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ROBIN HOOD:  PRINCE OF THIEVES
(Two Disc Special Edition)

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars:  Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Alan Rickman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
Director:  Kevin Reynolds
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, DTS 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Warner Home Video
Features:  See Review
Length:  155 Minutes
Release Date:  June 10, 2003

"In my country, Christian, there are women of such beauty that they can possess a manís mind, so that they would die for her." 

"Is that why you were going to be executed!  For a woman?"

Film ***

I have never understood the deluge of negative reviews given to this movie. But on the other hand I never understood what the big deal about Gladiator was; it totally underwhelmed me (see Ben-Hur instead, please!).   The focus of the venom seems to be Kevin Costnerís lack of an English accent, but Christian Slater and several others do not employ one either.  Costnerís performance is self-absorbed as usual, and of course, we have to endure the obligatory shot of his behind, this time with Marion gawking at it. 

Like Harrison Ford, he seems to turn in a fairly professional performance and has the good fortune to be in good movies without ever flexing too much thespian muscle.   But it worksóthe spoiled Noblemanís son comes home and helps save his countrymen.  

But on the other hand, this is basically a cartoonish tale told in a slightly humorous cartoonish way, but with plenty of uplifting spirit which we need more often in movies.  I cannot stand films that take themselves too seriously when the subject matter is just an adventure.  A completely authentic and serious portrayal would not have worked in my opinion.   This ainít Shakespeare folks.   While the film has silly moments, it is not nearly as silly as the Errol Flynn portrayal of long ago. You can also find fault with its historical inaccuracyóI really doubt a witch raised the Sheriff of Nottingham, and King Richard died in the crusades, but those are nice touches which make the story work.   Some have even suggested that Freeman was a bad choice since Moors were not necessarily African-American.  UhmÖthey originated in Africa!!!  They were more Arabic than African, but if you want accurate history, see my review of The History of Britain.

I had not seen the movie in several years and upon watching this release, I realize why I like it so much:  the characters and the message.   The eternally underrated Morgan Freemanís portrayal of Hazeem, a Moor who owes his life to Robin, makes the whole film for me.  This is the only sympathetic portrayal of a devout Muslim I have seen.  He insists on facing east to pray in the evening, he cannot consume alcohol, and his scientific knowledge is far ahead of the west.  We cannot help but like such an intelligent, honorable warrior who can also deliver Little Johnís baby, who was in the breach position, just before he shows gunpowder to the stunned Englishmen.  He is Mr. Spock to Costnerís Captain Kirk.  Friar Tuck is also a scream as a genuinely religious man who counts beer as one of Godís blessings.  He is tough as nails defending his bounty but manages to see Godís hand in teaching him humility at the hands of the merry men.  He is the fussy Dr. McCoy, if you want to complete the Star Trek analogy.   And best of all, only Alan Rickman could be so likeably disgusting as Nottingham (or is it disgustingly likeable?).  Only he could suggest that we cancel Christmas! 

There are valuable messages in the movie which many viewers miss:  that power is a fleeting thing, as we see the Kingís supporters turn against him while he is away; the courage of common men protecting their homes, however so humble; that even religious authorities can be corrupted; and of course the good old-fashioned rescue of a damsel in distress.  In this case, she does not even want to be rescued, but of course Robin persists, which is the point, I think.   

I admit that part of my fascination with this movie is also the beautiful landscape, the castles, the medieval dress, the occult witch with her upside-down cross advising Nottingham, the opening scenes showing the horror and folly of the crusades, the hard but free life of the peasants, and having the biggest song of the year (Bryan Adamsí Everything I Do I Do For You) in the film doesnít hurt either.  The pacing of the film is also excellent.  

There are about 12 minutes of new footage, most of it adds nothing to the film and some of the scenes with the sheriff only muddle the story.

Video ****

Sherwood Forest has never looked better.  The new transfer is obvious, none of the dark patchiness that plagues so many films from this time.   Colors are brilliant; I could not see any compression flaws. 

Audio ****

The soundtrack and overall sound mix are excellent and shakes the walls in this glorious DTS release.  Like X-Men 1.5, I did not realize how good the soundtrack was and how much it adds to the film until I heard it in DTS.  All channels are used imaginatively, such as the sounds of birds flying coming across the rear channels.  Dialogue comes through fine as well.

Features ***

These include a production documentary, interviews with cast members, Bryan Adams performing his hit live at Slane Castle in Ireland, two photo galleries including Weapons of the Time, menu essays, cast & crew biographies, and theatrical trailers and TV spots.

The commentaries are only interesting to folks who have already seen the film many times; they will be of little interest to everyday watchers.  The documentaries unfortunately are similar to the golly-gee-whiz style seen in the Gladiator extras.

Summary:

With such a great cast having fun in Sherwood, you canít go wrong with Prince of Thieves.  Donít be afraid to enjoy a fun movie with a message from a darker, simpler, but more adventurous time.