Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, It’s crap and I love it!

The difference between enjoying a film, and a film being well made…

I’ve wanted to talk about the difference between liking a film and thinking a film is good for a while now. One of the things I’ve noticed when talking to people about movies, is that people often take criticism of a film to mean that the person doesn’t like the film, or is insulting them by suggesting their taste in movies isn’t good enough. I’m not trying to patronise; it is perfectly understandable when you enjoy something a lot to want to defend it, but I feel strongly that acknowledging flaws, even in your favourite films can help you gain a deeper love for them, and even make you more secure in your own taste. Case in point: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

This is a film I watched religiously when I was a kid. It was just the kind of movie I was drawn to; it had sword fights, explosions, romance and honour. It was the perfect swashbuckling adventure with better effects than the Errol Flynn version and even a cameo from Sean freaking Connery! What more could a geeky ten-year-old want? However, as I’ve grown, and especially after studying film, I’ve come to notice some of the glaring flaws that went over my head as a boy. These problems don’t ruin my enjoyment of the movie, on the contrary, they actually seem endearing. After all, I can still watch it and remember how much I adored the film as a child, knowing the film is far from perfect certainly can’t take that away from me.

robin-hood-8-1864x1048

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is not a very good movie. The effects, whilst miles ahead of the 1938 film, are a little dated by today’s standards. The acting is all over the place and some aspects of the story are very strange, but overall it is a staggeringly fun movie. I can at least promise that you will not be bored watching it. I’m going to compare the aspects of the film I love versus the aspects that make it a poor quality film, and why these flaws don’t bother me in the slightest.

Let’s start with the lead actor himself. Kevin Costner is a limited actor. I don’t mean to say he’s bad, he was very convincing in the Untouchables, but the guy doesn’t have much range. He isn’t suited the character of Robin Hood. Robin of Locksley is a fun loving boyish rebel, a man who inspires loyalty through his good nature and humour, and the script tries really hard to make Kevin Costner seem like this man. Costner gives it his best shot, but sadly he just isn’t up to accent, or to sounding energetic. Other performances are for the most part solid (if slightly melodramatic), I particularly enjoy Nick Brimble as an extremely bloke-ish Little John, but the stand out actor is once again Alan Rickman. That man was a gift to the screen and as always he proves to be the highlight of the film. Every scene in which the sheriff of Nottingham minces down a corridor, or snarls at Kevin Costner I’m having a blast. Rickman gives the sheriff a barely held together, delightfully malicious character which never fails to entertain. He consumes every inch of scenery every second he is onscreen, and this is more than enough to make up for Costner’s wooden delivery.

robin_hood_prince_of_thieves_1991_5

As for the story, apart from a few additions it stays mostly true to the legend. This is hardly a historical film, after all, Robin travels home with a Moor, Azeem played by Morgan Freeman with his usual dry wit. Apart from a few moments of telegraphed racism most of the merry men seem to accept this stranger unrealistically well. But as this is a film more about the legend of Robin Hood, this doesn’t bother me as much as something like Brave heart (Oh, we’ll get to you later). The story is paced well, though it takes its time getting to the forming of the merry men, spending quite a while showing Robin returning to Sherwood, and seeing it changed for the worse. This is actually quite a welcome alteration as it allows for some interesting character moments, especially the scene in which Robin lands at the beach, and leaps into the sand. It is one of the few moments of joy that Costner absolutely nails. If I had a choice, I would say that there a few story points I would cut. For instance, while the sheriff wants to marry Marian in order to secure a claim to the throne, the scene in which he loses his mind and tries to rape her was very tonally dissonant. This somehow never registered with me as a boy, but as an adult I recognised how jarring it was for him to be trying to do something so brutal in a PG film.

Apart from the wonky story, another aspect of the film which lowers the quality is the dialogue. This matters less when you’re a young boy who wants to watch the very American sounding Robin Hood fight with swords, but as a film student, it’s hard to overlook. While actors like Rickman and Freeman are strong enough on their own to sell the cliches, Costner and many of the other actors, like Christian Slater just can’t make the lines convincing. The melodrama is acceptable in this style movie, but when the lines are so trite and predictable that I can guess what the character will say next, and be completely right, you know something has gone wrong. For instance, at one point in the film Robin buries his father in what is supposed to be a deep emotional scene. Unfortunately, Robin goes on to cut his hand pointlessly and mutter “I swear I will not rest until my father is avenged.” My eyes rolled so hard at this scene I almost went blind. And yet every once in a while, a couple of the lines will catch you by surprise, by being actually good, or at least funny.

Finally, we come to the strongest part of the film, the music. Apart from a few choice selections, such as Lord of the Rings and Blade Runner, there aren’t many other film scores which have had such an effect on me. The sweeping adventurous style of the main Robin Hood theme is a perfect soundtrack for an action adventure. Michael Kamen composed an excellent tune. In fact, a large part of what makes the film seem so epic, and helps distract from some of the dodgy performances is the score. The music is on point, perfectly illustrating each dramatic moment, or letting an intimate character scene play out without music. But the crowning achievement is the main theme. It really emphasises the naive sense of fun and adventure that Robin Hood represents and it promises a world of possibility and excitement!

So, there we have it. A film which has many problems, but which I love nonetheless. It has a lot to offer, and for me the flaws aren’t nearly enough to ruin my experience. Obviously this film isn’t for everyone, and if any of the issues I have addressed have put you off, I don’t blame you at all. However, as I said earlier, just because it isn’t a well made film, doesn’t mean it isn’t fun.

