Say what you like about Kevin Costner’s ropey accent and haircut, about the bastardisation of the legend, and of the number of holes you can poke through Kevin Reynold’s 1991 retelling of the Robin Hood story, but I maintain this was one of the most downright enjoyable blockbusters of the 1990s. And still is.
Released in the wake of Kevin Costner’s Oscar-winning Dances With Wolves, the film – along with the following year’s The Bodyguard – arguably marked the peak of his movie star appeal. It also went head to head – at least in UK cinemas – with a more faithful Patrick Bergin-starring telling of the story. But Bergin, bluntly, never stood a chance.
Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves takes a while to get going, but it remains worth it when it does. Costner’s Robin is arguably the weakest link here, but he’s decent enough, yet the trick is the surrounding cast, which includes Michael Wincott, Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. But the genius, as virtually anyone who sat through the film would likely concede, is Alan Rickman’s outstanding pantomime performance as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Various stories circulated around the release of the film about how Rickman’s role was cut back, and more Costner was put back in, but it’s the former that dominates the movie. He exceeds his villainous wonder as Hans Gruber in Die Hard here for my money, with a performance I’ve watched a good dozen times but never bored of. Who else could sneer “Call off Christmas” with quite the majesty of Rickman, launching a cottage industry in British bad guys as he does so.
Tempering this slightly, the version of the film that Warner Bros has put out on this Blu-ray is actually the extended, and for me the weaker, cut. It adds a subplot involving Rickman and his mother, and it makes a film that was never razor-tight at the best of times into something unnecessarily more flabby. The bonus is you get more Rickman, but you pay a price for it.
Still, when it hits top gear, this is still energetic, flowing, and really good fun. It’s very funny, too, something it doesn’t always get full credit for, and for our UK readers, I still love the moment when Elmo from Brush Strokes pops up in the background.
The Blu-ray release certainly offers an upgrade from the DVD in terms of picture and sound quality, although it’s not a seismic jump. It’s also, we suspect, the best we’re ever going to get, and a few little blemishes aside, it does a fine job. The audio gets a bigger improvement, with a fully-fleshed surround track at work. The excellent score comes across well, and the soundstage is broad and very effective.
There aren’t any new extras here over the double disc DVD release of a few years back, and they aren’t in high definition either. You do get a solid commentary that unites Costner and director Kevin Reynolds, and it’s decent enough. It does avoid the depths of the pair’s falling out over the years, mind. Another commentary brings together the writers with Morgan Freeman and Christian Slater, and it’s good fun. There are some interesting details in there, too, and it’s worth spinning.
The rest of the material isn’t much cop. An old making of special is weak, as are the one-on-one interviews. The most interesting thing is appreciating just how things like this were done at the start of the 90s – they drag a youthful Pierce Brosnan in, for example! You then get trailers and a live performance from Bryan Adams. You know the reason why. Rounded off with the chance to hear some of the soundtrack in full surround, it’s hardly an earth-shattering collection of supplements, but they do a decent enough job.
The film, though? I still think it never got quite the credit it deserved. I’d wager right now that it’s going to be more fun, if a lot less faithful, than Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe’s stab at Robin Hood next summer…