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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves (Two-Disc Special Extended Edition)
Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves (Two-Disc Special Extended Edition)
Warner Bros. // PG-13 // June 10, 2003
List Price: $26.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted June 26, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The movie



I've had a bit of a
roller-coaster experience with watching Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
When I first watched the movie, sometime in the early '90s, I recall finding it
reasonably entertaining. The next time I watched it, however, I absolutely
hated it. In retrospect, I suspect that this reaction might have had something
to do with watching it in a motel room in Texas... in the middle of the
summer... with the air conditioning not working, because after watching it once
again to review it, I'm back at the "reasonably entertaining"
verdict. (For the curious, the air conditioning problem was solved and the rest
of the vacation went fine.)



I'm not entirely sure what the
overall tone of the film is intended to be. It's not uncommon for an otherwise highly
dramatic story to have one character or situation that provides a touch of
comic relief (just look at Shakespeare for plenty of examples), or to see
comedies that are given a bit more bite by virtue of having some genuinely
dramatic parts. Most of the time, though, the overall emphasis of the story is
clear, with the touch of drama or comedy heightening the main effect.



In contrast, Robin Hood:
Prince of Thieves
ends up being neither fish nor fowl: depending on what
part of the film you happen to be watching at any given moment, you might
conclude that it's either a complete slapstick parody, or a
taking-itself-seriously historical epic. The film makes some effort in the
general vicinity of historical realism, most notably with the setting, but it's
pretty clear that this is not a primary concern of the film: the over-the-top
villainy of the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman), for one thing, precludes
taking the film seriously as an accurate representation of the origins of the
Robin Hood legend. The fact that Kevin Costner doesn't even try to do an
English accent in the title role is really beside the point, anyway; is he
really playing anybody except "Kevin Costner"? On balance, the best
way to enjoy Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is to take it on the lighter
side: if you expect a certain degree of silliness, the whole experience is much
more entertaining.



One plot point that does draw
effectively on real history, though it will most likely pass unnoticed by most
viewers, is the Sheriff's use of Celtic mercenaries late in the film: while
this itself is not necessarily based in real history (the rebellious nobility
of King Richard's time caused plenty of trouble on their own, without any need
to bring in foreigners), it nicely echoes the quasi-mythical story of King
Vortigern who, hundreds of years earlier in a fragmented England called on two
Saxon leaders to fight for him against rivals. As it happens, these warriors
fought off Vortigern's enemies... but instead of taking their pay and going
home, they decided to turn against Vortigern and carve out a kingdom of their
own in England, paving the way for the Saxon invasion. Oops. While this isn't
how things play out in the film, this tactic is exactly the kind of two-edged
sword that the Sheriff of Nottingham would eagerly seize without considering
how it might turn against him.



The one actor in the
star-studded and generally adequate cast who really stands out is Morgan
Freeman, who does an excellent job of portraying a believable Moor transplanted
to "barbaric" England. One of the best scenes in the film is one in
which he pulls out a telescope to check out riders on the horizon: Robin's
reaction when he takes a look neatly captures the difference of the era between
the highly civilized Arabic cultures and the scientifically backward English.
It's a shame that the film didn't concentrate more on the historical realism
and less on the cartoony material, because it could possibly have been a much
more substantial movie than it actually turned out to be.



Okay, so Robin Hood is
reasonably entertaining: light-weight, fluffy fun, a retelling of a classic
legend with all the traditional trimmings like the evil Sheriff of Nottingham,
the lovely Maid Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), and of course Robin's
band of "merry men," including the famous Friar Tuck and Little John.
The one thing that really plays against it is simply that it's too long. The
film is reasonably entertaining, but it doesn't have the backbone to stand up
to the two-and-a-half-hour running time without sagging. While there's nothing
that aggressively stands out as needing to be trimmed, my bet is that the film
overall could have been tightened up considerably in the editing stage,
trimming bits of flab here and there throughout the whole film.



With this in mind, the
"extended" nature of the Special Edition is even more unnecessary.
Sure, it's only twelve minutes, but adding twelve minutes to an already
overlong film isn't quite what the doctor ordered. On the bright side, the new
footage has been very well integrated into the film overall, with no scenes
that stand out as blatantly unnecessary. The chapter listing on the inside flap
of the DVD packaging very conveniently indicates which chapters contain new
footage: five chapters out of 46 have new material, all of it toward the middle
of the film, and mainly dealing with the Sheriff of Nottingham.



The DVD



Robin Hood: Prince of
Thieves Extended Version
is a two-disc set, packaged in a cardboard fold-up
case that fits into a paperboard sleeve. While I'm not fond of Warner's
packaging, and I'd prefer a plastic keepcase, the packaging isn't terrible, and
the art is attractive. The first DVD is a dual-layer disc with the film, while
the second disc contains the bonus materials.



