Sunday, May 23, 2010

the sleeping alone review of films: Robin Hood (2010)

summary: I liked it better when it played as Braveheart, The Patriot, Lord of the Rings, and Saving Private Ryan.

I wondered after watching the new Robin Hood if there was ever a point during filming when someone slipped up and accidentally referred to Russell Crowe's character as William Wallace instead of as Robin. It's also entirely possible that someone accidentally referred to Cate Blanchett's Marion as "Eowyn"--dye Blanchett's hair blond and you have a dead ringer for Miranda Otto's version of the handsome noblewoman-warrior of Middle Earth.

I swear to you that there were even hobbits before this film's end.

And that's not all: There was a beach-storming mission, complete with what appears to be the exact same landing craft props used in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. There were villagers locked by soldiers in a burning building: All of the smoke and fire, with none of the crisis of conscience or emotional gravity played out the first time around in The Patriot!

This version of Robin Hood is presented as a prequel, focusing on the details of the lives of Robin and his Merry Men leading up to their days as outlaws. Usually a prequel tells a different story than the one you already know, but this version of Robin Hood doesn't tell you much you didn't already learn from watching the previous 7,000 versions of the Robin Hood story. And of course, any details that are new to the Robin Hood canon are cribbed from the movies I listed above and probably a few other films that I haven't thought of yet.

The hobbits rode ponies when it was time to do battle with King John's orcs.

It does make a valiant attempt to be epic, and it does this primarily by plunking down sweeping shots of the English countryside accompanied by orchestral music. These scenes are, as you can probably imagine, completely gratuitous; they serve absolutely no purpose except perhaps as proof that, unlike the vast majority of epic films, this one was filmed in the actual region where the story takes place.

Bully for them, I guess. But as director Ridley Scott ought to know by now, authentic scenery doesn't equal an authentic story. An authentic story--an epic--is achieved through authentic details put together in a way that engages, surprises, and moves the audience. Homer knew this, which is why he had Achilles chain Hector up by the ankles and drag him in circles around the city. Tolkien knew this, which is why he had the smallest, simplest characters of his story raise themselves up to giants' height. And Peter Jackson knew how to pay homage to the epics that came before LOTR, including but not limited to Tolkien's trilogy itself, and still surprise and move us through the choices he made in adapting the story to the screen.

Ridley Scott knows something about how to tell a good story, as he showed in The Gladiator, the Alien trilogy, Alien,* and Thelma & Louise. And you might argue that these films are, at least to some extent, epics in their own right. But these films succeed on the strength of their characters, and because we care about the characters we care about their struggles against overwhelming odds. But epics generally tell a story through the characters that's larger than any single character--you might say that the primary character of the epic story is the story itself. Scott has not done as well in his attempts to tell this sort of story, as Kindom of Heaven and, now, Robin Hood attest.

I don't know: Maybe I'm quibbling here in my attempt to divide a good character-driven film from a good epic-driven film. I'm just trying to understand why a director who is as good at making films as Ridley Scott is can still come up with a film as gloriously, clunkily terrible as Robin Hood. If we can figure out what makes him fail, then we can just get together and tell him to stop making that kind of movie and keep making the kind of movie that proves his cinematic brilliance. Let Bartlet be Bartlet, I always say.

Robin Hood (2010) stars Cate Blanchett, Russell Crowe, and---oddly enough--Max von Sydow. It's rated PG-13 and contains some violence, mild sexual content, and a storyline so plodding that anyone under 13 is not likely to be willing to sit through the whole 2 hours and 20 minutes.

*Correction, 5/24/10, 8:40 a.m.: As Andres G. points out in the comments below this post, Ridley Scott was responsible for only the first film of the Alien trilogy.

1 comment:

Andres Guadamuz said...

I agree! I'm glad I wasn't the only one who thought Cate Blanchett was channelling Eowyn.

Just a minor correction, Ridley Scott only directed Alien. Aliens was directed by James Cameron and Alien 3 by David Fincher.


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