Review by Gordon Justesen
Crowe, Cate Blanchett, William Hurt, Mark Strong, Mark Addy, Oscar Isaac, Danny
Huston, Eileen Atkins, Max Von Sydow
Director: Ridley Scott
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Features: See Review
Length: 156 Minutes
Release Date: September 21, 2010
“Rise and rise again, until lambs become lions.”
Of all the great literary characters I was introduced to in my youth, none other stuck with me more than Robin Hood. Hardly any other legendary heroic figure has had more different stories and incarnations than the famous outlaw of Sherwood Forest. And I ate up every story, no matter how differently he was presented.
His many adventures have been interpreted many times on film, as well. I grew up with three specific versions; the first being the Disney animated feature, followed a few years by my first experience with the 1938 classic The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn and then 1991's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which I actually saw in the theater the very day it opened and immediately declared it as the greatest Robin Hood movie ever made. Mind you, I was 12 at the time and have since come to accept it as a true guilty pleasure.
So when I first heard the news that a new Robin Hood movie was going to be made by none other than Ridley Scott, my anticipation was already as big and as massive as the mullet Kevin Costner donned for his classic interpretation of the character. Scott is the reigning king of the medieval warrior epic, having illustrated that with Gladiator and to even greater effect with his masterpiece, Kingdom of Heaven. So the idea of him telling a Robin Hood story under his signature extravagant, detail-appreciative filmmaking style was a genius idea multiplied by a billion in my book.
Then when I heard it was going to be an origin story, my anticipation grew even further. That part of the character had never been explored on film before, unless you count the opening half hour of Prince of Thieves. Scott's film was going to be the fully orchestrated origin story, one that would tie Robin's adventures to that of the Crusades.
And it's this very aspect of Ridley Scott's Robin Hood that seemed to have left more people disappointed than impressed, and this time around...I appear to be in the minority. The very things I seem to appreciate about this unique approach to the legend are what apparently turned so many off, which kind of baffles me since people so often complain about seeing the same story done over and over again. I have been a longtime fan of everything having to do with Robin Hood, and I have no problem in saying that this may just be my favorite cinematic incarnation to date.
The story begins with the character, known here as Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe), serving in the crusade army led by King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston), who is now at war with the French. Fighting alongside Robin are his loyal cohorts, and future merry men, Little John (Kevin Durand), Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes) and Alan A'Dayle (Alan Doyle). With King Richard being fatally struck down during a battle and feeling the need to end his duty as a Crusader, Robin and his band escape into a nearby forest.
It is there that they intervene an attempt to steal King Richard's crown, as it is being delivered to Nottingham, orchestrated by Godfrey (Mark Strong), a treacherous English soldier whose loyalties lie secretly with the French empire. After which, Robin ends up assuming the identity of the fallen soldier carrying the crown, named Robert Loxley, and makes a vow to deliver the crown himself and announce word of King Richard's death to the people of Nottingham. This, of course, will result in Richard's power-thirsty brother, Prince John (Oscar Isaac), as the heir to the throne.
Not so long after his arrival in Nottingham, Robin is greeted by Loxley's blind father, Walter (Max Von Sydow), and is then introduced to the man's widow, Marion (Cate Blanchett). After hearing of his actions following his son's death, Walter makes an odd request of Robin and asks him to proceed with his charade of pretending to be his dead son as a way of keeping the peace within the land. He's even asked to act as if he were Marion's actual husband, which she of course isn't so fond of.
And in exchange for carrying out this request, Loxley eventually reveals to Robin that he knew his father. This results in Robin being forced to recall the darkest moment in his life, as his father was beheaded right in front of his eyes as a child. But he learns that his father was looked upon as a visionary, and encouraged all noble men to stand up and defend the weak in the face of evil.
This realization is the very thing that inspires Robin to defend the people of Nottingham. Godfrey is on a murderous rampage in an effort to force tax payments from villagers. There's also the threat of the impending French forces who are set to meet up with Godfrey and invade England in a matter of days.
To understand why Robin Hood is such a marvelous achievement, you need only look at the production itself. This is one of the most expensive films on record and because of Ridley Scott's trademark and purely fantastic attention to detail, which was also evident in both Kingdom of Heaven and Gladiator, you do get a sense of where all the money went. Scott spared no expense when it came to recreating the period, as illustrated perfectly by the remarkable production design, costumes and art direction.
