'Robin Hood:' It might make you nostalgic for the fox

Posted: Thursday, May 20, 2010

Whatever you want to call this “Robin Hood” (Ridley Scott’s revisionist look, the story never told about the legend, a more historically based version), I still prefer the originals. That is plural, mind you, and not a typo. Before Kevin Costner’s “Prince of Thieves” – which I own on VHS still for some reason – there was the cartoon-fox Robin Hood. Disney did that one in 1973 and it might still be the best one of the bunch.

Everyone knows the legend of Robin Hood. It is a fun tale, too, whether you are talking about the cartoon or Costner and company. You have the forbidden love interest in Marian and of course the villain in the Sheriff of Nottingham (tough to beat Alan Rickman in that role, by the way). And of course there’s Robin Hood’s band of merry men (or fellow animals in the Disney version) like Little John and Friar Tuck. It is a straightforward good vs. evil setup and the bad guys deserve so very much to lose. All of that is true for the original Robin Hood movies. Perhaps most importantly, in both versions of the tale Robin and his posse have a good time harassing the Sheriff.

In turn, we have a good time watching them do it.

“Robin Hood” has the characters we know, but the look and feel of everything is different from the start. The trailers made it clear that Ridley Scott’s film would have much more of a “Gladiator” vibe than “Prince of Thieves.” The problem, and maybe it is my own shortcoming and not necessarily the film’s, is that Scott is messing with a perfectly good tale. He and screenwriter Brian Helgeland are tinkering with characters and events that we are already familiar with and the result— for me — is actually slightly unsettling.

Think trying-to-wrap-your-head-around-the-concept-of-time-travel. King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston), for example, dies early on in “Robin Hood.” You might remember that Sean Connery played Lionheart in “Prince of Thieves” and he was alive and well at the end of the story to give his blessing to Costner and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Marian). Yet, “Robin Hood” takes place before the legend of Robin Hood is born (I know this because at the end the screen reads, “And the legend begins,” or something to that effect), and wasn’t “Prince of Thieves” about that very legend?

My head hurts. Maybe I should just stick to the Disney cartoon. I have always liked foxes.

If I force myself, I suppose I can pretend not to automatically compare “Robin Hood” to “Prince of Thieves” or the cartoon. On its own, however, “Robin Hood” becomes less interesting. Pretend time over.

Russell Crowe (Robin) is as fun to watch as ever. Cate Blanchett (Marion – and no, I don’t know why it is ‘Marion’ here when it was ‘Marian’ before) instantly adds credibility to any movie she is in. Mark Strong (Godfrey) is quickly becoming a go-to actor for villainous roles. Scott has not lost his touch, either. Still, I don’t think “Robin Hood” ranks anywhere near the top of the Best Ridley Scott Films List (a list I have just decided to create).

The visuals were more captivating in “Black Hawk Down.” The action was more intense in “Gladiator.” The story moved at a much quicker pace in “Body of Lies.” The twists were better in “Matchstick Men.” Heck, “G.I. Jane” was more fun. “Robin Hood,” to me, is mediocre compared to the rest of Scott’s resume.

Of course, it could be my own fault for liking the cartoon fox and Kevin Costner so much to begin with.

• Check out Carson’s movie blog at www.juneauempire.

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