Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves

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The long-awaited, long-hyped version of Robin Hood hit the screens last night. Was it worth it?

Well, almost.

This version isn't as much fun as, say, the Errol Flynn version. It's a more serious, subdued, uneven movie. There is some wonderful photography, the sets look very medieval, and most of the costumes are pretty good. The main problems in the movie are the fault of the novice director (the only other movie this director had made was Heathers) and that script. Costner's accent problems pale beside these major flaws. Still, the movie is definitely worth viewing on the big screen. Once, anyway.

This movie opens in a hideous Islamic prison in Jerusalem. A reasonably illogical thing happens, permitting Robin Hood (Kevin Costner) and Azheem (Morgan Freeman) to escape. Back in England, Robin's father (an all-to-brief performance by Brian Blessed) is murdered by the sheriff of Nottingham (a scene-chewing performance by Alan Rickman) and his "merry" men. So by the time Robin arrives in England, all hell has broken loose.

Some of the best scenes in the entire movie are some sweeping shots of the English countryside as Robin watches Sir Guy of Gisborn set dogs on a 12-year-old boy. Robin, naturally, intercedes, killing a few knights and rescuing the boy.

Part of the problem with this movie is the far-too-campy performance by Alan Rickman as the sheriff, and the really awful lines he is given to say. Rickman, who played the memorable Hans in DIE HARD, was completely out-of-control in this movie. Costner gives a very earnest performance as Robin, and his accent is unbelievably inconsistent. Both Morgan Freeman and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio give the only really strong performances of the film, although the actors who play the thieves and their families were all fine.

Getting back to the script for a minute, anachronisms abound in the attitudes of the characters. While there were a few Moors in England at this time, given that the Crusades were in full force, it's unlikely Azheem would have wanted to go to England, or that he would have survived for very long once he was there. You have the sheriff talking about his "sanity," which was practically an unknown concept back at that time. You have a very odd speech about "nobility" that Robin gives, and a rousing, but equally odd speech given by Azheem about freedom. I don't expect screenwriters to have their characters speak in genuinely medieval English---it would have been almost unintelligible to the average film viewer. But I do expect screenwriters to have done enough research about the period and not give their characters unreasonable attitudes given the time.

The screenwriters did successfully portray the fact that the Moors were technologically superior to the English at that time. Azheem makes a few remarks about "savages," cooly assists at a difficult birth, and tries to teach Robin how to use a telescope. (Robin doesn't get it)

One other problem with this movie---though it's rated PG-13, it has a few really gross little twists in it. It's not a good movie for sensitive children (or adults!). There are also two attempted rapes, a hand amputation, hangings, various cuttings, and lots of sword & arrow play. The film editing was a little sloppy; about ten minutes could have been cut with no loss whatsoever.

Spoilers (but if you know the Robin Hood story, not really)

There are only two small surprises in this movie, but both were unbelievably telegraphed. There is something of a surprise at the very end of the movie. At least, it was a surprise to most of the audience, who started applauding and cheering for the first time in the entire film.

The climax of this movie had that really stupid plot device of a character that should have been dead already returning for one last attack on Robin and Marion. This was a tired hack a few years ago. Why do screen writers persist on doing this???? Why do producers and directors let them?