Robin Hood: Unrated Director's Cut Blu-ray Review
PictureRidley Scott’s 2010 interpretation of Robin Hood comes to Blu-ray presented with a 1080p High Definition rendition in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 2.4:1. You would expect such a recent production to be of the finest quality, but considering the debacle that was Scott’s Gladiator on Blu-ray (which has finally been – hopefully correctly – remastered), it is a welcome relief to find that not all Scott’s movies get treated with such disrespect. Here you will find decent clarity throughout, despite a noticeable presence of intentional filmic grain – which lends considerable weight to the visuals. And the high detail level retains sharpness without the need for heavy-handed edge enhancement – in fact there is none to be seen. The colour scheme is suitably muted and desaturated to match the English period setting, all greens and browns – although these are still presented richly throughout. Skin tones are accurate, giving an authentic feel to the grittily depicted visages. The CG landscapes blend in extremely well with the action set-pieces, and superior black levels and balanced contrast round off a solid visual presentation. Even Scott’s foray into Bourne-style shaky-cam filming does not deride the image noticeably, and whilst it may not be perfect (nor does the gritty, dirty 12th Century material help in that respect), and may not be an advisable demo for your home cinema platform, it is a quality effort nonetheless.
SoundOn the aural front things are even more impressive, the movie boasting a suitably rousing English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that – in classic Scott/Crowe tradition – gives the epic some drive and oomph. Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently, from the bellowing cries to the whispered words, always dominating the frontal array where appropriate, and never being stifled despite the – at times – quite boisterous proceedings. The effects are extremely well-observed, lighting up your sound platform and giving the surround array plenty to organise and disseminate for your aural pleasure: arrows flying past your head, swords clanging ferociously, flames engulfing the stage, and roaring groups of angry men (on both side) creating a maelstrom that simply brings your home theatre to life. There is one point where several hails of arrows fly overhead to find their targets, and when they land – all simultaneously or in quick succession – the sound is magnificent, like some ancient machine-gun thudding away at the enemy at 500 rounds per minute. The soundtrack is suitably engaging throughout, and, although not quite of the seminal Gladiator standard set by Hans Zimmer, it is rousing (albeit not particularly memorable) stuff that we get from the same composer who has done all the Scott/Crowe movies since Gladiator, who distinctly channels the score to The Last of the Mohicans here. Bass rumbles along and is surprisingly potent, given that there is not much of an excuse for it, with everything from the horse clomps to the battering rams to thunderclouds having a good thump to them. Overall it is a superior aural accompaniment, and it should please all Robin Hood fans, bringing out the absolute best in the material, and perfect to show off your equipment with.
ExtrasIn addition to the two different cuts of the main movie there is a nice selection of extras to adorn the disc.
First up we get the Director’s Notebook Picture-in-Picture Track, available only on the Theatrical Cut. This is supreme Maximum Movie Mode at its best, splitting the screen into three sections: reducing the film to playing in the top left hand corner; with the bottom left quadrant devoted to On-Set Photos, Concept Art (including hand-drawn ‘Ridleygrams’ – the Director’s own sketches) and Behind the Scenes Footage; and the entire right half of the screen focussing on (predominantly) the Video Commentary and Interview Footage. Many of the filmmakers get involved here, as well as almost the entire cast at one point or another, and it is a thoroughly immersive, comprehensive offering that should please any fan of the film. For those with a more critical eye, some of the comments can be quite irritating – with both the Director and Writer opening out the whole production with an introduction that explains how this is all about the ‘fact’ behind Robin Hood. Honestly, if you’re going to talk about showing the fact behind the fiction, don’t make up the events/timeline that creates the whole foundation (France’s aborted invasion, most notably, as well as the whole Magna Carta/Woodland Charter thing – which was, in real life, actually signed off on by King John). To quote Writer Brian Helgeland during an early part of his contribution “what he [Ridley Scott] wanted me to do was to try to imagine what the real events were from which Robin Hood sprung” – surely his words speak for themselves? Still, ignoring the hyperbole and back-patting, self-congratulatory ignorance, this is actually quite a welcome offering which utilises High-Def technology well.
