Monday, February 28, 2011

Robin Hood (2010)


Robin Hood is an interesting movie. I don't say that because of the content, though that is surely interesting in and of itself, but more of the fact that I don't quite know what to make of it. It is a sprawling epic, and one can't emphasize that word enough. Epic. The attention to detail, the research going into it, the vivid portrayal of 12th century Britain and the Medieval era... These things give the movie a vibrancy that makes it memorable.

However, I also feel I need to knock it. There are more plot threads than the movie knows what to do with. Robin Hood, while the main character, doesn't feel very central to the film. You go into it expecting the legendary Robin Hood and his merry men sneaking through the forest and stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. But what you get is nothing really like that. Sure, there is a scene or two where Robin Hood does good things for the downtrodden, but it becomes clear very quickly that Ridley Scott (the director) is trying for something completely different. You will not recognize much from our society's stereotype of Robin Hood, the charming and vain rogue made famous through the role of Errol Flynn so many years go. Instead we get Robin Hood as he might have been in real life, a low-class man with a good heart in a harsh and gritty medieval world.
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The Amorphous Figure of Robin Hood

Is the director's take on Robin Hood a bad thing? No. Our society rewards different perspectives on old events and stories. The Departed, 3:10 to Yuma, The Thing, Lord of the Rings. All of these are critically acclaimed remakes or reimaginings of stories that have already been told. Is Robin Hood any different? Not really. The only difference is that the legend of Robin Hood is so ingrained into our memory as a charismatic scoundrel that our own expectations hamper our enjoyment of the movie. I can speak to this. I went into this fully knowing that Ridley Scott's take would be near unrecognizable from the legend and I still came out feeling cheated. It is a difficult hurdle to overcome. So I watched it twice.

Even on the second time, however, I felt like I was only getting half of the story. It would be fair to judge this movie as a prequel; we see Robin Hood return from the crusades, establish the merry men (sort of), romance Marian, fight off a truckload of Frenchmen, and become outlawed. The movie ends with Robin and his men outlawed. To some, this would be perceived as just the beginning of the story. After all, to our expectations, Robin Hood and his merry thieves hiding out in Sherwood forest is the most exciting part of the legend. Consequently, not being able to truly see that side of things is disappointing. And, sadly, we may never see it; the movie seems like the half of a whole, but questionable reviews makes it unlikely that Ridley Scott will make a second part for it.
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Vivid Historical Recreation

However, this does not mean that the movie is without hope. Truth be told, this is one of the most vivid recreations of medieval life that I have ever seen. You get to see the verdant rolling hills of England, the crashing waters of the British coast, and the rustic majesty of castles and villages. The costuming is impeccable; one gets to see accurate period wear for just about every Englishman rich and poor, from splintmail to forestry tunics. The mood and live-life-as-you-may attitude of the English poor seems captured perfectly, along with the dichotomy between quiet nobility and naked ambition among English nobles. The war scenes are laboriously detailed and well done. Really, I could go on endlessly about the epic scenery and attention to detail, but I would become redundant very fast.

Yet the movie is rife with historical inaccuracies when it comes to events. As far as I know, the French never attempted an invasion of the English shores like they do in this movie. Speaking of which, the plot point of the French invasion basically hijacks the entire movie, making Robin Hood and every other character subservient to the need to evict the French from the coast. Surely, it is an epic battle and undertaking, but it totally distracted from the fact that this movie is titled Robin Hood and not The French Menace. In addition, there is a good deal of focus on events surrounding what appears to be a precursor to the Magna Carta, but it isn't really fleshed out to be really understandable, which is a failing.
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Conclusion

In the end, I did enjoy Robin Hood. It was a fantastic recreation and slice of medieval life, and it is unusual to see such attention to detail in any film. The characters were interesting, the scenes between Robin and Marian amusing, and the battles awesome. But it was by no means perfect. There were too many plot threads dancing around, which created confusion. Some were even abandoned by the end, further adding to my impression that this feels like half a movie or a prequel. The plot takeover by the French threat was also irritating, as it felt a sideshow to what I was actually watching the movie for: Robin and his merry men taking from the rich and giving to the poor. Sadly, that side of Robin Hood is near totally missing from this movie.

But if you are able to overcome your bias and expectations (I'm still not sure if I've managed this or not), then you see an epic medieval movie with no lack of great moments. It is worth seeing, even if only to critique it.

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