Ah, to be a young boy and in love (with movies) in the summer of 1991.
Not only was Arnold back for James Cameron's 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day,' which featured a molten man who stabbed people in the face, an indestructible Arnold-bot, and an awesome Guns N' Roses song (remember - this was 1991, long, lonnnnng before the criminal injustice of 'Chinese Democracy'), but it also had the most mind-sizzling visual effects ever conceived of by mankind.
That was also the summer of Disney's 'The Rocketeer.' And, while that film didn't exactly set the world on fire, critically or commercially, it was the kind of movie that ignited the imagination of adolescent boys. (Instead of a melting man this had a flying man.) As opposed to James Cameron's next-gen actioner, this was pure pulp throwback. And it was a whole lot of breathless fun.
And, rounding out the trio, was 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,' a big budget re-imagining of the classic swashbuckling wish fulfillment fantasy. This too was the action movie goldmine that young boys (like myself) absolutely ate up. There were large scale battles and the bad guy from 'Die Hard' (the bad guy from 'Die Hard'!) as the evil Sherriff of Nottingham. I still remember the action figures, for crying out loud.
So, it was with much trepidation that I revisited 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.' Would it hold up, as the other two summer-of-1991 films did, or would it seem weak and ineffectual in this post-'Bourne' action climate?
Well, it has not aged well, that's for sure.
The film, directed by Kevin Reynolds (who would reteam with his Robin Hood, Kevin Costner, for the ill-fated 'Waterworld'), does still have a certain amount of charm. And it's star wattage is a testament to that - Morgan Freeman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (whatever happened to her, anyway?), Christian Slater, and the unfairly overlooked Michael Wincott all put in fine performances. Of course, nobody really matches the manic intensity of Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham, but that's to be expected.
The movie is pretty solidly constructed, too. Robin Hood, arriving back from the Crusades, comes back to England to set things right. Robin Hood robs from the rich and he gives to the poor. He has a band of merry thieves. And the Sheriff absolutely hates him. The action often explodes into huge battle sequences, like the one that closes the film. Everything looks impeccable, too - sets and costumes are truly outstanding.
And adding much to the majesty of the film is the sweeping, stirring score by Michael Kamen. If there's anything that's truly endured from 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,' it's the music. It's still used to this day in a million commercials and movie trailers. And it still makes your heart soar when you hear it, and that's saying something.
Like I said, the rest of the movie doesn't hold up as well.
Reynolds' direction, in which he employs a kind of swirling, unconnected camera movement, feels terribly dated. He likes to get up into people's faces like Sam Raimi used to do, to an almost fish-eye-lens degree, and it doesn't work. Similarly, the disjointed camera movements add some jittery intensity little else. It lacks the immediacy of the shaky camera fad that has gripped many contemporary action movies.
Also, it just feels so chaste. Besides Morgan Freeman ribbing Kevin Costner about the differences between Islam and Christianity, the movie feels so safe. There's a scene where Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, as Maid Marian, watches Kevin Costner skinny dip underneath a waterfall that would literally be laughed out of the movie today. While there's a lot of adventuring, you never feel there's any particular danger.
And, honestly, the less that's said about Kevin Costner's shaky "English" accent, the better.
The movie is still fun, for sure (those "arrow's eye view" shots are still pretty neat), but it does feel very dated and staid. While they were really trying to revolutionize the legend with this one, it already feels as stodgy as the old serials, and that's a shame. Still, as one third of the 10-year-old-boy's favorite summer movie season, it holds up (oh, seeing Sean Connery show up at the end was also quite a treat too) - both as a time capsule and as adolescent entertainment.
It should be noted, however, that you only get the "extended cut" of the movie here, which is ten whole minutes longer. That's a slog. Could they not have put both versions of the movie on the same disc? Is this not what Blu-ray promised us as a superior technology?
Overall, I found the video on this 'Robin Hood' disc fairly strong. While it's not reference quality by any means, it still offers an upgrade over previous DVD releases
Where the 1080p/VC-1 really shines is in its representation of textures. This movie is full of them - from the woods where Robin and his thieves reside, to the immaculately constructed and embellished costumes, to Alan Rickman's curled hairstyle. Textures are crisp and well defined and this additional care is much appreciated (there is some occasional edge enhancement, it should be noted).
But while textures are well done, there are other aspects of the transfer that are less impressive. A lot of this has to do with the digital grain reduction, which sometimes looks like the entire movie has been sandblasted. Or had a botched facelift. This can render some of the actors with muted skin tones and block out definition in certain scenes (and it doesn't matter what time of day it is - both daylight and nighttime suffer from this blurriness). Close-ups (which happen frequently, thanks to Reynolds' aforementioned overzealous camera activity) are close but not particularly defined.
Also, there are instances of artifacts and micro-blocking, which mar some of the truly impressive large scale action sequences. It's a shame that these technical issues do so much to bring down what could have been a truly exceptional visual experience. However, this does still constitute an upgrade from previous home video releases of the swashbuckling adventurer.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track audio mix on this disc adds much to the experience, adding a much needed blast of dynamism to a movie that honestly comes off as a little square in this day and age.
Dialogue sounds good and is always audible, rising above the sonic landscape even in the most cacophonous situations. It's not wonderful, by any means, but it is well prioritized in the mix.
The rest of the track, in terms of immersive surround activity, is pretty stellar. 'Robin Hood' features zooming arrows (sometimes from the arrow's whooshing point of view), runaway carriages, and clanging sword fights. As such, the surround sound is consistently working - and working well.
All channels are busy - front channels handling dialogue, rear channels adding an extra thwack to the heavier action sequences and general atmosphere of the piece. From front to back, you will be in the forest with the merry men or feel the Sheriff's blade swing close enough to your face to shave a few whiskers off your moustache. While directionality doesn't necessarily seem like a top priority, the rest of the mix is very effective.
Subtitles are available in English, Spanish, French, German, and Italian
All of these are ported over from a recent two-disc DVD reissue of the movie. Still, I guess it's nice having everything on one disc. So, it's got that going for it.
While the audio and video do offer a bump up in quality, there are a few nagging technical issues, and the movie really hasn't held up very well. So, if you're a 'Robin Hood' aficionado, I would highly recommend it. For everyone else it's RECOMMENDED, with a few caveats - one, you have to have a great sound system to take advantage of the mix (the disc's true highlight); two, you need to find it on sale; and three, you need to tap into whatever frame of mind you were in during the summer of 1991, in which robots, Robin Hood, and the Rocketeer ruled the box office (and our collective imagination).