On DVD: With 15 Extra Minutes, Seeing Robin Hood is Even More Disbelieving
Only about 10 million Americans resisted the critics' irritated wailings and bought tickets for Ridley Scott's mastodon movie Robin Hood this spring, and so the rest of us, now that the DVD is here, can find out what all the non-fuss was about. Even with 15 extra minutes thrown in for "the director's cut," it's truly not an awful movie -- it's just so hugely redundant of other movies, and so brutally humorless, that when you watch it your brain begins to react like it's trapped in a sensory deprivation tank.
From the very first scene, you can spot the story beats, character types, motivational deaths and cliches coming at you slowly, like badminton birdies. The Franken-screenplay (Gladiator + The Dark Knight + Gangs of New York + Braveheart + oh for God's sake) by Brian Helgeland is so familiar it's like mall music; you don't notice it. Instead, you're wondering how the red-headed dweeb from ER sold himself to Scott as a medieval warrior. You're wondering why everything in movies set before 1800 is the color of thick algae. Is that Roman Polanski as a priest? That'd be some stunt casting. (No, it's Simon McBurney.) Why are casting directors under the impression that Danny Huston is his father, when in fact it seems, in movie after movie, he's closer to being his own aunt, or something? That bald Mark Strong guy -- he's the smirking supervillain Stanley Tucci would be in a parallel universe of ubermensch. Has any star smiled less than Russell Crowe? It's a shame he didn't do a commentary track -- he might've told a joke.
Scott knows how to fire up the skull-thunking action drill like crazy, and he manages to avoid the hand-warfare-epic problem of too much camera shaking, too close to the fight. But the combat here is also as improbable as a Die Hard film -- nobody shoots an arrow without hitting bullseye, or a jugular, a half-mile away. Which is a fine Robin Hood movie tradition, or has been at least in films that haven't strived so doggedly to present a filthily accurate picture of the Middle Ages. The movie cost $200 million, and most of the movie seems to be spent on burlap and mud. And I'm not quite joking: There's $200 million of burlap and mud on view. Nothing is wasted.
Except our patience, perhaps. The film ends, to so many viewers' dismay, with the title "And so it begins." It's a wonder there weren't petitions for Scott's execution after that. You couldn't blame anyone for supposing they'd have done better staying home and watching Gladiator again, knowing that when it ends, it ends. There's no significant difference otherwise -- you could actually edit together a mashup of scenes from Scott's candlelit, burnt-sienna pseudo-historical epics (including also Kingdom of Heaven, 1492: Conquest of Paradise and The Duellists), and dare anyone to discern the difference.
The DVD's many glossy making-of documentaries only add to the periphery fog; the recycled story does indeed seem negligible compared to the dedicated work of the design team, whose research into and recreation of 13th century Europe is Herculean. All that gorgeous burlap and mud -- too bad movies are, usually, about people, not the sets they walk through.