Has Ridley Scott robbed Robin Hood of his spirit?

Ebert says he has…

Little by little, title by title, innocence and joy is being drained out of the movies. What do you think of when you hear the name of Robin Hood? I think of Errol Flynn, Sean Connery and the Walt Disney character. I see Robin lurking in Sherwood Forest, in love with Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland or Audrey Hepburn), and roistering with Friar Tuck and the Merry Men. I see a dashing swashbuckler.

That Robin Hood is nowhere to be found in Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood”…

“Robin Hood” is a high-tech and well made violent action picture using the name of Robin Hood for no better reason than that it’s an established brand not protected by copyright. I cannot discover any sincere interest on the part of Scott, Crowe or the writer Brian Helgeland in any previous version of Robin Hood. Their Robin is another weary retread of the muscular macho slaughterers who with interchangeable names stand at the center of one overwrought bloodbath after another.

Have we grown weary of the delightful aspects of the Robin Hood legend? Is witty dialogue no longer permitted? Are Robin and Marion no longer allowed to engage in a spirited flirtation? Must their relationship seem like high-level sexual negotiations? How many people need to be covered in boiling oil for Robin Hood’s story to be told these days? How many parents will be misled by the film’s PG-13 rating? Must children go directly from animated dragons to skewering and decapitation, with no interval of cheerful storytelling?

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

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  • Rick Ro.

    I totally agree with Ebert’s assessment and the other opinions voiced here. Last night, as I watched the trailer on tv, the movie’s tag-line caught my attention: “The Untold Story Behind the Legend.”

    As I watched the trailer play out in its high-tech bleakness, I thought to myself: “No, it’s ‘The Totally Made-Up Story That We Produced Hoping to Make Millions and Millions of Dollars, To Heck with the Legend’.”

  • Matt T.

    This line is particularly true- “Their Robin is another weary retread of the muscular macho slaughterers who with interchangeable names stand at the center of one overwrought bloodbath after another.” This is the key problem with most action movies. They don’t have characters in them. Remember Indiana Jones? Luke Skywalker? Marty McFly? Heck, even Jack Sparrow. Why don’t we get heroes like them anymore?
    Either way, I won’t pass judgment on Robin Hood as a movie until I’ve seen it, but I agree with Ebert’s main point- action/adventure movies have lost their joy. It’s not wall-to-wall action that makes me dislike movies like Transformers and G.I. JOE; it’s the self-seriousness of the whole affair.
    One movie I saw recently that I thought was good, though, was Sherlock Holmes. While I had hoped for a more engaging mystery where Holmes got to use his brain, I appreciated that it had actual characters, a good sense of humor, didn’t take itself too seriously, and had fun with it. It was an entertaining watch. Though not perfect, it was a step in the right direction, and I’d like to see more movies like it being made.

  • Gene Branaman

    “Have we grown weary of the delightful aspects of the Robin Hood legend? Is witty dialogue no longer permitted?”

    This is the *money quote* for me. The answer to the 1st question is, “Yes,” if by “we” Ebert means H’wood brights who love nothing more than to tell us what sort of film we should entertained by. These are the same kind of people who kept Where the Wild Things Are on the shelf for a year. Delightful these days means old-fashioned, out-dated, irrelevant. I’m not sure those who greenlighted Scott’s RH recall the Flynn version warmly in any way, similar to how certain individuals in the publishing trade consider Lord of the Rings to be irrelevant, even silly.

    The answer to the 2nd question, again from a H’wood perspective, is not just “No” but a resounding “HELL, NO!” If some story can be made bigger, faster, louder, & suffer an increase in violence, sex, & CGI, then it’s been *improved* in the minds of folk like Scott, Bay, Emmerich, et al. Today, it’s all about the brand & how to sell it.

    Iron Man 2 has more witty banter & spirited flirtation between Tony & Pepper than all of Scott’s films combined. Not to mention a hero with a resonant story arc. Oh, and ‘splosions. Why do some believe that action films must be all violence & no heart? IM2 has both, IMO. I think I’ll vote with my buck & see it again this weekend.

    I was once in a production of Henry V at a well-known Shakespeare festival in the Western US. The director, a bitter British ex-patriot, might as well have been Ridley Scott. He said his intention for the show was to remove from viewer’s minds every last vestige of the Olivier & Branaugh versions. He ratcheted up the violence to such an extreme degree on the part of Henry’s forces that it was hard not side with the French! He sucked the wit, charm, & humanity from it, taking with it the show’s essential Shakespearean qualities. Only the guy playing Hank was happy to be there, as he was hand-picked by the director for the role.

    I’m certain we’ll have much more of this sort of thing coming our way. What other classics can these guys ruin? At least we have things like John Carter of Mars to look forward to!

  • Zach M

    The Errol Flynn version is one of my top 10 movies ever – seeing it at the newly reopened Cinerama was one of my favorite filmgoing experiences. I’m pretty sure I’ll be avoiding this – I don’t need to see Scott (a director who, in my mind, teeters on the edge of hackery far too regularly) suck the joy out of the legend and up the brutality for no good reason. I think it’s safe to assume this one won’t be inspiring a spoof as brilliant as The Court Jester.

  • Gaith

    Doesn’t really sound like an England-based “Mask of Zorro”, then… and what’s the point, exactly, of a war movie that isn’t R-rated? Say what you like about “Gladiator” (a beautifully shot if somewhat plodding ahistorical fable) and “Troy” (I’ve only seen it once, but I enjoyed it a lot), but at least they delivered on the action front.

    I suppose I really should Netflix the Flynn.


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