I've written many times in the past that science fiction movies rarely show even
the vaguest interest in what the future might really be like, but are invariably
making some point about the present. Typically something troubles the author
about his own times, and he doesn't want to make the point directly, so he
creates a "what if" scenario which inflates and exaggerates whatever bothers him
and locates it in some imagined future world.
The results can sometimes be utterly illogical. "Children of Men," for example,
postulates a world without young men which somehow is much more violent than the
current world, as if it were only today's inflated level of youthful
testosterone which keeps us from teetering into chaos. Interesting movie. Nicely
filmed. Totally wrong about everything. The reason? It is really about today,
not about the world that would exist if the premise were valid, so the script
makes no genuine effort to imagine what the world would be like with no young
men. (In order to do that, it had to make a special effort to ignore a fairly
well reasoned source novel.)
It is not only the cinematic version of the future, but also the re-imagined
past which can simply be the present in disguise. Historical epics often do the
same things as sci-fi films, except they do it in reverse. Robin Hood films are
never really about England during the absence of Richard the Lion-Hearted.
That's just a pretense to make some point about the period in which the author
is writing. The Errol Flynn version of Robin Hood was produced in 1938, in the
depths of the Great Depression, and so it was about the sad plight of poor
people who had nothing to eat while the cruel aristocrats continued to live
comfortable lives. It was about wealth re-distribution, and could well have been
written by John Steinbeck. It was The Grapes of Wrath in a period piece,
substituting the king's plentiful but forbidden deer for the plentiful but
forbidden produce which had to be destroyed while starving people watched.
Similarly, the new Russell Crowe version is about 2010. It's actually a Robin
Hood prequel and Robbo never does get around to any serious wealth
re-distribution. Some of the points made by the characters are:
If the people of our country continue to squabble internally and do not
band together against our common enemy, we will be destroyed.
Our leader is too youthful and inexperienced to be conducting a war.
The central government has gotten too big, and taxes too oppressive. The
people need to be empowered and their individual liberties need to be
Women can play an important part in combat units.
You get the idea. Robin Hood is a Tea Partier and the French are his al-Qaeda.
Price John is his Obama. And so forth.
In other words, it's not about Robin Hood at all. It's about some random
medieval warrior who has vague allegorical connections to our own time. The
movie could and probably should be called "Robert Longstride," except that such
a name is not an established brand, while "Robin Hood" is. As Deep Throat
advised, "Follow the money." Fewer people than expected went to see "Robin Hood"
($105M gross versus a $200M budget), but the number was still far greater than
those who would have gone to see "Robert Longstride."
Setting all that aside, it is a fairly good movie. It does have some strong
positives, but they are balanced by equally strong negatives.
On the positive side, the cast is outstanding and the director is Ridley Scott,
who knows a thing or two about the presentation of epics. The narrative is
straightforward and involving.
On the negative side, the biggest problem is that the unrated director's cut of
this film is 156 minutes long
and not much fun. There could have been the potential for great humor in the exchanges between
Robin and his men, or between Robin and Marian, who are forced to feign
marriage. There could always be laughs milked from Friar Tuck, or the way the
Merry Men embarrass the stuffy and inept authorities. Look to another movie for
that. These men ain't that merry, and this Robin Hood is one serious hombre. He wasn't back in England while Dick Lionheart crusaded, but was out there doing his own share of the crusading for a
decade. He returned to England as a hardened, battle-scarred warrior.
There are other problems with the film as well. The characters are too
one-dimensional and a few plot elements seem hastily conceived, or totally
unnecessary, or illogical. Because of those problems, I did feel an occasional
tinge of annoyance as I watched, but I was in a forgiving mood because I was
involved in the story and enjoyed the period recreations and the spectacle. That
mood did not last. The film's reserve of good will was quickly exhausted during
the final battles between the re-united English and the French. These scenes are
just absurd. The French make their English landing with boats that look like WW2
landing crafts. The various parts of the English army cover a ridiculously large
geographical area in supersonic time. Maid Marian and a bunch of little kids on
ponies take on trained French soldiers.
If those battle scenes were not already silly enough, the final French surrender
is followed with a giant leap of illogic. Robin ends the battle as England's
greatest hero. About sixty seconds later, King John declares him to be an
outlaw. Huh? Talk about jealousy. It seems that John's only beef is that HE
wants to be England's greatest hero, and God decreed it so, by golly, so ol'
Robbo has to go. Sorry, dude.
The net effect of that abrupt ending is to make it seem as if we have been
watching a story about some random medieval guy when the screenwriter suddenly
caught a glimpse of his script and realized that the title was "Robin Hood,"
whereupon he had an "oops" moment and wrote a brief scene in which King John
said, "Oh, by the way, the great hero Robin Longstride is an outlaw now.
Advisors - he'll need a catchy new name, but make it still 'Robin something' so
we remember who he is. Work on it."