Sunday, February 12, 2012


As an example of how far behind I am on things, last night I watched the 2010 movie version of Robin Hood. I'm generally a big fan of movies set in the middle ages (no surprise there), and since the film had Ridley Scott for a director I was expecting something impressive.

By the end of the film I was just sitting there thinking, "Wha?"

I thought Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett were both too old for their parts, but I was willing to ignore that; they're big-named stars, after all. The acting was passable, the dialogue was decent, and the sets and costuming were much better that what Hollywood usually foists off on the unsuspecting public. I could even tolerate the fight scenes - though every time I see a film that uses the high-speed, choppy style of editing for fight scenes I find myself thinking, "Pity they couldn't afford a fight choreographer and had to cover it up by shaking the camera a lot."

The real problem was the incoherent story. It wasn't just the historical inaccuracies. The whole film seemed to be doing things at random. It's hard to evaluate how well the writer and director accomplished their goals when I can't even tell what they were trying to do in the first place. This suggested trouble with the film on a whole different level, so I turned to IMDB for clues.

The answer came pretty quickly: there were five writers. Here's a note from IMDB about the original story:

"Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris's original script "Nottingham" turned the traditional story on its head by portraying the Sheriff of Nottingham in a more sympathetic light and Robin Hood as more of a villain." [IMDB]
Right there is the first problem. Note for writers and producers: if you're going to turn a well-loved story "on its head", then you're writing an artsy film and not a summer blockbuster. Universal ignored this and tried to find a director who could make it into a blockbuster anyways, looking at Bryan Singer, Sam Raimi, and Jon Turteltaub before finally betting on Scott to make it work. They'd have done better if they'd gone with a much lower budget film, some new and edgy director, and a limited art-house release.
"The script was extensively re-written by Brian Helgeland because director Ridley Scott wanted the Sheriff of Nottingham to be a more conflicted character." [IMDB]
In the new story where Robin is the villain and the Sheriff is the hero, the Sheriff wasn't interesting enough? Maybe likable enough? It's hard to tell because in the final version of the film the Sheriff is hardly there at all. That is probably due to subsequent rewrites.
"New rewrites were done by British playwright Paul Webb ..."
The rest of the sentence is the real kicker:
"... and later by Tom Stoppard, who reworked the story while the movie was already being filmed." [IMDB]
Somewhere along the line they scrapped the whole premise that Robin was the villain and tried to go back to a more traditional Robin Hood story, but it still wasn't working so they hired a big-gun like Stoppard to fix the script while they were shooting. I think if I were a writer called in to work on it, I would have asked that my name not be associated with the film.

Now for those interested in action scenes, the film isn't bad. I'm not sorry I saw it but at the same time, when the closing credits started to roll, I found myself thinking that I'd like to see a movie about Robin Hood.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

La Maison Rustique - February

From: L'agriculture et maison rustique, Charles Estienne (Rouen, 1658).

The works that the laborer should do for each month of the year.

(Chapter 10)



In February, in the crescent moon, transplant the vines of two or three years, which will thus take root, and do not touch those of a year, which do not wish to be shaken, for they have little vigor yet.

Maintain the hay fields, vineyards, meadows and gardens.

Make the pits to plant new vines: cut out the roots of vines, and equip them with stakes, prune and weed trees of all superfluities, clean of worms, dirt and worm-eaten material that is found in dry leaves.

Prepare the soil of the gardens to sow and plant all kinds of herbs.

Give the second working to the earth to receive beans, barley, oats, hemp, millet and other similar seed in March.

Visit the vines, especially those that are known to be weak and delicate.

Dress the hedges of the gardens: build the beds of the gardens with hay.

Plant the woods for great trees and forest.

Plant also the shoots of olive trees, pomegranates, quince trees, fig trees, poplars, dwarf willows, elms, osiers, and other trees, as well wild fruit trees that will root.

Clean the dove cote, hen house, and the retreat of the peacocks and gees: because these beasts at the end of the month begin to sit to hatch.

Visit the warren to repopulate it and there re-run the burrows.

Buy honey bees, thoroughly clean their hives and kill their kings.

Buy hawks, sparrowhawks, and other birds of prey: which at the end of this month will moult.