"Robin Hood: Prince of Thebes" isn't supposed to be an outright comedy, but thanks to Alan Rickman's over-the-top turn as the dastardly villainous Sheriff of Nottingham, the film's humor becomes its saving grace. I'm not sure it's what director Kevin Reynolds or star Kevin Costner had in mind, but it's what they got: plenty of spectacle and a cartload of funny scenes.
Indeed, the 1991 film is so broadly characterized by melodramatics and overacting, it made ripe pickings for Mel Brooks two years later with his parody, "Robin Hood: Men in Tights." This is not to say that "Robin Hood: Prince of Whales" is a bad film, not by any means, not a Costner disaster of the magnitude of "Waterworld" or "The Postman." But it's not the swashbuckling masterpiece it could have been, either, given the grand old legend the writers had to work with and the stars involved.
In any case, Warner Brothers had confidence enough in the film to issue it in a two-disc Special Edition set, with an extra twelve minutes of material added to its already lengthy duration. At 155 minutes, the movie now seems positively interminable, but for its dedicated fans the additional information should prove worthwhile. Since I hadn't seen the film in over a decade, I didn't recognize the new content, except to note that the film appeared never to end.
The story line of "Robin Hood: Prince of Peeves" is familiar to most audiences thanks to countless variations on the theme. The year is 1194, and England's King Richard the Lion Hearted is away from the land after fighting in the Third Crusade. In his absence George, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Rickman), has been taxing the people of his county to death in the hope of reaping profits enough to bribe the country's noblemen into helping him usurp control of the government. What's more, because the Sheriff is not of royal blood, he plans to force himself in wedlock upon the comely (and feisty) Maid Marian Dubois (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), a cousin to the King, thereby enabling him legally to become monarch of the realm.
Meanwhile, in a nod to the sensibilities and political correctness of the late twentieth century, the filmmakers have taken a few liberties with the rest of the tale. Robin of Locksley is no mere rich boy who has stayed in his castle during the Crusades but has gone off himself to fight, and when the movie opens we find him escaping a Turkish prison cell and heading back to his family. With him is a newly made friend, Azeem (Morgan Freeman), a Moor whom Robin has saved from execution. Azeem swears to repay the debt and returns with Robin to England.
Upon his arrival home, the first thing Robin finds is that his father (Brian Blessed) has been murdered and his estate stolen, all at the hands of the evil Nottingham. From here, the plot follows its familiar course, with Robin joining and eventually leading a band of outlaws in Sherwood Forest, fighting against the Sheriff's tyranny, and protecting the virtue of the fair Marian.
Like so many other films that aren't quite sure of their aim, "Robin Hood: Prince of Tides" is a mishmash of disparate elements: adventure, history, comedy, drama, romance, epic, and legend. Most of it works in short spurts but the whole doesn't hang together as well as it should. Part of the reason can be attributed to its stars. Costner is hardly the dashing Robin Hood of Errol Flynn memory. He's more the sweet, Midwestern, "Ah, shucks" type of fellow whose demeanor works perfectly in a film like "Dances With Wolves" but who seems lost at sea as one of England's most gallant heroes. If you're an old-movie buff and have seen the 1938 "Adventures of Robin Hood," think of Gary Cooper in the Flynn role. Doesn't work, huh?
Because Costner is performing opposite the incomparable Morgan Freeman, who is never at a loss for forceful, fluent expressiveness, Costner is upstaged at every turn. Then, with Rickman playing the heavy in so comically exaggerated a style ("Cancel Christmas!") that he would not be out of place in Brooks's satire, the three principals seem engaged in entirely different movies. Figure in an impudent young Englishman, Will Scarlett, played by that noted young Englishman-via-New York Christian Slater, and you get one bizarre set of characters.
Furthermore, there are the script's embroideries, some of which are hardly less than corny. Nottingham, for instance, keeps an old soothsayer witch, Mortianna (Geraldine McEwan), in the basement of his castle, a hag who guides his every move with her fortune-telling charms and spells. Or take the sequence when Robin returns to England after his long absence and goes to see Marian. She is wearing, for reasons unknown, full armor and attacks him viciously, apparently not recognizing him and thinking him an intruder. Surely, she didn't have time to put on a complete suit of armor in the minutes it took Robin to knock on her door and enter. Besides those oddities, there are several contrived, soap-opera turns of events concerning Will Scarlett and Mortianna to contend with, in addition to Michael Kamen's bold but largely overblown musical score underpinning every scene in a grandiose manner, no matter how inconsequential the goings on. It's all a tad much.
