The BBC's latest adaptation of the Hood legend finds our lovable leader of merry men (played by twenty-five year old British heartthrob, Jonas Armstrong) locked in yet another epic struggle with the ever-corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham (Keith Allen) and his right-hand lackey, Guy of Gisborne (Richard Armitage). As usual, Robin doesn’t enter the fray alone. At his side are a group of outlaws who’ve sworn to uphold Hood’s particular brand of justice -- a former gang-leader called Little John (Gordon Kennedy), a servant with the unfortunate moniker of Much (Sam Troughton), a pair of rebels named Will Scarlet (Harry Lloyd) and Allan Dale (Joe Armstrong), and a warrior girl called Djaq (Anjali Jay). A few key mainstays appear as well, but several others are surprisingly missing. The lovely Lady Marian (Lucy Griffiths) is on hand to inject the series with sexual tension, but the indomitable Friar Tuck is nowhere to be found. Regardless, Robin and his makeshift battalion battle the Sherriff and his black knights, fight to preserve King Richard’s throne, and work to deliver food-n-coin to England’s locals.
Splitting critics and viewers alike, this first season of “Robin Hood” works when it hurls big-dumb-fun at the screen with reckless abandon. Since the tale has been modernized and exaggerated to transform Robin and his band into 12th century rock stars, it excels when arrows fly and swords clash. While the action is decidedly limp and anticlimactic at times, it nevertheless keeps the series flashy and fun. Unfortunately, every time danger is sheathed and the characters must take center stage, the show is forced to rely on its stiff plotting and occasionally mind-numbing dialogue.
The actors do a fine job with what they’ve been handed, but their characters are too simplistic and limited to break free of their appointed roles and cookie-cutter reactions. It’s particularly damning for the long-term tale since the episodes become more and more tedious as the bad guys get badder and the good guys have little more to deal with than in-house, teenie-bop drama (the sort I’d expect on a show like “Degrassi: The Next Generation” rather than “Robin Hood”).
Sadly, the show is undone by other critical, fundamental problems. Keith Allen’s Sherriff is appropriately a mean ol’ cuss, but compared to Alan Rickman’s sublime narcissist, the BBC series’ Sherwood baddie has the complexity of a one-note serial villain. Worse still, Armstrong’s Hood looks like a charming fellow that would attract the masses, but doesn’t have the emotional gravitas required to effectively sell the heft of his character’s plight. Likewise, Griffiths’ Marian swoons on cue and gives Robin something to work for, but she’s been written into the corner as a series MacGuffin of sorts. As a result, the hero and would-be heroin have an underdeveloped relationship that’s painfully drawn out over the course of the season like the slothy love stories that pepper other shows adapted from broad sources (“Smallville” and “Buffy” spring to mind).
Ultimately, none of these problems and shortcomings ruin the series per se, but they fail to tap into the story’s potential. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time with the heroes or villains, I never had the urge to immediately jump into the next episode, and I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the writers’ reinterpretations of various characters. Fans of “Xena,” “Hercules,” and, to some extent, “Smallville,” may find something to enjoy in this colorful romp, but I thought it was shallow, underwhelming, and lacked proper charisma.
(Note the Blu-ray edition of ‘Robin Hood: Season 1’ includes all thirteen, full-length episodes: “Will You Tolerate This,” “Sherriff Got Your Tongue?,” “Who Shot the Sherriff?,” “Parent Hood,” “Turk Flu,” “The Tax Man Cometh,” “Brothers in Arms,” “Tattoo? What Tattoo?,” “A Thing or Two About Loyalty,” “Peace? Off!,” “Dead Man Walking,” “The Return of the King,” and “A Clue: No.”)
Presented with a regrettably inferior 1080i/VC-1 transfer, ’Robin Hood: Season 1’ fails to render the colorful forests of Sherwood with any consistency. At least the already vibrant palette does get a sizeable bump from the upgrade to high definition. Compared to its standard DVD counterpart, skintones are more lifelike, primaries are more vivid, and blacks are much deeper. That’s not to say darker scenes have been rendered perfectly -- source noise and crushing still appear from time to time, details are occasionally enveloped by heavy shadows, and poorly-lit shots aren't as resolved -- but they’re still considerably improved.
Unfortunately, while fine textures and background details receive an inherent boost from the discs’ increased resolution, there are too many soft shots, hazy edges, and nagging mishaps with scene clarity and contrast inconsistencies. Adding insult to injury, the presentation is plagued by errant artifacting, mosquito noise, aliasing, pixelation, and some light banding. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the video terrible, but I’ve reviewed other television series that have looked much better. In the end, series fans and DVD owners will appreciate the upgrade, but newcomers will be distracted by the technical shortcomings of each disc.
Yes, the specs on the back cover list a singular, Stereo audio mix and, yes, the default track on each disc is an irritatingly thin Dolby Digital 2.0 track, but dig deeper and you’ll find a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track for each episode. Alas, this hidden option doesn’t save the release from middle-of-the-road sound design and weak surround presence. While the series dialogue is crisp, clear, and well prioritized, the rear speakers only provide light ambiance and stagey acoustic support, the LFE channel doesn’t pack any substantial oomph, and the track exhibits little more than the most basic immersive properties. Granted, the experience isn’t a complete wash since its dynamics are fairly impressive, but it’s still quite disappointing considering the fervor of the on-screen action. Honestly, there isn’t a lot to enjoy other than the fact that the surround track isn’t hindered by any glaring technical or compression deficiencies.
Fans will probably shrug their shoulders at this lackluster audio package since “Robin Hood” is just a television show, but the Blu-ray sonics sound as if they’ve been yanked straight off of a standard DVD.
The Blu-ray edition of ‘Robin Hood: Season 1’ includes all of the special features that appeared on the 2007 DVD release. There’s a healthy amount of content on hand (albeit presented in standard definition), but none of it will bring detractors into the flock.
”Robin Hood” may have a growing fanbase (after all, it’s gearing up for its fourth season), but it just didn’t appeal to my tastes. Cheeky, clumsy, and poorly scripted, this first season is a limp reimagining of a fantastic legend. Alas, this new Blu-ray release doesn’t give fans much of an excuse to upgrade their DVD copies. While it does feature an improved video presentation, the high-def transfer still has its share of problems, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is underwhelming, and the generous supplemental package doesn’t have any new content. I would definitely give this one a rent before you consider a purchase.