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Robin Hood - Blu-ray Review


Robin Hood

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In past cinematic glories, Robin Hood, as a character, was more myth than man; swinging to-and-fro a la Errol Flynn or swimming butt-naked in the cool waters of Sherwood Forest a la Kevin Costner, but now, thanks to the writing talent of Brian Helgeland, the solid direction of Ridley Scott and the acting chops of Russell Crowe, audiences get the wooden myth whittled down to expose the raw nerves of the man – with bloody and beating skin – beneath; this is the real Robin Hood.  Certainly not the Gladiator metal-to-bone retread as advertised by a studio eager for swelling monetary returns, Scott and Crowe’s fifth outing is a rousing origin tale of political greed and adventure in a land where a swift arrow is more damaging than the sword.

Audiences already know the myth of Scott’s Robin Hood all-too-well; however, this isn’t the film’s concern.  It’s the promise of what we don’t know or haven’t seen yet that gives this piece its power.  When King Richard is killed in battle, Robin Longstride (Crowe), Little John (a very capable Kevin Durand), Will Scarlet (a fascinating Scott Grimes), and Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle) desert the army and cross paths with the end result of an ambush intended for the now-deceased King of England.  The ambush led by Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong) was plotted by King Philip of France who pretends to befriend the heir to the throne, Prince John (Oscar Isaac).  Robin, as England’s power wanes due to political in-fighting, recognizes the danger his home country is facing.  Longstride’s promise to return Sir Robert’s sword to the blind Sir Walter (Max von Sydow), whereupon he meets the widow Marian (Cate Blanchett), is what sparks the awakening of Robin’s inner desires to fight for an England on the edge of a massive civil war alongside Friar Tuck (Mark Addy) and his band of Merry Men.

Helgeland’s all-encompassing script showcases 12th-century British monarchy with precise detail and dismantles the thieving legend of Robin Hood in order to trace the man back to his roots; this is a beginning piece in which the familiar aspects of our hero – in full namesake-themed status – makes his appearance at the very end of the film. While being more dialogue-driven than one might think, the action of Robin Hood – complete with graphic battles along the countryside and along the coastline – assures that even the most attention-deficit patrons will be engaged in some manner during the film’s total running time.

Beautifully captured on film by James Mathieson (cinematographer of Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven), Robin Hood showcases some hidden gems of the picturesque North East England.  Whether or not some altering saturation of the earth toned colors have occurred there is a detailed crispness to the earnest green and browns of the fields and forests and this effect provides a sort-of confirmation for the audience; this is Robin Hood, real and raw.  Yet, it is Scott’s direction that flexes the best muscles throughout the film.  Not content with marginal theatrics, Scott elevates the performances and directs his actors tightly scene-by-scene and slams Little John’s deadly hammer-like quarterstaff down upon the action scenes; this is substance over style filmmaking.

While some critics will dismiss the film because it is not like the character dynamics of Gladiator, Crowe’s Hood is not the overly brooding type of hero that modern-day narratives fall back upon.  Of course, he does have a somewhat Magna Carta-like mythic childhood (which might dumb-found some) and, once uncovered from the dusting of age, Crowe’s reactions to his recovered past – subtle and insightful – are certainly revealing about the man who is soon to become England’s last best hope from over-taxation.  Crowe’s performance under Scott’s direction – while not as youthful or as blithe as previous incarnations - is confirmation of the team’s comprehensive understanding of the transformation within the role; from soldier to sole protector.  Yet, when it is time for Robin to sling his arrows, he does with complete skill and honesty of purpose.  Crowe’s blood-splattered face as he aims his bow at the last is certainly an iconic moment for both actor and director (and one for film history).  Should the story continue – and we have every reason to believe it will based upon the end title card – there is much in his performance as Robin Hood to look forward to.

While not as spirited as one might expect from a film about Robin Hood, to suggest the film is void of humor and over-serious is a bit of a stretch; there is an amusing and appealing relationship between Robin and his Merry Men that provides the film’s source of humor.  It is quiet and not as obvious as some might think or wish it to be, but it is there – to such a degree that it doesn’t have to be told to audiences.  We witness their individual skills and, in the quiet moments, get a solid sense of their comradery as well as their roles in Nottigham; some call this boring, others call it character development.  From beginning to end, Scott gives us the emergence of the hero who will eventually take on the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen).