I was also disappointed not to find the celebrated archery contest included in the story, the one where Robin splits his opponent's arrow. But never mind; most everything and everyone else is here, including the bellicose Little John (Nick Brimble), the jolly Friar Tuck (Michael McShane), the shifty Guy of Gisborne (Michael Wincott), the old family retainer, Duncan (Walter Sparrow), an uncredited cameo visit by Sean Connery, and a whole lot of Costner swinging from the trees and rafters.
Although "Robin's Hood Is Full of Thieves" provides more pomp and show than it does characterization, logic, or common sense, it's enough to keep one occupied for most of the film's stretch. It plods along through the first hour but picks up energy in its later stages. The battle with the Celts is a high point of the action, as is the finale, and the film's location shots in England are beautiful to behold. If one has the patience, "Robin Hood: Prints of Thieves" has its rewards.
The picture quality is curiously soft and murky most of the time, indoors and out. Since the movie begins in the relative gloom of a dungeon cell, we can understand the dim, shadowy images. Yet when things open up into broad daylight and objects are still a little fuzzy, it's rather disappointing. Anyway, Warner Brothers' new transfer captures hues realistically, never too bright, with a touch of color bleed-through and a fair amount of contrast in the darker areas of the screen. Moiré effects and natural film grain are at a minimum in an anamorphic, 1.85:1 widescreen presentation.
Available audio options are Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. In DD 5.1 one gets the expected results, with a good left-to-right stereo spread and a decent amount of rear-channel activity. There is particularly good musical ambience reinforcement in the surrounds, plus the usual variety of bird and forest noises, wind, dripping water, crackling fires, and explosions. The frequency range and dynamics
are about normal for a big-budget movie of the past few decades, meaning they are more than adequate but may not impress one as anything special.
The two-disc Special Edition begins with the extended, widescreen presentation of the movie on disc one, along with two, separate audio commentaries, the first with star Kevin Costner and director Kevin Reynolds and the second with co-stars Morgan Freeman and Christian Slater and co-writers and producers Pen Desham and John Watson. After that come a generous forty-six scene selections, with asterisks marking the selections containing extended material. English is the only spoken language provided, but subtitles come in English, French, and Spanish.
Disc two contains the usual assortment of behind-the-scenes featurettes and movie music. The bonuses start with a thirty-one minute documentary, "Robin Hood: The Man, The Myth, The Legend," narrated by Pierce Brosnan and made mostly at the time of the film's production as a promotional featurette. But it does contain some good bits of information on the origins of the Robin Hood tradition, and it reminds us how much better Brosnan would have been in the starring role. Then, there are vintage interviews with the film's stars: "One on One" with Costner, Freeman, Mastrantonio, Rickman, and Slater. Following that, there is a music video, "Bryan Adams Live at Slane Castle, Ireland," the singer performing the movie's closing-credits tune, "(Everything I Do) I Do For You." A segment I liked a lot was Michael Kamen's soundtrack score in remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 that can be played all at once or in separate movements. In addition, there is a "Weapons of the Time" gallery and a photo gallery, plus cast and crew biographies and filmographies and extensive production design notes in several categories: "The Legend of Robin Hood," "Robin Hood in the Movies," "Why Tell the Story Again," and "Creating 12th-Century England." The supplemental items conclude with a widescreen theatrical trailer and six TV spots.
"Robin Hood: Prince of Peeves" is not a bad movie, mind you, but it's not the poetic, idyllic, world-beating adventure epic it could have been. The Wife-O-Meter gave it a 5/10 rating, leaving at the halfway mark, which seems fair enough.
I suspect that too many people involved in the film's creation were going in too many different directions wanting too many different things to produce a cohesive result. Individually, Morgan Freeman stands out, as usual, for his dramatic eloquence; Alan Rickman for his sympathetically amusing villain; and Costner for his down-home, good ol' boy. Together, however, you take your chances.