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.