Robin Hood - Prince of ThievesFilm history has shown little kindness to the legend of Robin Hood. With the exception of that loveable 1938 Errol Flynn caper, Hollywood has tried and failed again and again to create a truly great celluloid version of the man in lincoln-green tights. So too, this big-budget attempt of the 90s ultimately fails to hit the bullseye, no matter how hard it tries. It may be possible to enjoy “Prince of Thieves” simply as a fun adventure romp in its own right but, riddled as it is with a slew of continuity as well as factual errors and some truly awful casting, even the most liberal of fans will scratch their heads at many a turn, wondering just how so much great potential and opportunity was wasted.

Having escaped captivity in the crusades, Robin of Locksley (Kevin Costner) along with new-found companion Azeem (Morgan Freeman), returns home to England to find things have changed: His home has been ransacked and his father brutally murdered by the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman) and his minions who have seized power in King Richard’s absence. Forced to hide in a certain Sherwood Forest, Robin joins with a band of outlaws and plots to overthrow the Sheriff in revenge. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Maid Marian is there somewhere, waiting to be wooed and there’s family trouble brewing with Christian Slater’s Will Scarlet. It’s an altogether darker version of the tale than Errol Flynn could ever have imagined, introducing a more serious atmosphere that would also prevail in Ridley Scott’s 2010 version “Robin Hood.” Director Kevin Reynolds seems unsure how to proceed with this however and tries to find a balance with humour – stemming largely from the ever brilliant Morgan Freeman – and some of the more brutal images. There’s nothing wrong with trying to create an adult version of the tale but its execution is often so poor that it is laughable. Critics and historians often snort at the amount of historical inaccuracies and continuity like the fact that the Chinese invented gunpowder or that printing was still a few hundred years away. But really, those are the least of the film’s problems.

What really kills the action is the lead: Kevin Costner, who was truly riding the high wave of success and popularity at the time, fails to ignite any spark whatsoever. Dubiously sporting blonde highlights and a Californian accent (Costner apparently tried to learn a British accent but found it, em, too difficult), we don’t believe his Robin for a single minute. Not only does he rob the role of all sense of fun, his attempts at making his Locksley into a troubled man fall completely flat. Mastrantonio is also one of the poorest Marians we’ve seen for a long, long time. Acting this bad should be made illegal, especially when as handsomely paid as Costner. Also well paid was Sean Connery who turns up at the end for a very pointless cameo. Indeed with a main duo this lifeless and dull, this film would probably have sunk into the dark ages a long time ago, were it not for the performance of one Alan Rickman. His performance as the Sheriff is wonderfully sleazy and furiously demented. What Costner fails to muster in terms of fun, the British veteran can almost recover through chewing scenery and calling off Christmas, this is really the campest of camp. Along with Hans Gruber and Severus Snape, this truly belongs in the gallery of great Rickman baddies. Taking the Sheriff into account, the film remains watchable but we will always lament for what might have been a real action and adventure matinee flick paying homage to the Hoods of yesteryear.

Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves OSTAnother aspect of the film’s enduring popularity is its end-credits song “(Everything I do) I do it for You” sung by Brian Adams. This power-ballad was written by Adams and composer Michael Kamen who also provided the rest of the film’s score. And unlike the film, his music conjures the swashbuckling spirit as it should have been. The opening title is of particular note, a rousing fanfare seamlessly incorporating the theme song. This combination is handled well by Kamen throughout although some listeners have complained of long, nondescript sound design passages which found their way onto the soundtrack. All in all however, the music can muster enough power to remain memorable. Sadly, the  orchestra’s performance leaves some things to be desired. So if any work is in desperate need of a rerecording to really bring out its quality, this is your score. Let’s hope the day will come.

An extended cut with 12 minutes extra footage was released on DVD but these scenes don’t really help shore up the film. Thanks to performance by Rickman and Freeman, the film just about manages to stay afloat. But definitely not Kevin Costner’s best work.

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