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: 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.
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.