Deleted Scenes with Introduction and Optional Commentary by Editor Pietro Scalia. The Editor introduces (and discusses) a bunch of scenes which he felt were perfectly good, but which were largely removed for pacing purposes. Totalling 13 minutes of extra footage, they range from a slightly pretentious moment where Robin explains the ‘mathematics’ of trees and woodland life, to a nice scene with Max Von Sydow discussing how he would like to be cremated (which answers those questions some may have about the slightly Pagan aspect of the resulting, unexplained, events in the final cut), to a few throwaway moments with Robin, his men, and Marion. Even the woodland urchins make a brief appearance, and Nottingham gets another couple of lines to further emphasise his cowardice, but still there is nothing here which is desperately crying out to have been included in even the longer Director’s Cut, and these are largely wise excisions (particularly since there are yet more examples here of Crowe’s randomly variable English accent!).
Rise and Rise Again: Making Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood is split into three sections – Ballad, Legend & Myth (Pre-Production); The More the Merrier (Production) and No Quarter Given (Post Production). Running at over an hour in length, this is a massive accompaniment, especially when you consider how much was already covered in the PiP Track. An impressive, comprehensive offering, this one takes a more standard approach to telling the production history (as can be gleamed from the chapter separation) and we get – what feels like – a lot more anecdotal detail here. Of particular note is the long discussion between Crowe, Scott and Writer Helgeland (all interviewed separately) who basically each provide their views on the eventful production history – Crowe himself detailing the first two main drafts of the script (either of which would have made for a more interesting take on the legend).
The Art of Nottingham – A portfolio of designs, including video introductions, galleries of conceptual art, costume designs and other imagery. This feature can be jumped-to straight from the Picture-in-Picture track, or selected from the menu.
The ‘Marketing Archive’ allows access to a selection of 2 Trailers and 6 TV Spots, all from the main feature. It should be noted that, as with Cameron’s Avatar release, Ridley Scott has clearly managed to persuade Universal to ditch the annoying forced Trailers and leave the disc thankfully devoid of non-feature-film-related promo stuff.
VerdictI expected more from the actor/director pairing of Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott, who should have been on familiar territory with a period action-epic (à la Gladiator). Robin Hood is an overlong, over-serious, and slightly misguided production which, in the same vein as the ill-fated, best-forgotten, relatively recent Clive Owen King Arthur interpretation, attempts – unsuccessfully – to base a fictitious ‘origin’ story of a fabled legend, within a seemingly factual historical framework. This blending of fact and myth is ill-advised at the best of times, and only a handful of filmmakers have pulled it off. Unfortunately the Scott/Crowe attempt here fails miserably, creating a dour, dingy, unnecessarily over-realistic world for Robin to come to life in. There simply is no heart and soul to the production, which was massively stunted at inception through successive rewrites and the resultant patchwork-quilt of a plot-hole-ridden screenplay. Still, ignoring the fact that this pales in comparison with the likes of Gladiator (or Braveheart), and does not even provide the entertainment factor of Prince of Thieves, Robin Hood is still watchable. It’s just far from the movie that everybody was expecting given the gourmet ingredients.
For its Region A-locked US Blu-ray release, however, the package itself does not disappoint at all – it strikes high marks across the board with excellent video and benchmark audio, as well as a hefty selection of comprehensive, well-made extras. Honestly, if you’re a fan of the movie, this – coupled with the inclusion of both the Theatrical Version and the marginally better (but still overlong) Director’s Cut – is simply a must-have purchase. Newcomers, on the other hand, should tread quite cautiously. Unfortunately, as was the case for me personally, these words will likely fall on deaf ears, because – as fans of Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe (and of what they did with Gladiator) – it is easy to hope for the best and ignore the disappointing reality. When I heard about the Director’s Cut, even though I knew it would never be able to fix all of the movie’s ‘issues’, I still hoped that something magical would happen. Unfortunately, the reality is that Robin Hood – the untold story behind the legend – is one that nobody is particularly interested to find out about. Who knows though? With its success at the Box Office, and its open-ended obvious segue into sequel/franchise territory, maybe third time will be a charm for the Crowe/Russell epic period action-adventure. Fool that I am, I hope that Robin Hood 2 both actually happens and actually works, and gives us everything that we wanted from this sombre introduction.
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