemed very credible until near the end when re-tooled WWII Normandy Invasion landing craft were employed to storm the beach at Dover.  Never mind the fact that Phillip II of France never got past the planning phase of invading England, by the way.  Peter Jackson got away with the WWII landing craft in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers because it was a different world and a different time they were portraying, so perhaps Scott decided he could too.  Anachronism only works, though if you employ it throughout the film or you happen to be Monty Python.

As the film climaxed, I began to see out of place helicopter shots coupled with underscoring that sounded like it was trying to be heroic but somehow missed the mark.  Some of the countryside they showed was stunning and magnificent but the movie had to be put on hold while the director decided to get the most out of the helicopter crew and show us some really pretty scenery.  The shots reminded me of similar shots in The Lord of the Rings movies, but in those, the helicopter shots with the triumphant, heroic underscoring worked.  The out of place shots in Robin Hood tended to take the momentum out of the film which was already tedious enough.

Speaking of tedium, the script writing was obvious and at times preachy.  Sometimes it was downright ludicrous.  For example, at the end of the film when the English are meeting the French at the White Cliffs of Dover and Maid Marian shows up in full, too small, battle armor with a host of either hobbits or lost boys, I couldn't tell which.  It was as if the filmmakers were trying to have a Robin Hood meets Peter Pan, meets Lord Of the Rings moment.  In LOTR though, Eowyn only had one hobbit, in Robin Hood, Marian had about twenty. 

There were several moments in the film that hinted at a LOTR or Saving Private Ryan influence.  The lighting of the beacons on the beach were reminiscent of the beacon lighting scene in The Return of the King.  The beacon lighting in Robin Hood fell far short of it's counterpart, however.  The arrows flying overhead at the battle on the beach were like many such scenes in the LOTR trilogy and also like similar scenes in Hero and yet in scope they were somehow lacking that kind of power in Robin Hood.  It was like comparing a pea shooter to a bazooka.  In the beach storming scene, there were several underwater shots  reminiscent of the D-Day scene in Saving Private Ryan but with arrows shooting through the water instead of bullets.  In short, most of the really interesting moments from the film seem to have been lifted from other films.  This was so rampant through this film that I hardly think it was any kind of homage.

All in all I've seen at least six incarnations of Robin Hood, including my personal favorite, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) with Errol Flynn and the 1922 silent Robin Hood with Douglas Fairbanks.  Of all the Robin Hoods, I would rank this one at or near the bottom battling with Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves for last place.  I tried to like it and I wanted to like it, but alas the filmmakers did not fulfil their part of the contract.  I'm fortunate that we waited to see it in the cheap theatre.

Recommendation:  See this one only if you are an insomniac.

*Note* This review is solely the opinion of the writer. *Note*


justsohappy said...

You could sum this film up in the phrase, "Speaking of tedium..." I think on the nights of insomnia I will watch the LOTR. :-) Stick with the good stuff.

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Anonymous said...

I'd planned on seeing this, but after reading your review, there's no need. Thank you for saving me both time and money!!

(awesome blog, by the way!)