Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood
I have a queer fascination with Ridley Scott, and I was quietly pleased to find out I would be required to see this movie. I can never entirely dismiss the man who made Blade Runner, not that he's ever done anything nearly as fascinating since then. Most of the credit for that one probably went to the screenwriters and Rutger Hauer. But even still, Scott is the one who brought it together, and he's the one who can take otherwise mediocre or maudlin screenplays and turn them into something moving in at least one formidable respect. Take, for example, the surprising passion of the blockbuster Alien, or the pitch-perfect pacing of Matchstick Men, or the philosophical depth of Gladiator. In most other hands, these films would have been hard to believe, let alone enjoy. But Scott can make even Demi freaking Moore more interesting than she deserves to be (G.I. Jane, of course).
All of the usual elements were in place for an average adaptation of Robin Hood, and for the most part that's what we got. The film is shallow, predictable, forced, and in at least one respect, formidable.
It is shallow because except for Marion Loxley and her Father-in-Law, Sir Walter Loxley, no character gets any time to really develop and make us care about him. The enemies (supposedly dark and sinister King John or assumedly deplorable Sheriff of Nottingham) are equally as sympathetic as the main character himself. I find myself unconcerned over the fate of any of them right when I should be cheering for the hero and despising the antagonists.
It is predictable because, well, because you already know how this sentence will end.
It is forced because in the moments we are to be most moved, the dialog becomes a campy, Mel Gibsonian tribute to democracy that is so out of step with the times as to be almost as funny as The Life of Brian. Robin Hood basically quotes the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, but in a hokey, colloquial way that we are supposed to feel aroused by. He's over 600 years early for any of that sentiment. The idea of "liberty and justice for all" would have made as much sense to these people as socialism does to our modern political sensibilities. There were no small land owners at the time, and while it was certainly fine to loath your king, or even go to war against him, you simply wanted to replace him with a new monarch who would be more generous for at least one generation.
When Scott made Gladiator, he understood that historical accuracy could be sacrificed so long as the story bore a deeper, more important message. His use of classical romance in that film made for a picture that was viscerally pleasant, but with a high-brow nod to the stoics, it was equally intellectual. Robin Hood is just as heroic as Gladiator. It has the crucial elements; your fall from—and return to—grace. But there's no braininess to this movie and it means that all I have left is a collection of killer battle sequences and jaw-dropping cinematography. But as it turns out, these are good enough for one good viewing.
The settings in this picture were sublime. I can't think of any other epic reconstructions of the European Feudal Age that make such a convincing backdrop. Large elements, like the Tower of London, are remade in painstaking detail. Small elements were equally as moving. I remember being distracted from a bit of dialog between Robin and Marion when in the background an old man with a missing leg trundled along the path behind them. He was completely unnecessary to the story, but exactly what made this universe so real. Truly inspired. In fact, despite all the complaints I've made, I had no notion of the film's length. That's how engrossing this world was. It was like I could actually smell the pigs, feel the wind from the sea, and sweat with the patrons in the bar. The overall color scheme was plain old dark, and perfect for what light would have been available at the time. Middle-ages films regularly over-light everything, as if these people weren't living in windowless, stone fortresses or shuddered, thatch-roofed shacks. (The fire, mostly computer generated, could have been a bit more believable, but I was even impressed with its digital rendering.) For a story that lacked any other surprises, the scenery was unexpected enough. Without belaboring the point, the same fine hand was lent to the battles, which worked for me. If you're cut from a similar cloth, you'll probably enjoy the film, like I said, at least once.