In 13th century England, Robin Hood (Russell Crowe) and his band of marauders confront corruption in a local village and lead an uprising against the crown that will forever alter the balance of world power. And whether thief or hero, one man from humble beginnings will become an eternal symbol of freedom for his people.
Robin Hood chronicles the life of an expert archer, previously interested only in self-preservation, from his service in King Richard's army against the French. Upon Richard's death, Robin travels to Nottingham, a town suffering from the corruption of a despotic sheriff and crippling taxation, where he falls for the spirited widow Lady Marian (Cate Blanchett), a woman skeptical of the identity and motivations of this crusader from the forest. Hoping to earn the hand of Maid Marian and salvage the village, Robin assembles a gang whose lethal mercenary skills are matched only by its appetite for life. Together, they begin preying on the indulgent upper class to correct injustices under the sheriff.
With their country weakened from decades of war, embattled from the ineffective rule of the new king and vulnerable to insurgencies from within and threats from afar, Robin and his men heed a call to ever greater adventure. This unlikeliest of heroes and his allies set off to protect their country from slipping into bloody civil war and return glory to England once more.
Director Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe reunite once more — making this their fifth collaboration — for another historical epic in this drastically-different retelling of 'Robin Hood.' The filmmakers replace the sort of sweeping romance and swashbuckling excitement commonly associated with the fables of Robin of Loxley with political intrigue and graphic battles. With high production values and a seemingly interesting, if not at least original, script, this contemporary look at the outlaw of Sherwood Forrest rewrites myth, as well as history, in order to create the story behind the legend. Unfortunately, this sword-wielding adventure tale across Medieval England aims a bit too high and ultimately misses its mark.
The film opens with Robin Longstride (Crowe) in the midst of warfare against France, supposedly fighting one final conflict of the crusades before heading back to England. Robin, who's just a common archer in the King's military (the first of several severe changes made to this wildly popular and well-known story), is friends with Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes) and soon befriends Little John (Kevin Durand) and Allan A'Dayle (Alan Doyle) on the battlefield. After the death of Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston), the four men head back home and stumble upon Godfrey (Mark Strong) stealing the crown from Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge). The baldheaded man is quickly chased away, and Robin promises to return Robert's sword to his father in Nottingham.
It's at this point that it suddenly dawns on us — that is, if you didn't already know the plot before watching the film - that this is not the Robin Hood fairy tale we've come to love and remember. Many of the same archetypes are now introduced at different periods in his journey to becoming the symbolic hero against tyranny and the abuse of power. Scott's Robin is literally an impostor, posing as Robert, husband to Lady Marian (Cate Blanchett) and son to Sir Walter (Max von Sydow). Friar Tuck (Mark Addy) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Macfadyen) also make minor appearances, but they come off more like cameos than important figures. King John (Oscar Isaac) still plays a major role as the selfish, juvenile ruler, but his personal fight with Robin doesn't come to fruition until much, much later.
While there may not be a single agreed-upon story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, this version to English folklore is quite a bold move on the part of the filmmakers. To restructure the original setting of a beloved classic and reconfigure an entire narrative that has been passed down for hundreds of years is pretty daring and different, to say the least. But it's not a wholly satisfying experience either, mainly because it feels like we're forced into waiting until the final moments for the real story to at last begin, almost as if the preceding 140 minutes were nothing more than exposition. And the several allusions to real historical events, such as the Magna Carta, only succeed at muddling things further.
On the other hand, I have to admit I can appreciate the attempt at trying something new and unexpected. Time and time again, Ridley Scott has proven himself to be an amazing director. He knows how to capture the drama without it turning overly sentimental, and balancing it with genuinely exciting sights of warfare and action. And 'Robin Hood' is honestly no different, as it does look beautiful and is mildly entertaining. The photography of John Mathieson ('Gladiator,' 'Kingdom of Heaven,' 'The Phantom of the Opera') is marvelous and gorgeous, too. But the script has so greatly altered the original tale that filmmakers probably should have changed the title as well in order to temper expectations.
