December 5, 2010
Action, Adventure, Epic/Historical, Film
Alan Rickman, Bryan Adams, Christian Slater, Errol Flynn, Everything I do, Extended Edition, Film, film music, I do it For You, Kevin Costner, Kevin Reynolds, Maid Marian, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Kamen, Morgan Freeman, movies, Nottingham, picture, poster, Prince of Thieves, review, Ridley Scott, Robin Hood, score, Sean Connery, Sheriff, soundtrack, The Adventures of Robin Hood
Film 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.
Another 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.
What’s your own opinion of this particular Robin of the Hood? Please do let me know by leaving a comment with your thoughts and feedback. Also please feel free to follow me on Twitter and subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks and all the best!
May 16, 2010
Action, Adventure, Epic/Historical, Film
1492, Cary Elwes, Conquest of Paradise, Errol Flynn, Film, film music, Gladiator, Hans Zimmer, Iron Man, Kevin Costner, Kingdom of Heaven, Léa Seydoux, Marc Streitenfeld, Marion, Mark Strong, Max Von Sydow, Media Ventures, Morgan Freeman, movies, Oscar Isaac, picture, Prince of Thieves, review, Ridley Scott, Robin Hood, Russell Crowe, Saving Private Ryan, score, Sean Connery, Sherlock Holmes, The Dark Knight, William Hurt
There have been countless adaptions of the tale of English medieval anti-hero in Lincoln green, from the classic 1938 Errol Flynn swashbuckler via the shcottish Sean Connery in “Robin and Marian,” the, er, Californian with blonde highlights Kevin Costner for the 90s “Prince of Thieves” and its subsequent rip-off at the hands of Cary Elwes. Why there’s even been an animated Disney version with a fox playing the title role! So what could a new interpretation of the legend possibly have to offer? However when Ridley Scott decides to make a film (much like when Morgan Freeman talks) you sit up and take notice! Sir Ridley Scott as he’s rightly known is the undisputed master of the historical drama genre (1492: Conquest of Paradise, Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven) and with this latest entry I can gladly confirm those are two titles he can keep.
If what you expect is Russell Crowe running around Sherwood Forest at the helm of a bunch of loutish brutes charging to the rescue of the dashing maid Marian from the clutches of the evil Sheriff, be warned. Scott and his actor of choice have chosen here to explore and flesh out the back story before Robin Longstride became the man of legend. We therefore spend time with our hero on his return from the crusades with King Richard the Lionheart, besieging French castles and on the King’s untimely death battling against a scheming King John (Oscar Isaac – in wonderfully slimy mood), his taxes and politics. Returning to Nottingham he begins to learn about his past through Sir Walter Loxley (Max Von Sydow) who appoints him guardian of his house and husband to Marion played by Cate Blanchett – great as ever. Soon however it falls to him to unite a torn country in order to prevent a French invasion in the form of King Philip and bald and scarred baddie Mark Strong (Whom you may recognise from Sherlock Holmes). It all culminates at Dover with a French beach landing à la “Saving Private Ryan” and a fairly awesome cavalry charge. Needless to say the story plays havoc with history.
Whether or not you actually like this new Robin Hood or whether, critically, we can call it a good film depends I think on what the filmmakers set out to do. If Ridley Scott wanted to challenge our perceptions of the age-old myth and reinvent it for the 21st Century as it were then the film will most likely fall at the first hurdle. If however his sole aim was to make an entertaining action movie that is somewhat above the fodder summer blockbusters we’ve seen over the last few years (ie the kind that features rebooted superheroes or pale blood-sucking vampires with an average audience age of thirteen and a half), it’s easily the best thing since “The Dark Knight” two years back and so much more than the Gladiator-with-bows-and-arrows many were predicting. Because entertain the film certainly does: The battles are well staged, there’s at least some political intrigue to keep adults interested and medieval England looks fantastically grimy and a place full to the brim with adventure. There’s even a generous dose of humour in the form of the merry men, here reduced to the number of three, mainly Russell Crowe’s musical pals.
The characters too are generally quite three dimensional. While Robin certainly isn’t another Maximus and his goals are much more clear cut, Crowe plays it straight, not always the action hero yet not getting overly troubled or bogged down by having to sow some grain for Marion (in the field of course, it’s only 12A…) and her troubled homestead. Blanchett too does well as a woman who has had to become hard against the elements, her husband having disappeared to war two weeks after they were married. William Hurt and Max Von Sydow add the necessary gravitas which is a joy to watch but perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is it’s villains. As mentioned the Sheriff of Nottingham is sidelined – although he makes an appearance and bears a little resemblance to Alan Rickman’s camp character! Instead Mark Strong rides around England falsely collecting taxes, creating unrest among the Britons and preparing for the French invasion.
The film is not without its problems of course. Comparisons with “Gladiator” are redundant as these are, to coin a phrase, two very different kettle of Ridley but there are some things that could have been done differently. It would have been nice to develop the character of King John’s lover, the French Isabella (Léa Seydoux) a little more and the same goes for Eileen Atkins’ Elanor of Aquitaine, the woman in whose hands the country would be a lot better off. Also disappointing was the marginalisation of a group of children that live as outlaws around Nottingham. Their role would have been interesting as this is what Robin himself will ultimately become.
