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Robin of Sherwood: Set 1

Acorn Media // Unrated // June 7, 2011
List Price: $79.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted May 31, 2011 | E-mail the Author
The Show:
Chances are that if you're reading this, you know who Robin Hood is, the medieval English hero who robbed from the rich to give to the poor.  The hero of films dating back to the silent era, TV shows from the golden age of TV, comic books, novels, and even parodied in a Monty Python skit, the timeless hero is part of Western culture.  One of the best loved incarnations of the hero is the British series from 1984, Robin of Sherwood.  Broadcast on ITV (and later in America on PBS) the show has a legion of devoted fans.  I had heard of the show, but never seen it, so when the Blu-ray version arrived to review I snatched it up.  I have to admit that I went in with high expectations and that I was initially disappointed by a couple of aspects of the show.  After watching a few episodes however I discovered what the show's fans already knew:  it's a pretty good telling of the famous myth full of adventure and excitement.
When the village of Loxley is attacked and burned to the ground by soldiers, the only one to escape the slaughter is a small boy named Robin.  Taken to a nearby miller by his father (who then returns to defend his land and is killed) Robin (Michael Praed) grows up in the miller's household learning the ways of the forest.  When his younger adopted brother, Much (Peter Llewellyn Williams) manages to kill a deer in the local Abbot's (Hugo de Rainault played by Philip Jackson) forest, Robin chastises lad and tries to help him escape the local games keeper Guy of Gisbourne (Robert Addie), but the pair are caught and thrown into a dungeon until they can be either executed or have their hands cut off, the traditional punishment for poaching. 
Not willing to await his horrible fate, Robin comes up with a plan, and with the help of some of the other prisoners manages to escape the castle.  Along with Much and a few others, Will Scarlet (Ray Winstone) a hot-headed Saxon whose wife was raped and then killed by Norman soldiers, also manages to escape.  The small group decides to hide deep in Sherwood Forest, a vast area that Robin knows well.  Here's they are hunted by both Guy of Gisbourne and the Abbot's brother, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Nickolas Grace).
Also in the mix is Lady Marion of Leaford (Judi Trott).  She's an orphan whose father owned a large estate which would go to whoever married her.  In the care of the Abbot of St. Mary, he pushes her to become a nun so that the church will get her land while the cunning and immoral Baron Simon de Belleme (Anthony Valentine) wants to wed (and then kill in a Satanic sacrifice) the attractive lady.  While traveling to a convent under guard, the Lady is rescued by Robin and his men and joins the group of outlaws in the forest.
Robin isn't just a good archer hiding from the law though.  He is the fulfillment of prophesy.  Once in Sherwood he is visited by Herne the Hunter, the god of the forest, and dubbed "Robin in the Hood" and appointed the protector of the area.  Baron Simon de Belleme, who is trying to summon a demon, is versed in the ways of black magic.  He's managed to bewitch a large man named John Little (Clive Mantle) as well as an Arab assassin he captured during the crusades, Nasir (Mark Ryan).  Both of whom are freed over time by Robin and join his Merry Men.
This last bit touches on the main complaint I originally had with the series.  A lot of the plots revolve around mysticism and magic, something that was totally missing from the original legend and all incarnations that I've encountered before this.  It's not that I have anything against stories involving magic, but it just doesn't belong here.  It would be like Zorro strapping on a jet pack and fighting a brigand with a laser gun.  That would be cool but there's no need for it, the character of Zorro is interesting without adding that in.
So, after the first couple of episodes where Little John was mind controlled by an inverted pentagram drawn on his chest and Robin has prophetic dreams, I was a bit disillusioned.  But I continued watching and as the series went on, I discovered that I really enjoyed it.  The mystic elements were integrated well into the series and gave the feeling that there was a bigger picture than just the events of any one episode.  If you can just accept that it's part of the story, it works fairly well.
The one aspect of the show that I never really warmed to was the background music.  Composed and preformed by the Irish group Clannad, the folk/new-age mix of styles and instruments (including both synthesizers and traditional music makers) was a bit heavy-handed for my tastes.  It was nice that they had themes for various characters, but overall whenever their music came to the foreground it pulled me out of the story.  
Most of the show if filmed outside, on location, and that was a stroke of genius.  The beautiful exteriors really add another dimension to the show and make it easy to loose yourself in the story.  The show goes to a lot of trouble to make things look like medieval England and they succeed admirably.
When all is said and done, this is a very good series.  It took me a couple of episodes to really get immersed in this new world of Robin's which is different from most versions of the legend, but once I did it was an enjoyable series that is sure to delight.
The Blu-ray discs:

This series comes on four Blu-ray discs, the first three contain the 13 episodes while the last is reserved for special features.
The two channel mono soundtrack is solid, especially for a show recorded over 20 years ago.  The dialog is easy to hear and is mixed well with the music track and sound effects.  The music, though I didn't feel it fit well with the subject matter, was clear and clean.  Overall a nice sounding set.
The full frame image is good considering the source material, though no one will use this as a reference disc.  The show was filmed on 16mm, and because of that it is not as sharp as the 35mm movies that we're more used to seeing.  There is a fair amount of grain through the series, some scenes are plagued more than others, but it's generally not distracting.  The black levels are nice and the colors are generally very good.  A lot of the series' charm comes from the outside scenes filmed in a lovely forest, which make up the bulk of the series.  This set does about as good a job as possible given the limitations of the source material.
This set is packed with extras that will really appeal to fans of the show.  Not just fluff EPK stuff, but some solid bonus features that add to a viewers understanding and enjoyment of the show.  First off are five commentary tracks, three featuring Richard Carpenter (series creator) and director Ian Sharpe, and two with director Robert Young and producer Paul Knight.  I spot checked these listening to a few minutes here and there and they all sounded informative and entertaining.
The video extras include a behind-the-scenes documentary and another pair or retrospective documentaries on the show.  All told these three run well over two hours and will answer just about any questions you have about the show.  There's also an outtake reel (16 minutes) that's amusing in parts, not so much in others.
The extras are rounded off with a photo gallery of literally hundreds of pictures (in HD), a series of opening sequences used in foreign markets, and an abundance of pdf files that include the original story treatment, shooting scripts, and PR material.
There is also a very informative 40-page booklet included with this set that gives a through overview of the series.  This isn't just a series of set photos and an episode list... it's a well written examination of the show and actors.  In this day when inserts are largely fluff, it was nice to see something very substantial.
Final Thoughts:
Acorn has released the first two season of Robin of Sherwood on Blu-ray, leaving one more that still needs to get the Blu-ray treatment.  Though it does take a few episodes to get the feeling of the show, once you do it quickly becomes engrossing.  Highly Recommended. 
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Highly Recommended

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