There are few minor narrative glitches, but the most noticeable ones occur within the complex pacing and this is something that a Director’s Cut of the film will assuredly resolve.  Certainly, when the politics are up front, some things in Helgeland’s script get a little convoluted (never to the point of being hard to follow), but Scott brings the disengaged audiences back into the film with the beginnings of the thievery Robin Hood is so famous for; this is an origin story, so there has to be some hinting at what is soon to come from the world’s favorite rob-the-rich-give-to-the-poor criminal.

What really doesn’t seem to work is the mostly uninspired score.  While it may seem nitpicky, Marc Streitenfeld’s sonic soundscape against the Nottingham locale seems eerily out of place and otherworldly; not earthy and human.  Albeit, the music isn’t as bad as – let’s say – using a Bryan Adams song to provide a film’s romance with, but still it’s a distraction to the film’s true heart.  The ghostly female wavering that elevated the mythology of Gladiator, always a staple of Streitenfeld’s scores, comes off as a bit stale and lacking in originality here. In fact, in a couple of key scenes, the vocal inclusion becomes predictable and slightly takes away from the experience of the movie when silence would have been better.  While the drinking songs of A’Dayle are lively and appropriate, next to Streitenfeld’s vocal effects in the score, one bares witness to the sonic disconnect that seems so jarring.  That’s not to say that, when the action is in full stride, that the driving orchestral work (reminiscent of John Powell’s work in the Jason Bourne movies) doesn’t prove to be effective, but, combined with everything else, the score just seems complacent, a little flat and unmoving for a movie of this caliber.

Scott’s film is epic storytelling at work; fans of the battles in The Lord of the Rings or any other incarnation of Robin Hood should certainly be pleased with the pacing and the overall punch of the film.  The end result is certainly a fine example of some seriously strong filmmaking from Scott who, in my opinion, directs action sequences like no other. This isn’t simply Gladiator with bows and arrows and it isn’t an unworthy remake, Robin Hood is its own narrative and worthy of a continuing storyline.  Stripped of myth and thrust into the real world, Robin Hood manages to cleverly walk a tightrope over the gulf between cerebral and crusader-like entertainment – and it does so successfully without a wink and nudge to what went before, but more toward what is likely to come from the Merry Men of Sherwood Forest.


Component Grades
Movie

Blu-ray Disc
4 stars

4 stars



Blu-ray Experience
4 stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - September 21, 2010
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles
: English, English SDH, French, French SDH, Spanish, Spanish SDH
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: DTS 5.1; Spanish: DTS 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Three-disc set (1 BD, 2 DVDs); Digital copy (on disc); Digital copy PSP (on disc); DVD copy; Bonus View (PiP); BD-Live; D-Box

On Blu-ray, Robin Hood is presented in a fantastic 1080p high definition transfer (2.40:1 ratio).  There are two versions to choose from: the theatrical cut (140 minutes) or the director’s cut (156 minutes).  Yet, for me, the director’s cut is the only version to watch.  With this cut, Scott fully fleshes out the relationship between Robin and Marion and restores the ‘Runaways’ subplot, effectively clearing up the randomness of some of the scenes in the theatrical cut.  This cut is also more aggressive in violence and tone.  That being said, both cuts of the film are fantastically captured by the glorious transfer; earthy in colors and rich in sound, thanks to a detail-oriented 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix.

Supplements:

Commentaries:

Featurettes:

Deleted Scenes (13 mins): these interesting deleted scenes fill in more of the holes in the story.  They can be viewed with or without a commentary from the film’s editor, Pietro Scalia

Photo Gallery: The Art of Nottingham Gallery: For fans of detail, this is the photo collection for you.  Extensive looks at the set design through photographs and production still.

Trailers: Two Theatrical Trailers and six T.V. Spots, totaling 7 minutes, are also included.

The disc is also BD-Live enhanced, has bookmarking abilities, Pocket Blu enabled, and D-Box enabled.

Disc two is a DVD copy of the film.

Disc three is a digital copy.

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