To the score then. Marc Streitenfeld is a relative newcomer from Hans Zimmer’s cloning factory otherwise known as Media Ventures. This however is more than a little unfair as the music he has written is firstly, right for the period and secondly it definitely adds to the onscreen spectacle. A female voice floats above the carnage and some more traditional tunes are also heard from time to time. What struck me most was a sequence of repeating notes as a sort of danger-motif used usually when Strong’s character was riding onscreen. It is by far the most effective score of Streitenfeld’s career though some might criticize his relatively minimal approach, this composer does have future promise.
Robin Hood has flaws but when viewed as a piece of action entertainment it’s a pretty good movie. I’ve already thrown the word sequel around with my friends and this is certainly one of those rare instances were a sequel would be merited to explore the actual legend. But maybe that was never the idea behind Scott’s thinking and even standing alone I cannot but be impressed by the awesome visuals on screen. And although it has so far lost out to Iron Man 2 at the box office this is summer blockbuster filmmaking as it should be.
As you know this will be my last review until July. However please feel free to leave a comment with your feedback and thoughts, to share or subscribe to my blog. Thanks and au revoir!
April 5, 2010
Action, Adventure, Epic/Historical, Film
Brendan Gleeson, Eva Green, Film, film music, Harry Gregson-Williams, Kingdom of Heaven, Liam Neeson, movies, Orlando Bloom, review, Ridley Scott, score
Ridley Scott is a great director, let’s get that sorted first and foremost. After all this is the man that has brought us “Alien,” “Blade Runner,” “1492: Conquest of Paradise” and “Gladiator.” With his 2005 film “Kingdom of Heaven” he attempts to add yet another picture to the sword-and-sandal historical epic genre he helped revive himself. And once again he succeeds in creating a world that is rich in lavish period detail, an awesome achievement in itself.
The story concerns blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) who takes up arms to follow his long lost father (Liam Nesson) to Crusade in the 12th Century. Jerusalem has been in the hands of Christians for over 100 years but is beset on all sides by Muslims who would do anything to have the city back for themselves. Pronounced Lord of Ibelin, Balian fights a desperate struggle against cruel and greedy templars who would see a full scale war started. Along the way he falls in love with Eva Green’s princess and must ultimately lead the armies of Jerusalem when besieged by Saladin’s armies.
Inevitably, comparisons will be made between this and it’s bigger brother “Gladiator” and the films do have quite a lot in common: Both are set in times beset by political (and in this case religious) turmoil, each protagonist has suffered the loss of a wife and child. The visuals are certainly on par with the Roman epic: the visual effects look more polished and the battles are very well staged. In particular the altercation at the castle of Kerak is impressive. In addition every shot is absolutely bursting with rich costumes, armour and weapons, all in all as realistic a representation of the crusades as one will get in a Hollywood movie. Yet it is exactly these comparisons that are ultimately the downfall of “Kingdom of Heaven.” Where “Gladiator” succeeded was in the story behind the Colosseum and Germania set-pieces and the characters that were created and developed throughout. Despite the fact that “Kingdom of Heaven” is almost three hours long the story feels rushed at every turn and no one character is fully realised. Balian is no Maximus and even though he has some admirable aspirations (becoming the perfect knight) we are afforded no insight into this man’s personal life. In simple terms Liam Neeson turns up in his village, declares himself Balian’s father and after killing a priest the blacksmith follows him without question. What motivates this man? Where exactly was the transition from simple man to great military leader?
Similar problems affect the villains of the plot. We really feel Jerusalem would be better off in the hands of Saladin anyway and so it falls to greedy templars Reynald de Chatillon (Brendan Gleeson) and Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas of elvish fame) to do the evil. Usually magnificent, even Gleeson has difficulties here. His character is given so little screen time that it seems he wants a war for the sake of a war, one he is guaranteed to loose. The only character of note is the leper king of Christian Jerusalem (an uncredited Ed Norton) who is desperately trying to keep the peace among all the warring factions.
The music for the film was composed by Harry Gregson-Williams, one of Hans Zimmer’s proteges at Media Ventures/Remote Control. However, Harry has not been influenced by the typical “Zimmer” sound and has produced a score authentic to the period and very enjoyable to listen to. This usually involves choirs performing the main Ibelin theme. Curiously there is a reference to Jerry Goldsmith’s “The 13th Warrior” in one of the many horn solos – doubtlessly one of the many instances in which Scott disregarded Gregson-Williams’ score – but this does not distract from the overall listening experience.
So then to my verdict: while the film has many merits it is ultimately dwarfed by the far superior “Gladiator”. The score on the other hand is a superb effort from Gregson-Williams and should really form part of your score collection if it doesn’t already.
That’s it then for another week. Please leave a comment or subscribe to the e-mail or RSS feed. Any feedback t all is appreciated. Have a happy Easter!