Warner's VC-1 encoded transfer is dark, grubby and anaemic, which is exactly how it should look, of course, considering that it plunges us into the squalor of medieval England, but this aesthetic does not make for a pleasing image, however faithful it may be to the source. The 1.85:1 picture remains resolutely flat and drab, the image refusing any hi-def three-dimensionality no matter how many arrows are thrust into the camera. However, this is how it was shot by Doug Milsome and, therefore, this becomes a pretty accurate representation, although a fuller restoration would certainly have been nice.
Grain structure is stil there, although I did notice it fluctuate from time to time, and there is evidence of noise reduction having taken place. When faces appear in close-up there can be quite a lot of texture and detail, but objects in the foreground don't seem to exhibit the same level of definition. Background information can appear soft and vague, whether indoors or out. Some landscape shots look quite poor.
Blacks aren't the best in the business, with shadows only rarely having much integrity, and night-time scenes tend to lack real solidity. However, contrast isn't too shabby, but the film still looks continually overcast, with the best separations occurring in the brighter daylight battle at the end and some of the Sheriff's scenes with Mortianna, where incandescant candles suffuse the gloom of her spooky lair. The curious thing about the lighting and, consequently, the image from time to time, is that Mastrantonio is almost always bathed in a dusky, golden glow that makes her shimmer, whilst everybody else appears softer and more obscure. A lot of the time, this happens from one shot to another, with Robin, say, looking murky when the next angle reveals Marion looking positively radiant, for example. This is a deliberate lighting concept, though, and does not reflect a specific error with the transfer. Despite the softness of the image, detail is unmistakeably better than on SD. Whiskerage and eyes come off the best - Nick Brimble's profuse facial foliage and McEwan's milky demented retina - but there is ample more detail to be found in the castle walls, the trees, the leaf-covered trap doors and the costumes of the Celts. Colours are muted and downplayed. Fires from flaming arrows bring about some vitality, but nothing too spectacular. The arboreal visual scheme is strictly adhered to, with greens, browns and yellows dominating the palette. Skin-tones seem to vary throughout the movie, with complexions altering and looking quite unnatural on occasion.
The image is also prone to offering up some some edge enhancement, which can detract from some would-be iconic shots. The print, itself, is relatively clean and certainly stable and un-damaged. Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves has never looked better than this on home video, but it still doesn't make you think that you are watching a truly hi-def image at any time. Bestowing it only 6 out of 10 might seem a little harsh, considering that this is a pretty faithful presentation, but I can't help thinking that this should have looked a whole lot better than this.
I've read some other reports regarding the audio transfer of Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves and, quite frankly, the writers cannot have been listening to the same disc as me, because I think this TrueHD 5.1 track is quite poor. I haven't, as yet, compared it to optional DD 5.1 track, which is, presumably, the same one that featured on the Special Edition DVD, and I've no doubt that this probably does sound a little bit better, but for a lossless track, this has next to no natural dimensionality, very limited dynamics, and murky, submerged dialogue. To me, this mix sounds ineptly prioritised. Costner's voice is sleep-inducingly flat and low at the best of times, and here it just sounds so weak and drifting that it barely issues from the speakers. Other voices have more strength, but they still sound dull and lifeless to me.
The stereo spread across the front is reasonably wide, with some effects distributed across, but there really isn't much activity to discuss the merits of. Effects for the arrows in flight are not exactly engineered with precision steerage in mind, so don't go expecting any dazzling display of whip-around dynamics to whiz them around the room. The odd thunk! or thwap! as they slam into bodies or tree-trunks can sound reasonable but, once again, this is not a track that has probably ever wowed with its directionality or acoustic finesse. When Robin fires his flaming arrows into the explosive barrels, Rambo-style, the resulting eruptions definitely nudge the sub, and we do get something of a weighty impact to enjoy. The clanging of swords, the rushing of the water over the rocks as Robin battles Little John across the raging river, the thudding of horses' hoofs and the breaking of glass, furniture and masonry during the final battle have little real impact, but their clarity certainly adds to the overall atmosphere. Robin Hood doesn't, however, come alive with any natural vigour and tends to remain flat and un-involving throughout. Even Michael Kamen's lacklustre score comes across with more of a whimper than a rousing roar.
Surround activity is there, but it doesn't display much that is either exciting, or convincing. The music is picked up by the rears, some boost for the more boisterous moments is also catered-for, yet I wasn't smitten by any nuance, subtlety or sense of envelopment.
Folks, I realise that this sounds as though I am panning the transfer almost as much as I have panned the movie but, as with the picture, there really is little about the TrueHD track that stands out.
Warner's Blu-ray release of Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves carries over most of extra features that were to be found on the 2003 Extended Edition R2 DVD. Now, whilst it is nice that nothing other than the Photo Gallery has been left off, it seems a little strange that nothing new has been added to the pot. Even the Isolated Music Track that wasn't on the UK disc, could be found on the R1 equivalent. But, with a goodly number of years have passed since the film kicked-up a hooded storm, this selection now feels old hat and promo-heavy.
But, things certainly commence strongly with the pair of Audio Commentaries that definitely try to add some depth and colour to the film's creation. The first, and better of the two, has us in the amiable company of both director and star, and the two Kevins boldly endeavour to discuss the production in some detail. The chat is light and breezy and there is a sense of genuine affection for the movie. Anecdotes and trivia help to enliven things.
The second chat track pairs up co-stars Morgan Freeman and Christian Slater and screenwriters/producers Pen Densham and John Watson. Noticeably drier, this group effort is still worth listening to for fans of the film as there are a couple of different perspectives thrown in.
Things go downhill from here on in, however, as fluffy promo takes the reins.
A half-hour documentary, Robin Hood: The Man, The Myth, The Legend, is hosted smugly by Pierce Brosnan and goes absolutely nowhere in delving into the mythos surrounding the cultural-historical hero. More like a collection of film-clips than a proper dissection of the lore and the fascination that the character still wields over the public consciousness, this is pure EPK dross that merely glosses over the complex history that this quasi-mythical character has built up.
Twenty-one minutes of Vintage Interviews with the cast come next. Being quizzed about their roles in the film are Costner, Rickman, Freeman, Mastrantonio and Slater. There is nothing particularly revelatory here, though.
Michael Kamen's score is showcased on an Isolated Track in DD5.1, and you are even given the option of being able to jump to a certain cue, which is nice, and then we have the inevitable presentation of that song in the four-minute performance of I Do It For You by Bryan Adams at Slade Castle.
After this there is the movie's theatrical trailers and a selection of TV Spots.Overall, another 6 out of 10. The commentaries are the saving grace of this motley band of bonus features.
Okay, now, if you're a fan of this interpretation, then I'm pretty sure that this BD release will notch your arrow, regardless of what I've said about it. No matter how soft or murky it is, this 1080p edition does offer a better image than you will have seen on home video before and some decent commentaries, and for many that will certainly be enough to warrant an upgrade. But, as well as my own reservations about the movie, itself, there are definitely some issues with this transfer that deny its nostalgic value a “must have” leap. The film looks dank and dour and the sound-mix is un-involving and something of a disappointment.
If you absolutely, positively must have one Robin Hood movie on BD before the Scott/Crowe epic thunders onto disc, then make it Errol Flynn's unparalleled classic from 1938 (see BD review). The fun, the verve, the action and the sheer entertainment of his definitive incarnation of Robin Hood knocks Costner's for six.
So, with this in mind, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves gets an overall 6 out of 10.
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