27 February 2011

Movies: Robin Hood (2010)

Robin Hood (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0955308/

There haven't been enough Robin Hood movies and TV series made, especially lately.  So we are treated to another stab at the story.

Chances are you know of, or have watched at least, some version of the Robin Hood story. It seems while growing up being exposed to the story in some form is unavoidable. Robin Hood and his merry men, fighting against the establishment. Bows and arrows. Sword fights. Ho! Ha ha! Guard! Turn! Parry! Dodge! Spin! Ha! Thrust!

Well, this is the Russel Crowe version.  Because he hadn't done a Robin Hood yet.  It's directed by Ridley Scott, whose great movies make a lengthy list.   And the scriptwriter is Brian Helgeland, who has delivered a few memorable movie scripts of various success over the years.  So - is the teaming of screen giant Crowe with director Scott and writer Helgeland enough to overcome the theme-glut that is Robin Hood?  Will the confluence of such giants of industry make a good retelling of the tale? It really does come down to nuances of storytelling, of re-imaginings of a wealth of source material and a story hundreds of years old, and the viewer's ability to accept the changes.

This film presents to us another origin of Robin Hood story. Our favorite heroes are in attendance: Robin Hood, Marion, Will Scarlet, Little John, Allan A'Dayle, Friar Tuck; as well as our favorite villains: the Sheriff of Nottingham, Prince John. But we also get some new heroes and villains to expand the cast.

In this telling, Robin is an archer who fought for King Richard in the crusades, and the army is now fighting its way through France while returning to Britain. Robin already knows Will and Allan. However, instead of meeting Little John for a little quarter-staff action while crossing a creek, Robin meets him while encamped during a castle siege.  They still square off, fight, and become good friends.
And those are the first of many changes to the traditional tale we all grew up with.  I'd rather not go into all the changes to the Robin Hood tale because then I'd talk the whole movie. By the end of the flick the overtaxed and oppressed Britons band together and ally with Prince John to repel an invasion force from France. And we never really see any indication of the Robin vs. the Sheriff, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor tales we heard growing up.

As open minded as I tried to be, the story seemingly started out good but grew more alien to me through to the end. I was saddened that Will Scarlet, Little John, Alan A'Dayle and Friar Tuck became minor props to be trotted out at convenient times and ignored otherwise. I had an easier time accepting new(ish) bad man Godfrey, however the Sheriff of Nottingham showed up maybe three or four times to be a minor annoyance. We do get to see how evil Prince John can be, but he still factored less into the story than Godfrey.
I wanted to roll with the changes, I really did. But the story seemed to get larger and larger as it unfolded, further and further away from the tales we've known. 

Did I like the movie? In some ways yes and some ways no.
The yes ways: Technical movie aspects - no complaints. Good locations, sets, costuming. I know there was a musical score, but it didn't stand out or get in the way, so it gets a thumbs up. Had a great core cast. Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max von Sydow, William Hurt, and a few others you might recognize. Was happy to see Kevin Durand (Keamy from Lost) as Little John -- again displaying a new depth and breadth as an actor. Definitely a supporting actor to keep an eye on. Chuckled to see little Scott Grimes (the bearded redheaded twerp Dr. Morris on E.R.) as Will Scarlet - and he did good. I think I even saw him kick a dude in the face. There were scenes I liked, and the battles were okay. Nowhere near on par with Lord of the Rings, but that's a hard standard to meet.  I didn't mind the retooled Robin -> Robert Loxley connection and its relationship to Marion, nor did I mind this incarnation of Loxley's father.

The no ways: For me the story got too big by the time Robin Hood ultimately leads the defense of the British shores against the French. The landing of the French got a little "Saving Private Ryan"-ey for my taste too. The orphaning of Robin story and how it fits into the bigger picture got a little too coincidental for my taste. I didn't like the backgrounding of the core Merry Men and Sheriff of Nottingham. And having the youths of Nottingham organized and camped in the woods to rob passersby and poach the king's animals? Did nothing much for the story at all.  There were other extraneous things tossed into the retelling that didn't make the story any better either.

So yes, in some ways I liked the movie. In some places I was entertained and I really didn't mind the core of the origin story presented in the film. But in other ways it felt like the story (and Robin himself) got too big and I felt a little cheated with almost no retelling of the traditional Robin Hood tales.  Plus there was no reason for the viewer to become emotionally invested in the characters, except, perhaps, Sir Walter Loxley. All one had to do was sit and watch the movie play out. Perhaps despite my efforts to be accepting I still had expectations that weren't met.  So to me it was good, but not, but was.

To properly watch this film, one has to not expect to see the same Robin Hood they've seen in previous incarnations.  There have been so many versions, good and bad, that it probably is best to try to not think of previous Robin Hood stories you've seen and try to watch this film with an open mind, then determine how entertained you were in the end. 

Over the years, many versions of the Robin Hood story have been told. We'll all have our favorite versions that we grew up with. Be it Fairbanks, Flynn, Daffy Duck, Sean Connery, (cough) Kevin Costner, Patrick Bergin, Cary Elwes, Patrick Stewart, various TV series incarnations, and now Russel Crowe.  And, no worries. There's a couple more Robin Hood-themed movies in the works, including one from the Wachowski siblings (of Matrix fame).

When you think about it, one can't complain too much about the repeated revisits to the Robin Hood story. There were at least as many, if not more, ballads written, rewritten, told and sung including and/or about adventures of Robin Hood dating back hundreds of years, dating to before the discovery of America.  So, considering that movies are the ballads of the 20th & 21st century, we have a lot of catching up to do with hundreds of years of versions.  And, lucky us, the movie industry hasn't tired of trying to catch up.

I guess we really can't be put off by the repeatedly changing retelling of the story, and the almost guaranteed retelling to come in the future. Because, realistically, the tales of Robin Hood are meant to be told and retold, and they have always grown, changed. So this version, different as it is from other Robin Hood movie/series shown to date, is actually honoring the historical tradition of changing the core Robin Hood story to fit with the sensibilities of the times.

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