johnlink ranks ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES (1991)

I was under the impression that I had seen this. While I’ve seen a couple of moments from it, I certainly hadn’t watched the whole thing. But that’s ok. I’ve seen ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS many times so I know all the major beats anyway…

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I watched ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THEIEVES (1991) on 9.21.13. It was my first viewing of the film.

It’s important to note that I watched the 12-minutes-longer Extended Edition for my first viewing here. From what I’ve read it makes this a slightly darker film. The Sheriff of Nottingham (a scenery chomping Alan Rickman) gets much more backstory and it delves deeper in his occult and satanist education through the witch Mortianna (Geraldine McEwan). There is a set up of animosity from the Christian Friar Tuck (Michael McShane) towards the ‘heathen’ Moor Azeem (Morgan Freeman) with some pretty nasty dialogue preceding a revelation of peace from the Friar. From what I’ve read, the nearly forced rape at the wedding scene has also been added.

It’s said that the original editor was kicked out of the editing room when this film was first being cut in 1991. This movie was supposedly a mess in post-production. It is unclear who had their hands in the extended cut. Was it the producers? Was it director Kevin Reynolds finally getting his chance to put the film together the way he wants? Not sure. What is clear, is that this is a somewhat disjointed and inconsistent film which manages to entertain and surprise while it confuses and stumbles.

Robin (Kevin Costner) returns from the Crusades with his companion Azeem to find his father dead and the Sheriff taking over (Prince John is not to be found in this version). Robin pisses of the Sheriff’s cousin (Michael Wincott) and hits up Maid Marion (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) before heading into the woods. There he meets up with John Little (Nick Brimble) and a surprisingly emo Will Scarlett (Christian Slater). And then, well the story goes as expected. Robin trains his men, hits some road blocks and confronts the Sheriff in the end.

What is not expected is how maniacal and crazy the Sheriff is. The story goes that Rickman turned the role down twice before agreeing under the condition that he could take the character wherever he wants.  Like, you know, making this face:

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The audience is rewarded with a dynamic villain who constantly lashes out verbally and physically in unexpected ways. He casually sets up forced prostitution with women as he walks through the halls. He leaps onto a table to make a point during a meeting. He especially hams it up in scenes involving the witch, as the camera shoves into extreme closeups which are fascinating even as they have no logical place in what is otherwise a straightforward film (not that these moments don’t have merit, they merely point to the generic blandness with which most of the rest of the film is shot). It would be interesting to compare the character of the Sheriff in the original and extended cuts. It seems like much of his craziness has been dropped back in here. For someone who has only seen the latter version, it should not be watched any way but in the extended version.

There are many moments of confusion. The witch seems to be able to go through walls at the end, as she ends up outside and back inside a locked room without detection. This is done to resolve a moment set up with Azeem at the film’s outset, but it is done in a shockingly illogical way. In the opening, it is established that noone, even trained soldiers, dare enter Sherwood Forest. Yet, soon after, that concept is abandoned and it is said that it is the only road which can be traveled. There’s just no logic there other than to give Robin a convenient escape from an early chase. It is also one of several unusual copies of the 1987 Princess Bride. Between the forest, the assumed death and resurrection of the hero, and the wedding scene, its a wonder that William Goldman didn’t get a Story By credit here.

For all that, this is a fun enough movie when it gets going. Once Robin finds his merry band of men and he starts training them up, we get rolling at a good clip. There’s plenty of fun to be had, even if precious little of it is done with an English accent. The final battle is worthwhile, even as it become gratuitous (like Robin and Azeem launching themselves over a wall and into a convenient bale of hay three seconds before the gate gets opened up anyway). The darkness of the extended version is welcome, and it makes this more than mere fluff.

Despite the solid performances of Rickman and Freeman, the rest of this cast isn’t quite as good. Costner, especially, just doesn’t sell me on the Robin Hood legend. The lack of an accent has become an old Hollywood joke, but it truly does make this feel like a guy who was at the top of his career thinking he could Americanize an English legend. He may have gotten a little leeway back in 1991, but it just feels inauthentic when viewed more than twenty years later.

I’ve now seen the Errol Flynn version, the Costner version, and the Crowe version (well, the Elwes version too, but that is its own wonderful genre). I have yet to see Connery, nor have I seen the BBC TV series (which would be like comparing apples and oranges anyway). Flynn is undoubtedly the best, and I think I might prefer Crowe’s to Costner’s if only for the acting of the central character. That said, Rickman is the best villain hands down.

ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES is nothing if not interesting if you hunt down the extended version. I’m glad to have finally seen it, though I think it would be awhile before I adventured there again.

SCORES

FILM: 4; MOVIE: 8; ACTING: 5; WRITING: 4

4+8+5+4=21

FINAL SCORE: 5.25

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~ by johnlink00 on September 22, 2013.

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