Robin Hood Blu-ray Review
After all the debacle with Gladiator's arrival on Blu-ray last year (rectified now - HURRAH!!!), it is tremendously reassuring to find Robin Hood transferred to hi-def with simply stunning results. This looks magnificent and there are only a couple of very tiny little issues that would deny this being absolute top-tier reference material in the eyes of the most anal home video enthusiasts.
Shot like an arrow at us with a blisteringly detailed AVC encode, Scott's ravishingly lensed period adventure fills the 2.40:1 frame with beautiful earthy hues, deep shadows, authentic flesh-tones, a faithful rendering of his often filtered lighting and a clarity that makes it an utter pleasure to watch, from start to finish. If you told me that you could actually get more detail on the stitching of the cloaks, robes and tunics, more precision afforded the chainmail, the armour and the weaponry, more texture on the wooden beams, the masonry of castle walls, the bark on the trees, the manes on the horses, the grass in the fields and the crags in Big Russ's chops, I'd believe you … but I truly doubt that you'll see this image looking any sharper, clearer or more finite for a very long time. One of my most overused words is the rather ubiquitous catch-all of “awesome” … but this is exactly how I would describe the overwhelming majority of this image on disc.
Grain is intact. There is very assuredly no DNR in evidence with this picture. If you look the grain does intensify and harden in a couple of shots, resolving to a sharper, more gleaming texture. But this is not a problem at all, rather it is another example of just how pristinely clean and clear this image really is. Honestly, there was a moment when Eileen Atkins’ face just seemed to be in the room in front of me for real. Now, obviously I would have preferred it to have been Cate Blanchett or John’s little French tart, but for some reason, it is the craggy visages that you notice more. So, it is also Crowe’s haggard face that becomes indelibly etched upon the screen, the clarity afforded it perhaps even a little unwelcome at times. Hair separation, bits in teeth, the grime behind fingernails, sweat, blood and tears – it's all here, should you care to look. Wounds, though, are curious by their absence. But if Ridley had filmed them, then we would have seen them with as much clarity, I'm sure.
Depth and background delineation is faultless. I saw no trace of banding in the deeper swathes of tone, nor the murky grey mist just before the beach landing. Distant trees and figures retain definition and the image is soundly three-dimensional at all times, whether indoors and cast against roaring fires, or outside galloping through trees and fields. Colours do not pop from the screen, but they are never intended to. They are naturalistic and smoothly rendered at all times. Black levels are excellent. The soft and diffused shadows infiltrated by the glow of a fire look warm and inviting, the colder, deeper shadows of the forest at night are tangible and solid. I doubt severely if any crushing is taking place, even in the inkier portions of the frame. Again, this is fabulous. Contrast offers nothing but more rewards to this visual banquet.
Those little niggles I mentioned may not add up to a great deal when compared to the overall quality on show with this image, but perhaps because the rest of the picture is so damn good, they do seem to draw your attention more than they should. The shimmering on chainmail and other more intricate patterns – stockade walls, perhaps - during panning shots, for instance, seems to stand out to me. One or two instances of slight aliasing appear too. When everything else seems to be nigh-on perfect, these really quite inconsequential elements just aggravate. Well, to be honest, they don't actually, but I feel compelled to find something, anything to complain about.
Folks, I want to give this the full 10 out of 10, but I'm erring on the side of caution and awarding Robin Hood an extremely strong 9 out of 10. I saw this at the flicks … and, I swear, it looks better to me on this BD than it did on the big screen. The image there was frequently wobbling and the action seemed mightily blurred.
This image transfer consistently hits the bullseye, folks!
To accompany Robin Hood’s wonderful image, Universal do their utmost to bring the film to life with a vibrant, immersive and very dynamic DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. The overall mix has been very thoughtfully composed and engineered to incorporate the full soundstage and the sub, and to take advantage of a very wide and detailed environment.
