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.

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