Then there's the battle sequences which, in pure Ridley Scott fashion, will floor you to no end. In addition to Scott's ingeniously gritty execution of the many brutal action set pieces, this movie carry's the added bonus of having absolutely no hint of CGI usage. That is rarely the case in today's action filmmaking, so to see nothing but practical sets and actors actually riding into battle in the actual setting of England was nothing short of awe-inspiring.
My one and only concern going into the movie was being able to accept a 46 year-old Russell Crowe in the title role, which is clearly a role better suited for an actor half that age (even though Sean Connery was himself in his late 40s when he took on the role in Robin and Marian). Much to my amazement, I had no trouble at all buying Crowe as Robin, especially since his brooding force nicely matches the darker and more serious tone of this new take on the legend. He does manage, though, to throw in some of the classic wit and charm that's always been associated with Robin Hood.
And you couldn't ask for stronger supporting cast, with Cate Blanchett providing what is easily the fiercest interpretation of Maid Marian to date, though as mentioned earlier the character her goes by Marion Loxley. There's also some fantastic turns from the likes of William Hurt as William Marshall (who helps to fight the corruption of the kingdom), Oscar Isaac as a purely sniveling King John and Max Von Sydow as the noble blind man who helps Robin come to understand his destiny. And Mark Strong as the bloodthirsty Godfrey once again illustrates, following his work in Sherlock Holmes and Kick-Ass, that he's by far the actor to beat these days in terms of villainous roles.
Some audiences may have the same sort of difficulty surrendering to such a bold new take on a beloved legendary character, much like the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced King Arthur. But as I stated earlier, I am a loyal fan of Robin Hood and found Ridley Scott's ambitious take on the character to be nothing short of spectacular in terms of both story and scale, which is quite massive. And as a rousing piece of action entertainment, this one really delivers like no other version before it.
A Ridley Scott film on Blu-ray is pretty much an event in and of itself, even more so than they were on standard DVD (which is really saying something). So it goes without saying that this gritty looking medieval adventure arrives on Blu-ray in a stunning looking presentation from Universal. Scott brings a most distinct look to this film, incorporating an unconventional color palette that helps to enhance the authenticity of the time period. The English countryside locations look absolutely breathtaking, and when it comes time for the bloodshed to be seen the reds don't disappoint at all.
The DTS HD 5.1 mix provides what is without question one of the best sound presentations to grace any Blu-ray release to date. The simple swooshing sound of arrows being shot during the battle scenes would be enough to give it such a high rating. It just so happens that the sound mix delivers 110% in every possible area. And since this is an extravagant medieval epic directed by Ridley Scott, that means you're getting a spectacularly dynamic sounding presentation of the highest order. The balance between dialogue, action set pieces, the clinging of swords, the galloping of horses and, most especially, the magnificent music score by Marc Streitenfeld represents pure lossless sounding glory. If anything, it will help in engulfing you into the film's authentic recreation of the time period!
Universal's magnificently packaged release results in one of the must own Blu-ray releases of the year. What we get here, essentially, is a 3-Disc Combo Pack release (including the Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Copy), as well as the amount of extraordinary extras we've come to appreciate on a Ridley Scott release. Both the Theatrical Version and Director's Cut of the film are included. I strongly suggest opting only for the Director's Cut which, like all of Ridley Scott's final cuts, feels much more complete and is more brutal on the action front.
The highlight of the extras is “The Director's Notebook”, a pop-up feature that has been substituted for the U-Control feature. Though this only plays for the Theatrical Version, it's a wonderful feature that plays a lot like the Maximum Viewing Mode you may have seen on several BD titles from Warner. Occasionally, the movie will disappear from the screen and allow various behind the scenes footage to appear, as well as numerous interviews with cast and crew members and a glance at what are known as hand-drawn “Ridleygrams”. There's also a fantastic behind the scenes documentary titled, “Rise and Rise Again: Making Ridley Scott's Robin Hood”, which runs about an hour and covers all areas of pre-production, production and post-production. As expected, a lot of material is covered here as we are treated to a glance at Scott's meticulous fimmaking style. Also included is an extravagant still gallery called “The Art of Nottingham”, which features a huge portfolio of designs along with video introductions, conceptual art, consume designs and storyboards. Lastly, we get about 13 minutes worth of Deleted Scenes, with introduction and commentary by editor Pietro Scalia, as well as 2 Theatrical Trailers and 6 TV Spots for the film.
With Robin Hood, master filmmaker Ridley Scott has crafted a bold and unique origin story of one of the most legendary characters in existence. Know that going into this one, and you will enjoy it thoroghly. If you're expecting more of the same, I'm hoping you can accept the new approach. One marvelously entertaining action epic that's presented remarkably in the Blu-ray format!