Marc Streitenfeld’s score is beautifully issued forth with warmth and energy, and I noticed lots of range within the instrumentation and the music never drowns out the action or the dialogue. Its sweep across the frontal array is strong and fluid, and its clarity is spot-on. The room-engulfing surge that becomes dominant during the more heroic and rousing passages is also acutely observed with power and finesse. Once the recurring main theme is in full swing, it is hard not to become just a little bit thrilled by the splendour of it all even if, ultimately, the action is less than stirring. Dialogue has absolutely no errors in its delivery. Positioning is impeccable and the multiple varieties of tones and accents – aye, and that’s just our Russ! – are handled with incredible detail and nuance. Alan Doyle’s singing and lute-playing may not be all that authentic sounding – did they actually have medieval amplifiers in their britches? – because it is simply too clear and resonant, especially during the big peasant-rave, but in the scheme of an audio track, it is nigh-on perfect for the mix.
So, the little things like music, singing and yakking all sound great. But what about the action and the bombast?
Well, since you asked … the battles, the thundering hooves, the exploding bags of oil, the clash of swords and the zip-thwinnng of arrows is awesome. (Oops, there's that word again!) Once more, the detail and the directionality is without peer. Scott knows exactly how he wants his battles to sound, he knows where he wants to place you within them … and Scott gets what he wants. This lossless track hits targets all around you with absolute pin-sharp clarity and a aural dexterity that is definitely wowing. As you would expect from a modern blockbuster with access to all the latest sound design techniques, Robin Hood features pretty much faultless steerage, directionality and precision that really does have arrows whipping about front to left, front to back and all over the rest of the show. And it does this with scintillating quality that combines what sounds to me like total authenticity with an exciting level of dynamism. The track is also excellent at picking out the individual arrows during a virtual bombardment featuring hundreds of them let loose at once. Troy and 300 were extremely good at this, as was Gladiator, and Robin Hood probably surpasses them all with a sinuous grace to the string-snap and flight, and a delightful (if you like this sort of thing!) impact at the other end. Also fabulously depicted are the crunch of heavy axes and clubs, and the crackle of splintering wood, the surging blaze of fire and the heavy trundling of carts and wagons and the apparatus of medieval warfare. Listen out for the metallic clang as a French aggressor falls out of shot to land upon the dagger lodged in the back of his neck – this is the sort of detail that so many films forget to include. Bass elements are deep and powerful, yet never ridiculously room-shaking. They sound perfectly mixed and natural to the on-screen chaos. The surging waves that buffet the combatants during the final battle are realistic, the yawning together of two landing craft is just as palpable and convincing. You can hear the footfalls in the forest and the creaking of timber. Birdsong, trickling water, the crackling of logs in a fire, and other natural ambience is almost ever-present, meaning that the film has an ongoing sense of envelopment that is sublime. The surrounds are flawlessly engaged at all times, making the viewer immersion complete.
No qualms this time. Robin Hood gets the full 10 out of 10 for its audio presentation. Universal's disc hit the bullseye with its Video transfer … it has split that arrow with its audio transfer.
This is a two-disc release with Disc 1, the Blu-ray, featuring both versions of the film, a fabulous PiP track and The Art Of Nottingham – no, not the abortive initial pitch for the film, Nottingham, but a portfolio of costume and production designs, conceptual artwork and elaborate video introductions that put the various ideas into context.
The Director’s Notebook is how they title this PiP track, and it is only available on the Theatrical Cut of the film. Boasting a full gamut of comprehensive glimpses behind-the-scenes, interviews and video commentary from seemingly everybody involved in the production (and all their dogs too), this is a mighty dose of the cool and the candid, and the real nuts ‘n’ bolts of making such an epic is rewardingly presented to us without ever becoming tedious or repetitive. One of the hallmarks of a Ridley Scott film is his elaborate sketches and storyboards – the famous “Ridleygrams” that show how strong a visual eye the director has – and these, as well as stills and more conceptual artwork are lovingly held up for our scrutiny too. Folks, a lot of thought has gone into this and the feature is well worth your time.
Over on the DVD side of things, we find the big 62-minute making of, 10 Deleted Scenes and the TV Spots and Trailer Archive.