'Robin Hood' is really a revisionism of myth, situated within a historical arena so as to create authenticity. But Scott's film fails at capturing the essence that transformed the hero of medieval ballads into a legend. The plot is essentially a prelude to the myth audiences are actually anticipating and leaves them hanging for a sequel. Sadly, at this point, we're not entirely sure we want to see what's next.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings 'Robin Hood' to Blu-ray in a three-disc combo pack. The standard blue keepcase houses both the BD50, Region Free disc and a standard definition DVD on opposing panels. Both discs contain the Theatrical Version and the Director's Cut via seamless branching, but only the Blu-ray contains all the special features. The third disc is a Digital Copy provided in a separate paper sleeve with clear window.
The package comes with a glossy cardboard slipcover that opens and closes with a Velcro dot. At startup, viewers are greeted by randomly selected but skippable trailers thanks to the studio's BD-Live connectivity. After that's over, we are asked to choose between the Theatrical or Director's Cut. The difference between the two is approximately 15 minutes and consists mostly of extended scenes and extra character interaction. Once at the main menu, we find the standard selection of options, plus Universal's commercial-infested News Ticker playing over full motion captures taken from the movie's end credits.
Ridley Scott's 'Robin Hood' debuts on Blu-ray with a stunning, highly-detailed 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.40:1) with several scenes that reach for the ranks of reference quality. From beginning to end, contrast is spot-on and sharp, exposing every minute aspect of the picture with splendid clarity. We can make out every pore and wrinkle in the faces of actors, along with the texture and stitching of costumes. Background foliage is clear and remarkable, and definition in random architecture is striking and revealing, as every defect and blemish of the wood and stone bricks is made plainly visible. The palette is composed mostly of earth tones, with richly saturated primaries and full-bodied secondary hues. The image also displays strong dimensionality with an appreciable cinematic feel and vividness.
The one minor nitpick is with black levels that appear noticeably weaker in some sections than others. For the most part, the darkest portions of the screen exhibit rich, inky blacks with strong gradations. At other times, they are rendered somewhat flat and slightly dulled, making shadow delineation suffer as a result. Funny thing, however, is that this happens primarily around sequences of natural firelight, which suggests the weakest in blacks can be attributed to the photography and not to the digital transfer. A good example of the difference in blacks and the effect being inherent to the film is the scene in Chapter 13 of the Director's Cut where William Hurt and Max von Sydow first share the screen (at around the 1:43 mark). Hurt's black hood is lush and accurate, while the surrounding shadows lack the same energy and opulence.
Nonetheless, this is a trivial objection that keeps the high-def presentation from perfection, but the overall quality of the transfer is beautiful and astounding.
As if the picture quality weren't enough, Universal Studios also throws in an excellent, demo-worthy DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The sound design is intent on generating an enveloping experience with terrific, subtle atmospherics that beautifully immerse the listener into this medieval world.
Rear activity is nearly constant with the rich and discrete sounds of wildlife and nature. Directionality is seamless and convincing, creating a highly enjoyable 360° soundfield that pulls viewers into the film. The musical score also spreads brilliantly across the soundstage and into the background, providing the imaging with a welcoming and warm presence from beginning to end. Vocals are well-prioritized and pitch-perfect, even amidst the track's loudest moments. While the lower frequencies are accurate and powerfully responsive when called upon, dynamic range is extensive with admirable room penetration, exhibiting clear, precise distinctions between the mid and high ends during the many sequences of combat. For this retelling of the Robin Hood legend, the lossless mix delivers a first-rate and spectacular audio presentation that home theater enthusiasts can enjoy.
'Robin Hood' comes to Blu-ray as a combo pack that shares the same collection of bonus material with its DVD counterpart, minus a few exclusives.
Ridley Scott's 'Robin Hood' is a completely different retelling of the legendary hero who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. While the ambition of the filmmakers to create something new and original is admirable, the results as a whole are sadly unsatisfactory, barely succeeding as a mildly entertaining swashbuckling adventure epic. The Blu-ray edition of the film, however, arrives with an excellent picture quality and a reference level audio presentation, both of which give the movie an added boost. The high-def package also comes with a healthy collection of bonus features. In the end, folks are best advised to give this retelling of a legend a rent first before purchasing, but the overall package comes recommended for fans since the audio/video sections are terrific.