There’s a lot of action to open Robin Hood, a mish-mash of battle scenes across the countryside with little to no connection on the viewer. To be clear, they start the film off, and they’re in forests, storming the castles, and there is no real identifier to any of it.
Maybe it’s preparation, getting the audience in order for the next hour of so of bland nothingness, this prequel of sorts ditching the fantastical, “merry” aspects of the legend for a telling of why Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) became the man that he did.
In all honesty, it’s sort of hard to tell. Robin is frustrated, certainly. An overbearing king is making taxation rampant, and his small village of Nottingham is on their last legs. We have some romance, with Marion Loxley (Cate Blanchett), of which no real chemistry is found nor any surprises.
Robin Hood spends a lot of time building its villain, Prince John (Oscar Isaac) before switching gears to the invading French. It’s a rapid turn-around, the audience anticipating some comeuppance for the hardly noble leader, and then in an instant, we hate the French. Apparently, so does Robin Longstride/Hood.
Ridley Scott directs as we know he can, the familiar sights of soldiers marching on their target now dreadfully dull. Plus, if cinema never provides with another arrow volley, it would be a happy day. There are lots of sword clashes, PG-13 level violence, and scale filled in with seamless visual effects, but the story behind all of this is convoluted. It’s certainly Hollywood, flashes of humor, a budget that oozes off the screen, and lavish costumes set the period, if not the mood or impact.
It’s surprising how far we’ve come from Errol Flynn, the days of colorful and plucky heroes now replaced with a character that carries more in common with Gladiator than anything else. It’s apparently what modern audiences want, or maybe what studios think modern audiences want. And to be clear, Robin Hood: Men in Tights was right. Every film based on this legend must begin with someone’s village being burned down, even in prequel form. Good work Mel Brooks. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Movie]
Universal delivers an AVC encode for this modern spin on Robin Hood, one with a scattering of problems, but is generally firm in its definition. There is little doubt the facial detail here is strict, filling the frame with some superlative close-ups. The first opportunity to show off is under low light with merely some flames to work as a guide, and high fidelity textures still show. Watching around 13:39 as Crowe plays the bean-seeking game, a dazzling level of detail remains on display.
Moments in brighter light perform admirably too, right up with the expectation for a Hollywood blockbuster. As Crowe is imprisoned within the wooden shackles around 17:40, not only is his face resolving enough minute detail to make stubble visible, the wood is also defined and clear, down to the most minute of cracks.
Entering into areas of additional complexity proves slightly bothersome. There is a level of flicker at work here that is quite distracting. Chain mail, while wonderfully clean and pure in close, breaks up at a distance, camera moves producing a distinct shimmer. The same goes for the village of Nottingham, the straw used on the roofs rough on this encode, and the small wooden fences just short of a nightmare.
There is a chance this was sharpened ever so slightly, a minute level of ringing visible from time to time, although it’s incredibly minor. It certainly doesn’t affect the visuals too much, the grain well resolved aside from some minor spikes, including 46:26 inside the King’s chamber. Even then the level of noise is within the realm of acceptability.
Ridley Scott utilizes what it becoming a familiar and boring cool color timing for a drab flat effect on the various hues. It’s by design, the pale flesh tones not much for eye candy. Various greens of the forest, shot in England, are subdued, yet still effectual. Not much can dull the impact of the spectacular vistas of the countryside, the wide landscape at 1:55:54 truly a stunner. Despite the shimmering issue, many of the wide angle views of towns or soldiers marching look superb too, 37:30 a fine example.
Black levels, while occasionally murky (the opening sequence where Crowe plays the game again), generates some genuine depth more often than not. Shadow detail is preserved, leaving black crush as a non-issue. A bright contrast aids in the dimensionality, never washed out or causing detail to be bleached. The intended color scheme does that just fine. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]
As expected, the opening moments of this DTS-HD mix are as aggressive as they come. Arrows zip through the soundfield with wonderful grace and precision. Screaming soldiers are heard in each channel, their sword clashes clean and crisp. This remains true for any battle sequence, the balance well calibrated to keep Marc Streitenfeld’s suitably powerful score alive in the midst of chaos. There are moments where it doesn’t quite reach its full power as far as the high-end is concerned, but when it counts, it’s there.
Disappointing here is the bass, a weak, flaccid low-end that never punishes the subwoofer like it should. Battering rams slam into heavy doors, and the overall effect is nowhere near what it should be. The film’s sole explosion, coming at 8:07 as a door is breached, proves completely underwhelming in terms of its audio punch. It’s odd to hear the heavy waves on the sea at 33:45 produce more of a jolt, and the spectacular surround use is also worth a mention.
While fidelity is generally firm, a few lines sound as if they’re recorded in a studio, the blatant echo completely out of place. One of the French commanders near the end of the film is one of the more blatant examples, standing outside on a ship where apparently he’s enclosed by walls. This is likely the source, not the DTS-HD track. The battle happening before and after those lines are some of the most aggressive anyway, the sickening thud of an arrow piercing armor an effect you could live with only hearing once. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]
There is no commentary here, replaced by a pop-up feature called The Director’s Notebook. Sketches and other items are showcased during the film detailing some of the behind-the-scenes work, complementing the main documentary, the hour long Rise and Rise Again. While it starts a bit too self-congratulatory, this turns into a fine, detailed piece.
Eleven deleted/extended scenes, not included in either the director’s cut nor the theatrical version (both are on the disc) include an intro by the editor. Art of Nottingham focuses mostly on stills, but is peppered with a few video interviews. A section on marketing is followed by D-Box support and BD-Live access. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Extras]