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!
May 9, 2010
Amadeus, Atonement, Berlin, Birds, Blood Diamond, Cate Blanchett, Crouching Tiger, Das Boot, Film, Forrest Gump, Gladiator, Hidden Dragon, Hitchcock, Independence Day, JFK, Leaving Cert, North By Northwest, Psycho, Rain Man, Robin Hood, Russell Crowe, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List, Se7en, Seven, Shawshank Redemption, The Last of the Mohicans, Titanic, Vertigo
As many of you will know, I will be extremely busy over the next two months. The Leaving Cert is a looming just around the corner and the amount of study ground I still have to make up before then is unfortunately immense. After a short respite I will then be helping my parents relocate from Cork to Berlin in July however this will most likely not prevent me from writing reviews to the films I already know pretty well.
So then, I regret to announce that from now until Tuesday, June 22nd (Chemistry – last exam and then freedom!) I will be able to write only one more review. That review will be for the new “Robin Hood” film starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. I’m looking forward to seeing it and will have to review it straight away.
However once the LC hurdle has been jumped I intend to write a good few reviews over the summer months. This may see more than one review a week being posted. ‘Sur how bad… as we might say. Here then is a list of some of the films I hope to review then. This list is by no means definitive, titles may be added and removed as I see fit.
From June 22nd onwards (In alphabetical order):
- Amadeus (1984)
- Atonement (2007)
- Blood Diamond (2006)
- Das Boot (1981)
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
- Forrest Gump (1994)
- Gladiator (2000)
- Independence Day (1996)
- JFK (1991)
- The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
- Rain Man (1988)
- Saving Private Ryan (1998)
- Schindler’s List (1993)
- Se7en (1995)
- The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
- Titanic (1997)
As you may have noticed I have not chosen any movies earlier than the 80s. The reason for this is that newer films will generate more interest than old ones however I do intend to review some of the Hitchcock masterpieces such as “North By Northwest,” “Vertigo,” “Psycho,” and “The Birds” at some point in the future.
To all my regular and irregular readers I hope you can bear with me while I complete my exams and look forward to a new batch of reviews in the Summer. “Robin Hood” should be posted next weekend.
So for now it’s adios amigos!
P.S. If you have any comments, feedback or indeed exam encouragement (!) feel free to leave a comment. Or if you have any suggestions for other reviews that you think would be important and do not feature on my list please do the same.