1991/2002 (Extended Version)
DIRECTOR: Kevin Reynolds
May Contain Spoilers!
Back in 1992, when I first saw this on Video, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves seemed to be one of the freshest takes on a medieval story that I had ever seen. I was 13 at the time and couldn’t stand this sort of stuff, so the light-hearted antics of Costner’s band of American Merry Men, along with Morgan Freeman working his way up the mainstream as a Moor who is indebted to Robin during the Crusades, was a breath of fresh air.
The tone was light, the historical and geographical inaccuracies were obvious to me, again, a 13-year-old boy! But the fun was abundant, making this an enjoyable romp. The cast was good and by today’s standards, even more so with Kevin Costner in the lead, but Freeman flanking along with the likes of Cristian Slater, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and of course, Alan Rickman, delivering one of his career defining performances as the twisted Sheriff of Nottingham.
But in 1991, this cast was just decent, with their stardom burgeoning from projects such as this. But everyone seems to have seen this at one time or another. It’s digestible by children, though actually more violent that I remembered, with plenty of bludgeoning, hacking, stabbing and burning but what would you expect? This is still a medieval film, whether written for a mass audience or not, or in real terms, an American audience.
There have been plenty of Robin Hood tales committed to film, with the most notables being this, Errol Flynn’s 1938 classic The Adventures Of Robin Hood and maybe the recent Ridley Scott effort, Robin Hood. Many may still remember the Richard Greene serial from then 1950’s or the rather dour Saturday tea time series from my childhood, Robin Of Sherwood, which still sends shivers down my spine when I think about it! But this, along with Flynn’s version are my two favourites, both putting a pleasant and enjoyable spin on a much more complex story.
Ridley Scott’s version tried to touch on the real issues behind a man who robbed from from the rich and gave to the poor, but when it comes down to it, he does sound very much like a socialist revolutionary to me and a character which would most likely be cast a villain in most films, but we seem quite happy to go along with this ideal of the good highway man. Is there such a thing I ask you?
And that’s why Flynn and Costner’s versions work, because they don’t trouble themselves or us with these questions. He’s a classic hero, you know how he works and we like it, so he just gets on with it and save Maid Marion from the tower and Prince John, though John doesn’t feature much in this, with the Sheriff taking on most of his villainous duties. But whilst Costner makes for a likable and cheeky hero, Freeman makes for a loyal and sage companion, it’s Rickman who steals the show as the Sheriff. Laugh out loud funny throughout, he’s a diabolical pantomime villain who you instantly love to hate but he also plays it quite straight, adding to the comedic and theatrical value.
He doesn’t seem to play it for laughs which is the secret behind any great performance and one which he delivers here.
Ten years ago, an extended cut of the film was released on DVD, restoring a few exposition scenes which in all honesty where clearly missing from the Theatrical Version, such as the identity of the witch, but this was an example of just throwing anything and everything back into the film, regardless of pacing or narrative importance. So in the end, we can live without it. It’s too long and throws everything off, but that’s not to say that there aren’t some interesting scenes, but some are just overplayed and cut for a reason or just slow the pacing or alter the tone in the negative.
The original cut, though not perfect and leaving a few questions unanswered, though answered in the extended cut, is defiantly the better of the two. And whilst it’s interesting to see this edit once, it’s not the most enjoyable watch. So I would recommend the Theatrical Version over The Extended.
So, as long as you don’t ask how Robin and Azeem (Costner and Freeman) can land off the White Cliffs of Dover, claim to get home to Nottingham (Over a 100 miles away!) by night fall whilst walking along what appears to be Hadrian’s Wall (Scotland!!) on foot, then you should just take this as you find it, a good enjoyable old fashioned adventure, for all the family, as long as you don’t mind a bit of bloodshed, or an axe or two embedded in a soldier’s head!