Rise and Rise Again: Making Ridley Scott's Robin Hood is the banner-title for this fantastic making-of. Right at the start of this 3-part chronicle of how the epic film came together, Russell Crowe actually makes a very pertinent point – that Gladiator was a “metaphor for death” and that Robin Hood is about life, or “the birth”. Now that is a fine statement of intent even if the latter resulting film just tends to come across as a safer, less fate-sealed version of the former. Lip-service is paid to the previous ideas for the film, with the emphasis on the Pre-Production section looking at finding appropriate locations and constructing elaborate sets at Shepperton Studios, as well as prop building, costumes and, of course, casting the film. Man, I love looking at the props … jeez, even just the cups, flagons and goblets, let alone the swords, the bows, the arrows and the shield! This is what Time Team should be like! Janty Yates, gawd bless her, reserved the armour and chainmail from Kingdom Of Heaven, which meant that they had hundreds of ready-made, and period-accurate costumes already for the start of Robin Hood. We meet all the various heads of department and hear how they source and construct their materials, from cardboard to expensive French finery. And what about the wigs, Ridley? “The hair, the hair can f*ck you up!” Tell me about it, mate. Being the nerd that I am, I've just gone from a Snake Plissken mullet to Crowe's Gladiatorial (or Robinite) crop-top and beard ensemble (again!), and the transition has not been easy, I can tell you … and mine's not even a wig! The documentary then swings into high gear as we meet the Merry Men and the rest of the cast on location, fighting, eating, singing, having archery practice and sitting down to discuss their daily experiences working with Ridley Scott. Great footage of the beach-battle too. Just look at how low that chopper flies over the heads of the cast and crew! This documentary is, in short, wonderful stuff that is reasonably frank and very agreeably lighthearted, once you get past all the rather obvious fawning that everyone does over Scott and Crowe. That bond between the Merry Men and Robin that so isn't on the screen is in massive abundance here, and the overall wealth of detail and trivia about how a great big movie like this gets made is brought across well. Excellent.
Then we get the Deleted Scenes with Introduction and Optional Commentary by Editor Pietro Scalia. Here we get to see some material that didn’t make it into even the extended cut of the film. To be honest, there is nothing here that would have benefitted the movie all that much. A nice moment has Robin explaining the meaning of the depictions on his armour, and another gives Sydow a little more characterisation, but there is nothing all that exciting to discover.
Finally, we get a selection of two theatrical trailers and a cluster of TV Spots.
This may not sound like all that exhaustive a collection of bonus features, but this still represents a rollicking background dossier on the making of the film. It seems to cover everything you could want to know – although I would have loved to have heard more about the original story and concept ideas for when Hood was meant to have been depicted as a terrorist and the Sheriff was actually the hero of the piece. The great notion here was that Crowe was set to play both parts.
Still, even if the film ends-up being something of a disappointment, the disc provides a wealth of fascinating trivia about filmmaking.
Scott and Crowe set up their targets, lower their hoods and let fly their arrows … but whilst both hit their respective targets, they both clearly miss the bullseye by a fair distance. Their version of Robin Hood tries to thrust a fabled hero into real life events and inject a fictional war into the proceedings yet demands that everything fits with period-perfect authenticity. That not everything does is hardly a surprise. That the established duo of cinematic demigods fail to properly engage, or to fully satisfy us in the process of creating what should just be a massive slice of medieval entertainment is bewildering. That they do so with such a great cast, fantastic visuals and a huge army of extras and technicians at their disposal is profoundly disappointing. After early versions of what could have been were set aside, the fact that they plumped for so lazy an adaptation can't help but feel like a cop-out. Their biggest mistake is trying to justify Robin Hood in historical fact. We don't need that to empathise with this character at all. Under this Coalition (Tory) Government, we will all come to understand the need for such a man-of-the-people type of selfless hero. I just wonder whether David Cameron or Nick Clegg can actually watch a film like this without feeling a twang of guilt.
Of course they can.
But as Richard Harris says in Gladiator, “Enough of politics.” Universal's UK release of Robin Hood, as found here in this double-pack with its far superior ancestor, Gladiator, is top notch. The extras are rich and detailed, just like the sterling video transfer and the incredible sound design. It is hard to imagine a fan feeling short-changed by this presentation. It really is incredible stuff, and just what you want from a big release such as this.
So the film is solid if unremarkable, but it still passes the time whether you are a devotee of the Scott/Crowe combo, a medieval re-enactor looking for inspiration, or if you are just looking for a fine old historical romp to whisk you back to a bygone era. Terribly flawed, but still entertaining, this is best viewed as a tale about someone else called Robin, who just happens to be bloody good with a bow and arrow!
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