Thursday, May 27, 2010

Robin Hood (2010)

Robin Hood (Ridley Scott, 2010)

What is it with history that implores us to treat it with reckless reverence? It seems that humanity has devolved into needy orphans, unable to cope up with the problems of the present and always looking at the past for answers and reasons, or a semblance of a former glory that the messy world we currently live in can never provide. Filmmakers, those modern storytellers who more often than not are no longer motivated by the actual pleasure of the arts but by the promise of earning a shiny buck for themselves and for the corporations they make films for, have presented themselves to bridge the already bridged gap, telling new and old stories with perceived historical accuracy. What for? Surely, it is no longer for sheer spectacle or plain pageantry. When the likes of D. W. Griffith, whose The Birth of the Nation (1915) remains to be one of the most historically offensive yet grandiosely spectacular films of all time, or Cecile B. DeMille, who has made a career turning the silver screen into a time capsule that showcases the opulence of the past, are a rare if not extinct species in today's crop of filmmakers, historical accuracy has turned into a cosmetic cliché that begs and pleads for relevance and importance, rather than a spark for discourse.

Take Ridley Scott's appallingly unimaginative Robin Hood as an example. The character of Robin Hood persists in common knowledge as close to mythical, a conveniently moral bandit who is donned in the stereotypical archer’s outfit and goes about the business of stealing from the rich so that he can redistribute the wealth to the poor and is reinforced by the many cinematic reincarnations from Errol Flynn’s dashing and charming hero in Michael Curtiz’s The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938); to the witty fox garbed in green in Walt Disney Studios’ animated re-telling Robin Hood (1973); to Kevin Costner’s overly serious champion in Kevin Reynolds’ Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991). In an attempt to inject relevance to the overly familiar tale in the most unlikely way, Mel Brooks came up with a deliciously vicious satire, Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993), explicating how the hero, with his and his friends’ dated fashion sense and claim to fame, is actually a wellspring of gags and jokes.

In Scott’s Robin Hood, Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) is an archer in the army of King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston), whose return to England to reclaim the throne is impeded by his death in battle. Disguised as Sir Robert Loxley who died in an ambush, Robin and his men return to England to relay the news of the king’s untimely death, which leads to the coronation of John (Oscar Isaac) as the new king of England, and start to lead the lives of their assumed identities, as son of the Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow) of Nottingham and wife of Marion (Cate Blanchett). Burdened by contributions to Richard’s crusades and John’s abominable taxes which are being collected by Godfrey (Mark Strong), one of John’s trusted men, who turns out to be a double agent for the invading French, the people have gone poorer and poorer, making them more restless and resistant to the king’s abusive demands.

Placing the character in an exact place in history seems to be a good idea since it opens the character to further interpolation, placing his legendary motive of wealth distribution within a context of actual events instead of fictional scenarios. Although claimed to be based on researches and investigations on the very identity of the character, Scott’s Robin Hood feels more hokey than convincing. In fact, this undue insistence on historical accuracy, boxing him within the possibilities and probabilities of the time period, has turned the character into a fatal bore. As far as this film goes, the allure of Robin Hood --- the cunning and mischief mixed with chivalry, the adventurousness, the mystery --- is completely obliterated, turning the famous thief, at least in the eyes of the film’s viewers, into just another artifact of the past, excretable and forgettable. Not even the several astoundingly meticulously recreated set pieces can save a Robin Hood film whose Robin Hood is as ordinary as the next summer blockbuster action hero from obscurity.

As far as historical accuracy is concerned, Scott makes his audience believe that he has solved the riddle to the identity of the much-beloved Robin Hood. More than that, Scott has oversimplified Robin Hood, turning him into a palatable modern hero and a defender of democracy with the several back-stories on the trauma of the crusades, his father’s goal of uniting England with a declaration of rights, and his fate of mustering all the warriors of England to thwart the French invasion, instead of the moral conundrum that he really is, the prime example of the debate on whether or not the ends can justify the means. I personally prefer the latter; Robin Hood is simply bigger than the history or the culture that gave birth to him. By reinventing him by portraying him from a definite historical perspective in the mistaken belief that with history, comes newfound relevance, it can only lessen the character’s mystique. Of course, other than what I think is a bastardization of the enigma that is Robin Hood, the film, is, to put it plainly, just lousy, and probably the lousiest film ever done by Scott.

1 comment:

Trav said...

Great review! It's nice to see there's someone else out there with some common sense and critical thinking who was as disheartened as myself (not that I had my hopes up...).

The film absolutely kills all of the mysterious, mischievous spirit I've always associated with the story, turning it into yet another “historic tale of greatness”, so much like any other, and soon to be forgotten. Even Disney's green-attired fox manages to portray the character under a much more captivating light.

In the 2010 version, it all just seems to fall into place just too well (following the all-too-common over-used formulas of Hollywood's historical pictures), with a hint of “I've done my homework, I've finally solved the mystery, and this is how you ought to conceive it, presented to you in all of “Ridley Scott's epic historical action”®.

Robin Hood can't be an outlaw just because: he has to have been a majestic, virtuous hero first; a pioneer in the defense of democracy who was betrayed by a twisted King, and who became an outlaw only after having won the respect of all of England...

The only scene of the movie that reflects the concept of Robin Hood that I support (or have chosen to believe) is the [SPOILER ALERT] next to the last scene, in which he fires the arrow to hold up the King's decree presented by the Sheriff. The filmmakers' only possible defense could be that this is “the making of Robin Hood”, a Robin Hood version of Batman Begins. That, of course, doesn't help give it any credibility...

What bothers me the most is how well this suits the status quo. The tale of Robin Hood was about anything but that. Ridley Scott's Robin Hood couldn't be an outlaw just because he was poor, or because he was un rightfully taxed to the bone, or was simply unwilling to submit to authority...he had to be a great historical figure everyone could look up to, who exercised his God-given right to dissent only because he'd gained it through bravery and cooperation with the establishment.

I didn't expect to see Hollywood supporting the idea of subversion, but this pushes it a bit too far. Peasants are to bend and submit to authority, no matter how unjust, and the only ones who can rightfully live outside the law are those who have previously climbed the ladder of success and made a name for themselves in history...Following those lines, the only ones who should be perceived as in their right to download illegal copies of movies on the internet are those who have previously helped production companies win million dollar lawsuits against massive armies of foreign copyright violators...

The reason the tale of Robin Hood prevailed throughout history, regardless of its historical accuracy and veracity, is because it was one the oppressed masses could look up at and fantasize with. Robin Hood/Hode/Wood/Wode – however you choose to call him – appears in ballads for centuries and centuries, sometimes from the point of view of the authority (as a mere thief or killer), and mostly as the utopian hero that peasants and craftsmen wished to dream with. Either way, he was never portrayed as the uniter of Barons and savior of England, nor was he revered as such a thing. He was a symbol of the oppressed, and luckily, for many of us, so he shall remain.

I truthfully believe you should post your article as a review on Imdb or any other major movie site (create an account if necessary). They're the sites that are concurred the most by the movie-hungry masses, and there ought to be some representation for the minority of critical thinkers – or hooded critics, such as yourself ;)