10 March 2009

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves Okay
By Kristin Battestella

As big as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was back in 1991, my recent rental is the first time I’ve seen it in a long time. In fact, I can’t recall having seen it from beginning to end all in one space before. With fine production values and a not often seen full look at the legend of Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood still looks good. Dated casting, however, makes for a serious stretch of believability.

After fighting the Third Crusade with King Richard the Lionheart (an uncredited appearance by Sean Connery), Robin of Locksley (Kevin Costner) breaks out of prison with the Moor Azeem (Morgan Freeman). They return to England, but find Robin’s father murdered and the local people oppressed by the vile Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman). With the vile witch Mortianna (Geraldine McEwan) and his cousin Guy of Gisborne (Michael Wincott), Nottingham hopes to steal the throne-securing his legitimacy by marrying Richard’s cousin Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). Unfortunately, Robin and his band of outlaws led by Little John (Nick Brimble), have something to say about it.

Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves (Two-Disc Special Extended Edition)The legend of Robin Hood is an old one, but writers Pen Densham and John Watson (The Magnificent Seven) add a modern spin with talk of freedom and crusades. Interesting amid the backdrop of the original George Bush that we have talk of rescuing Jerusalem from infidels and poor folk rising to fight and die as free men a la Braveheart. I applaud director Kevin Reynolds’ (The Count of Monte Cristo, Tristan + Isolde) attempted opening and history with the Crusade, but it’s out of place with the rest of the film and Reynolds has to begin his movie twice. In addition, as much as I adore Morgan Freeman’s wise Moor Azeem, his introduction to the tale here is too obviously an effort to diversify this Anglo Saxon story.

Though Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves isn’t as bright or colorful or innocent as its counterparts of old-1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood or Disney’s animated Robin Hood- its production does feel more natural and authentic. The weapons look good, along with the merry lifestyle of Forest living. The castles and locales are lovely, and the costumes look appropriate from the poorest child to the fancy Sheriff of Nottingham. Only the early nineties speech and pseudo twelfth century mullets look stupid.

Now, perhaps there are ladies out there who are still dreaming of Kevin Costner (Waterworld, Field of Dreams) but I have never been one of them. His clunky delivery and everyman look does not fit here as the young English noble returning to help his save his country. Not only is Costner’s alleged American appeal in your face, he doesn’t look athletic enough or down and dirty and scarred enough to rouse the oppressed people of Nottingham. And you needlessly see his scrawny pale ass! Miscast does not begin to describe his Robin Hood. I must also say this is not Alan Rickman’s (Die Hard, Harry Potter) best villainous turn as the Sheriff of Nottingham. His back-story comes too late, and he spends most the movie being maniacal and power hungry purely for dramatic effect. Michael Wincott’s (The Three Musketeers, The Crow) Guy of Gisborne is far more slick and subtle, but underused.

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (The Color of Money, The Abyss) is quite capable as Maid Marian, but again what had the chance to be a lovely performance is cut down to screams and quips for or about Robin. Even if we tend to think of Maid Marian as the ultimate damsel in distress; such a natural, mature, and modern film almost demands a meatier Maid Marian. And dear Lord, who decided to cast Christian Slater (Pump Up The Volume, Kuffs) as Will Scarlett? This stupidity reeks of competition with Bram Stoker’s Dracula and its casting of Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker. If you are on the cover of any teen magazine, it should automatically withdrawal you from ever being in contention for a costume flick or period piece.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ saving grace is the aforementioned gamble on Morgan Freeman as the indebted Moor Azeem. The script would have him be merely the Chewbacca to Robin Hood’s Solo, but Oscar winner Freeman (Million Dollar Baby) brings much needed class. We have quiet touches of Islam and racism along with beautiful intelligence and devotion. No doubt in 1991 Freeman had his choice of roles, but his onscreen performance shows he thought the role something special. In some ways, I wish they had not done a Robin Hood Kevin Costner vehicle. I would have liked to see a film strictly about Azeem and the trials he would face in Medieval England.

Once upon a time, the score by Michael Kamen (X-Men, Band of Brothers) was a beautiful composition with rousing booms and opus glory! Today, however, it’s merely eh. It’s too obviously placed in the film, and likewise we are all still sick of Bryan Adam’s love theme ‘Everything I Do (I Do It for You)’. Again, the first time you heard it, it wasn’t too bad; but over and over and then the music video was played over and over. I actually heard the song just last week, thinking ten years had been time enough to hear it again. Nope. I still prefer Adams and Kamen’s less fanatical ‘All for Love’ from The Three Musketeers and ‘Have You Every Really Loved a Woman’ from Don Juan Demarco. Although I must admit, it was a dang good music video; no Americanized Robin talketh or two and a half hour plus bloated run time. Of course, this massive popularity also brought us plenty of spoofs and knockoffs; including the very funny Robin Hood: Men in Tights (‘Unlike some other Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English Accent.’) and the not so good pre Pirates Keira Knightly yarn Princess of Thieves. Oiy.

Now, it’s a peeve of mine when subtitles don’t exactly match the spoken dialogue. Nevertheless, the written words are essential in telling who in Robin’s merry outfit is who. The sound, however, is a bit annoying as well. Loud music and action booms contrast against some very soft voices, making volume control a must. The DVD menus are also a little hokey, but the two-disc edition of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves hails the usual commentaries, behind the scenes, galleries, and trailers.

Fans of Robin Hood tales can take the good from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and modern audiences of swashbuckler flicks and adventure romps will enjoy as well. Purists and critical Locksley scholars might object to the liberties taken, but there aren’t many other Robin Hood films to applaud. Although there are a few implied sexual scenes and occasional coarse language, there’s nothing here that the whole family can’t gather round. Fans of the cast should indulge themselves as well. Robin Hood: Princes of Thieves is by no means perfect. It is however, more stylized and mature than its few and far between counterparts, so take a night in with England’s favorite outlaw while you wait for a proper Robin Hood and King Arthur and Beowulf.


WiseWolf said...

In inclusion of a Moorish character was inspired by the Saracen Nasir from the British series "Robin of Sherwood." This was the first time such a character had been put in a Robin Hood story. However, the film's creators saw that show and thought that Nasir was, like Tuck and Little John, a traditional Robin Hood character and called Azeem "Nasir" at first. Upon discovering that they could get in trouble with the "Sherwood" people for using their original character, they renamed him.

So, this was not an attempt to diversify the film, but a belief that such a character was always part of the mythos. Not a shabby achievement for a show made only seven years earlier.

Kristin Snouffer said...

Thanks for stopping by with your insights, Wolf!! Wow!

Freeman was indeed a highlight here and I still think it would have been very interesting indeed if more Moorish additions to Robin Hood were done, instead of the weird Costner being cool stuff here.

Man, it's been so long since I've seen Robin of Sherwood! I've seen it at the store on DVD a few times and have been very tempted.

Again, thanks for taking the time out to stop by and comment!