Also Sean Connery has a cameo.

robin-hood-movie-1200x675

“Are you shure she’s taken?”

Update

Hi guys! Sorry about the rather inconsistent posting at the moment! I have rather a lot of Uni work to take care of, so the blog is taking a bit of a backseat. This week I have an essay with a looming deadline, so I’m going to hold off on a new post until next week, when I can give it some proper effort.

Westworld – Season 1 review

Taking a look at the successor to Game of Thrones…

HBO seems to be on a winning streak with it’s shows. It seems like every few years they release the next big influential tv drama. From Boardwalk Empire to The Sopranos, they have a high bar to set. With incredible shows like The Wire to their name and with no other big breakout drama, many were worried that HBO were going to face problems finding another success once Game of Thrones finished. Then along came Westworld. While some label this show as a copy of Thrones set in the wild west, a closer look at the show reveals not only some astonishingly clever writing, but a consistent and carefully planned narrative.

Summing up, Westworld is a resort set in the distant future in which robotics have advanced to point where the machines can now pass the Turing test and are incredibly life-like. The Park is a place in which the guests can interact with these Host robots in a wild west setting, engaging in layered stories, or just killing and shagging the hosts as they please. We follow a variety of characters, some hosts, some human players and the staff of the Delos corporation who create and control the hosts throughout the season. As the story unfolds we learn more about the origins of the Park as well as the possibility that the hosts are becoming sentient. This show is every bit as entertaining as Game of Thrones, and possibly just a bit cleverer. Be warned, potential spoilers from this point onwards.

The first thing to mention about the show is the incredible cinematography. Huge sprawling landscapes and beautiful scenery are shot with aplomb and the wide shots of the land contrast well with the foreboding sense of entrapment, as the hosts are forced to repeat dialogue and actions without once realising it. The transitions between different characters point of view, and as we find out later, different time periods are perfectly chosen and create amazing foreshadowing. For instance, William, a newcomer to the Park nearly always is cut to after or before a scene with the ominous Man in black, who is revealed later to be an older version of William. The shots are well executed and the costume and set design are on point. Every character exudes personality just from their outfit, from rich tourist guests wearing the most gaudy, silly cowboy outfits, to Robert Ford, the Parks creator, wearing western getup almost all season, subtly showing his sympathies lie with the hosts more than with humans. My personal favourite is the Man in black, whose costume is a superb example of style. It toes the line between affectation and intimidation, with a dark hat, leather gloves and boots, and a cravat. And yet it is a simple outfit, almost utilitarian. Apart from the characterisation, the outfit is a nice call-back to the original gunslinger from the 1973 film.

westworld-ed-harris-man-in-black-returning-for-season-2_1qe2

Apart from the visuals, the story is phenomenal. Whilst it is easy early in the season to find yourself confused, with quite a few characters and unexplained backstories, it doesn’t take long to pick up on things without the characters throwing a bunch of exposition around. I won’t go into too much detail here, or this post would be the size of a small novel, but the way in which Jonathon Nolan and Lisa Joy weave so many plot threads into a compelling and tightly focused narrative is frankly astounding. It would be so easy to lose track of one or two story elements and make a complete mess, but no part of these episodes feels wasted, every single scene feels in some way important, impactful. This makes for a very engaging viewing experience. Nolan of course has helped write almost every film made by Christopher Nolan, and it is easy to see why. But as ambitious as the narrative is, the fact that the characters and setting serve as a metaphor for fiction writing as well is very impressive. For instance, take a look at this scene with Ford, as he talks about why people come back to the Park. What he says can be applied word for word to any story creator.

 

Finally, we come to characters. There is not a single actor who does a bad job on this show, and far too many to cover here, so I will focus on the ones which stood out most to me. Ed Harris plays the Man in black, and from the number of stunts and fighting gives an impressive physical performance on its own. However, he captures the mindset and feelings of a gamer who has played so long that not much surprises him anymore. He is simultaneously jaded and cynical and yet oddly hopeful that his pursuit of a deeper meaning within the Park will satisfy him. Ed Harris was born to play characters like this. Another stand out to me was Jimmi Simpson as William, who I only knew through a handful of comedies, playing mostly weaselly cowards and rather nasty individuals. Seeing him play a traditional heroic type, albeit a thoughtful and nervous one was quite unusual. However, he pulls it off so well, and in fact is much more engaging than other, better looking actors could probably have been. That said, these two are not my favourite character. That prize goes to Dr Robert Ford played by Anthony Hopkins. This may be the best performance from Hopkins I have seen since Silence of the Lambs, and certainly a much subtler one. Hopkins is such a natural actor that I am convinced there is no line of dialogue he can’t make sound convincing. In Ford he weaves an incredible tapestry of different small facial cues and slight expressions, never once going too far and yet creating such a wealth of feeling and character that I swear Ford must be a real person. Honestly, in the wrong hands this role could have seemed so cliché, but with Hopkins playing him, he is the most interesting and complicated character within the whole of the first season.

anthony-hopkins-as-dr-robert-ford-credit-john-p-johsnon-hbo1

So, to finish, this show is a brilliantly written, fantastically shot, perfectly acted masterpiece of Science fiction. I would recommend this to everyone, and I am eagerly awaiting season 2 in April. Until then, you’ll have to excuse me, I’m off to watch the trailer for season 2 again and again.