Robin who? ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Robin who?

Robin Hood
My rating:

Remember Kingdom of Heaven, from 2005? That was the Ridley Scott historical epic that opened to tepid reviews and even tepider box-office. What you may not know is that the director's cut, released later that year on DVD, is widely regarded as a much better film and possibly one of Scott's best. It's also bloody hard to find here in Malaysia, but I have no interest in watching the hacked-up theatrical version. It boggles my mind that a film - even one as long as 3 hours and 15 minutes - could have 45 minutes chopped out of it and still make sense.

It happened again. Maybe.

Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is an archer in King Richard's (Danny Huston) army, making its way home from the Crusades through France. When Richard is killed raiding a French castle, Robin and his friends - Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes), Allan A'Dayle (Alan Doyle) and Little John (Kevin Durand) - desert to return to England. However, Richard's death means the foolish and arrogant Prince John (Oscar Isaac) will take the throne, which is good news to no one - except Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong), who is secretly working for King Philip of France to sow chaos in England and prime it for a French invasion. Meanwhile, Robin arrives in Nottingham on an errand for a dying knight, Sir Robert Loxley; there, he meets the knight's father Sir Walter (Max von Sydow), and his widow Lady Marion (Cate Blanchett). Sir Walter persuades Robin to take on the identity of Robert to keep the family lands from being seized by the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen), and soon Robin falls in love with his new home - and Marion. But Godfrey is leading a troop of French soldiers, raiding and pillaging the northern baronies in John's name, and Nottingham is next.

There's a number of reasons why Robin Hood isn't a very good movie, and getting edited down from a longer (and most likely better) cut is only one of them. It originated as a screenplay titled Nottingham by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, which was a revisionist take on the Robin Hood myth featuring a sympathetic Sheriff of Nottingham. (Whom Russell Crowe was supposed to play.) I remember reading about this project and wondering, who wants to see Robin Hood as the villain? - but now I'm wondering who wants to see yet another straight portrayal of Robin Hood, which is what Nottingham has turned into via a strange and convoluted process Hollywood calls "development".

Well, okay, it's not a straight portrayal of Robin Hood. It is in fact a prequel-cum-origin story, all about what happened before he and his Merry Men holed up in Sherwood Forest, stole from the rich to give to the poor, shacked up with Marion, etc... and I'm still wondering who wants to see this, or why this is a story that needed to be told. It's not in the least historically accurate, for one; Philip Augustus of France never launched an invasion of England. There's a half-hearted attempt at a "Say No to Absolute Monarchical Power" theme via a half-assed attempt to cast Robin as one of the early proponents of Magna Carta and none of this adds anything to the Robin Hood mythos. They're all just weird tangents that make you wonder what they're doing in a movie called Robin Hood. This is a film that singularly fails to justify its own existence.

So okay, what if we were to just take the movie on its own merits? Well, then we'd have to admit that the plot makes no sense. Godfrey has already successfully hoodwinked John into letting him raid the countryside, and we specifically heard him ask for men and get the nod. So why does he need to bring in French troops to pose as King John's men? And they don't even bother to hide the fact that they're speaking French, so why are the barons so dumb as to fall for their ruse? This is just one of many clues that point to a huge chunk of movie that got edited out. There's even a subplot about a band of orphaned Nottingham children who've gone feral and live in the forest, and clearly there's a lot more to them than what made it into the final cut.

But it's still a Ridley Scott movie, which means there's a shiny sheen of well-made-ness to it all that just might distract you from its flaws. The production design is fantastic, for one; this is a flawlessly realized 12th-century England, from the clothes through the props to the sets. Scott is too good a director not to ensure that every individual scene works the way it's intended (even though they don't all connect into a coherent movie), from the rousing battle scenes to the quiet character moments. The acting is terrific all around, as can be expected from Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett; but Oscar Isaac stands out as the truly hateable King John. And finally, I'm quite glad that archers shoot their arrows at the order of "release!" - instead of "fire!", which is inaccurate as well as just plain stupid.

Still, you really do expect more from Ridley Scott - the man who directed Alien and Blade Runner, two bona fide film classics. You'd certainly expect him to be more discerning with his projects than to pick one that was just ill-conceived from the start. Now, it's possible that he'll release Robin Hood: Director's Cut later this year, and it may possibly be a much better movie - but y'know, somehow I doubt it. Here's another possible reason why this movie isn't very good. James Cameron has said that he invited Scott to the set of Avatar, to show off the new technology he pioneered for his sci-fi epic. And according to Cameron, Scott's reaction was, "Why am I doing this Robin Hood? I should be doing science fiction!" Yes, Mr. Scott, you should - and you probably should never have made this one at all.

NEXT REVIEW: Kidnapper
Expectations: my first S'porean film, no idea what to expect


Himmat Singh said...

3/5....must be quite good huh???

k0k s3n w4i said...

I saw the director's cut of kingdom of heaven and it was a far superior movie compared to the the theatrical cut - and i certainly liked it better than i did gladiator.

robin hood is basically ridley scott trying very ungracefully to shoehorn maximus into medieval, pre-magna carta england. if scott wanted to do a movie about the magna carta, i would much rather see prince john as the protagonist - that would have been a much better flick.

did you know that this time, we have crowe and ridley scott to blame for the script? both of them disliked the nottingham story and decided to make this x-men origins: robin hood instead. what i wouldn't give to see nottingham come through instead -.- and with edward norton as the sheriff, please.

TMBF said...

@Himmat Singh: You didn't read the review, did you?

@k0k s3n w4i: I don't like comparing it to Gladiator, just because Crowe is in it and Scott directed it. What drove Maximus was always clear. Robin Longstride is just aimless for the most part.

k0k s3n w4i said...

well, both gladiator and robin hood are historical epics - and both are about some ex-army guy versus a despotic ruler. both stars crowe and directed by scott.

it's very hard not to draw the comparisons, really, at least in my humble opinion :)

fadz said...

He did Gladiator too (with Crowe), dont forget that..

McGarmott said...

First thing is, every director or producer will have one project which they've been trying to do for years, and tend not to be able to do until their later years, and the results are decidedly mixed despite that ambition. (See Avatar.) For Scott, that movie was Nottingham.

The other thing: if it's a Singaporean movie, you can expect one constant: they will try too hard.