Video



For a nicely presented special
edition like this, I would have expected a better transfer than what we
actually get. The bit rate of the film averages around 8 mb/s, which isn't bad,
but it's also not up there with really solid transfers at 9 mb/s and up. Some
scenes look good, such as daylight scenes in the outdoors, which helps to bring
up the overall video score. Colors are also well handled throughout the film,
looking fairly vibrant and natural. And to the film's favor, the widescreen
1.85:1 image is anamorphically enhanced.



A number of problems plague the
image, however. Edge enhancement is very heavy, resulting in wide, bright
haloes around objects that are especially noticeable in scenes that have a
bright background. The grain in the film is also well above acceptable levels,
with any dimly-lit or dark scene suffering considerably.



It's in the contrast that the
transfer is weakest. Throughout the film, the contrast appears to have been set
too high, with shadowed areas turning to full black very quickly, with a resulting
loss of detail. No subtleties of shading are visible here: pretty much, an
object is well lit or it's completely in the dark. This goes for darker
portions of a well-lit scene as well as overall dark scenes, so the contrast is
a constant issue.



All in all, the film is
certainly watchable, and the good points of the transfer balance out the faults
enough to let me give it a slightly above-average mark, but it still doesn't
live up to expectations.



Audio



The sound quality here falls
well short of even modest expectations. The DTS track, which I was eagerly
looking forward to, is laughable. I counted exactly two occasions in which I
heard distinct surround effects being used (one instance of birds, and another
of water dripping) and in the latter instance, the same localization of the
sound is used even when the camera rotates, putting the source of the sound on
the other side of the screen. The music is reasonably spread across the
different channels, but there's little sense that any attention was placed to
balancing the different elements of the score rather than just sending it to
all the speakers.



A Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is also
included, for viewers without DTS decoders. As far as I could tell, it sounds
exactly the same as the DTS track, for good and for bad; this isn't the DVD to
make you go out and buy a new player with DTS capability.



I wouldn't downgrade the rating
of the soundtrack so heavily if it just didn't live up to its potential; the
problem is that the sound is not particularly well handled in its basic tasks.
Dialogue is presented unevenly, with the volume shifting at different points
during the film, and in many instances, the actors' voices are slightly
muffled. This is certainly not one of the clearer soundtracks I've heard.



Extras



For fans of the film, there are
several special features worth noting, though fewer for casual viewers. Of most
merit are two full-length audio commentaries, found on the first disc of the
set. The first commentary features actors Morgan Freeman and Christian Slater
along with writer/producer Pen Densham and co-writer/producer John Watson. The
second commentary has Kevin Costner and director Kevin Reynolds.



The second DVD contains the
balance of the special features. One feature likely to appeal to enthusiasts is
a full isolated music score by Michael Kamen, in Dolby 5.1. The menu for this
feature allows listeners to select the full film score, or hop to nine
different scene-specific portions of the soundtrack.



The featurette section is a
mixed bag, offering less substance than I had hoped for. First billing is given
to "Robin Hood: The Man, the Myth, the Legend," which starts off with
a rather pretentious introduction by Pierce Brosnan (why Pierce Brosnan? I have
no idea) that suggests that the featurette will delve into the origins of the
character of Robin Hood in history and legend. Alas, that promise is
unfulfilled, as this 31-minute piece ends up being a mainly promotional-style
piece with short segments looking behind the scenes, at the making of the music,
and so on, liberally salted with clips from the film. Oddly enough, Brosnan's
introduction mentions the feature as being an hour long... so what happened to
the other 29 minutes? My theory is that it must have originally been shown on
television... with commercials. Almost half commercials? Egads. This is why I
watch things on DVD, not television...



A section of interviews titled
"One on One with the Cast" offers twenty minutes of interview footage
with Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Christian
Slater, and Alan Rickman. I didn't find the interviews particularly compelling,
but they may be of some interest. One convenient feature is a "play
all" option.



Also in the featurettes section
is a four-minute video of Bryan Adams playing "Everything I Do, I Do It
for You" at Slade Castle.



The remaining special features
are a typical miscellany of bonus material. In "Production Design" we
get four sets of textual notes on various aspects of production. The
"Publicity Gallery" includes the film's theatrical trailer and six TV
spots, a set of six other Morgan Creek DVD releases, a cast and crew
biography/filmography section, and a text section on five different weapons
featured in the film. This section is also where the music-only score is
accessed.



The menus are functional, but
feature lengthy computer graphic animations in the transitions that get rather
tedious after a while.



Final thoughts



Robin Hood: Prince of
Thieves Extended Edition
is a light-weight, mostly entertaining film that
should please Costner fans and those viewers who don't mind the film's odd way
of sometimes taking itself seriously and other times jumping into slapstick
humor. Overall, I found it reasonably fun to watch, though rather overly long
at more than two and a half hours. While the video and audio portions of the
film are less than I'd have hoped for, it's watchable, and the special features
do offer additional value. For existing fans of the film, I'll go ahead and
give this a mild recommendation, while for those who are doubtful I'll suggest
it as a good rental.

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