As we sprint towards the May 2010 release of Ridley Scott's Robin Hood, memories of all the Princes of Thieves are emerging from that little medieval dungeon in our minds and stepping back into the sunlight -- from the campy classic excellence of Errol Flynn's Sunday adventure-style Robin Hood to the Kevin Costner-helmed '90s power-ballad, and everything in between. Each offers some distinctive point that attempts to make it somewhat singular; Kevin Reynolds' Robin Hood has flying arrows ablaze next to Costner's mane, The Adventures of Robin Hood has Flynn's grin against gleeful swashbuckling and, heck, Disney's spin drops a fox in Hood's shoes. Beyond Sherwood Forest has, e hem, a dragon. Yes, you heard me, a dragon -- and, apart from the shoehorned presence of a flying reptilian beast, little separates this action-filled Syfy Channel iteration from being more than a juvenile, straight-faced imitation of every other take on the Yorkshire fable.
Most other talking points remain primarily the same. We're dropped in the middle of 1100s England near the town of Nottingham, where King Richard, a respectable ruler, is off fighting in the crusades -- resulting in tyrannical temporary rule over his land while he's gone. Robin Hood, played here by Skulls II and "Sanctuary" leading guy Robin Dunne, is an orphaned boy turned gruff man who's holed himself up with his Merry Men in the recesses of nearby Sherwood Forest, where they steal from the rich and give to the needy. Robin's got a right-hand man in Little John (Mark Gibbon, Knights of Bloodsteel) and a young lackey in Gareth (Cainan Wiebe), guys that bolster their thief leader's ego in stints when they stumble across wanted posters with escalating values. Once Robin Hood meets Maid Marian (Erica Durance), a bequeathed woman who's soon to be a bargaining chip between England and Austria by way of marriage, a fight for her freedom begins against the interim ruler, Prince John (David Richmond-Peck).
Like clockwork, Beyond Sherwood Forest appears to have a firm grasp on the rhythm of every single Robin Hood depiction, in particular Prince of Thieves, and sidesteps copying their action-fueled scenes only enough to be considered vaguely "different" in this ho-hum spin on the yarn. There's a staff battle on a watery-overlook bridge that ends with our hero thoroughly soaked and his physical authority in check, just like in the Costner vehicle, but the battle isn't with Little John. Robin Hood launches fiery arrows, but not at explosive barrels. His arch nemesis is a grotesquely overblown, one-dimensional villain, but it's not Alan Rickman's Sheriff of Nottingham. All of these things add up almost like creating a messy, faded carbon copy of a credit card, only rubbing out one or two numbers and replacing them with different digits. The story's an afterthought of an afterthought for a television audience, complete with a script that merely ratchets through the motions just to get the metallic clashing of swords and swooping of arrows going.
With that much influence coursing through its veins and little deviation from the weathered story arc, director Peter DeLuise -- recognizable for his work with the Stargate franchise, as well as an episode here of "Blood Ties" and there of "Kyle X/Y" -- has to rustle up a handful of characters that'll make us indulge in the been-there, done-that construction of Beyond Sherwood Forest. He pulls performances out that are shrewd, stiff but dourly uninteresting, coasting along with unmemorable rigidity. DeLuise's slate of characters play out like suspended students from Antoine Fuqua's school of adaptation, complete with a warrior Maid Marian just like Guinevere in King Arthur. Robin Dunne and Erica Durance share only a middling chemistry between them as the legendary couple, while the other performances in the production weaken as we go down the totem pole; the only real exception is the always-reliable Julian Sands as the "sheriff" Malcolm, who presses his talent through as much as the script could allow.
That's all well and good, sort of digestible for TV's sake, until a subplot involving a accursed girl who transforms into a dragon arrives. It's difficult to get those words out: Beyond Sherwood Forest is a loosely sewn-together riff on Robin Hood, only with a dragon. And, all points considered involving the budget and the dropped-in absurdity of the creature's very presence, the rendering of the winged beast isn't too shabby. Scenes where it (she) battles with humans remain tightly constructed, giving it a mediocre screen presence that didn't off-put with false looks. It's the very fact that Robin, Marian, and the Merry Men band together like brutish medieval heroes to fend off a mythical beast that's irksome. Instead of concentrating on what makes the Prince of Thieves such a "human" identifiable hero, DeLuise and crew strive to turn this into a collage of Dragonheart and "Legend of the Seeker" -- only with the English fable as a backdrop.
Video and Audio:
Think what you will about the content, but Beyond Sherwood Forest still boasts a healthy, crisp 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer from Anchor Bay. Naturally, most of the production either takes place in shaded forested areas or within the confines of a stone keep, keeping the color saturation low and riding on the curtails of a green-focused palette. Textures and details are crisp, the progressive nature of the disc retains motion extremely well, and the few splashes of color that do crop into the picture -- blasts of blue near the core, pink flesh tones, and a few blasts of fire -- are very pleasing to the eyes.
Less interesting but still up to task is the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track made available here, one that's fine for the purpose but lacking much in ambiance. Dialogue rings true between all of the characters, with Robin Dunne's baritone voice and Erica Durance's alto tones always audible. A few blasts of activity sneak into the fiery, sword-clanking foray, including a few blasts of fire and some delicate staff-pounding effects, which jazz up the rhythm a bit. It's not a bad track, but there's little here to distinguish it. Only English SDH subtitles are available with the film.
Aside from a Trailer (1:09, 16x9), we've got a sole surface-level featurette entitled Robin Hood: Beyond Sherwood (9:40, 16x9) that focuses on Robin Dunne talking about his fondness for director DeLuise, Julian Sands' path to working on the project, and the director's casting choices and work with green screens.
Beyond Sherwood Forest collides the action rhythm of series like "Legend of the Seeker" with the story of everyone's favorite medieval thief, while tossing mythical beasts in the mix for an added kick. Its biggest problem, however, lies in the fact that it takes this re-imagined concept and neglects to give it enough personality to overcome the deviation from the precedences set by years and years of lore revolving around the Prince of Thieves, instead just somewhat trotting along with underwhelming, stern-faced performances. Anchor Bay's DVD might look and sound good, but the follied conceptualization and exhaustive blandness make this one better to be Skipped.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site