The Film

For every movie fan there are probably several films they can count as milestones, movies that became big parts of our viewing, even of our lives. Robin Hood Prince of Thieves was one of those for me. It came out at the perfect time, when I was 10. The screenplay had simple heroism, the villain was an obvious baddie you could boo and hiss at if the mood took you, there was plenty of action and even as a cut PG, it stretched the edges of its certification to a point that was an intense and sometimes scary experience for a relatively young kid. I loved it. Along with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves became one of my first favourite movies. It was one of the reasons we first got a TV for the house, and a VCR to go with it, and it became a tape that was in heavy rotation.

That was 30 years ago, and the last time I saw the film was probably about 10 years ago, when the uncut extended version arrived (as a 12) on UK Blu-ray. For this review of the new 4K disc from, appropriately, Arrow Video, I took my first look at the theatrical cut, finally fully uncut, in probably 20 years.

We don’t always age with the movies we loved as kids, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is, to some degree, one of those cases for me. That said, in many ways, this film as as much fun to watch as it ever was. Co-Writer Pen Densham says that his original idea for the film was “Robin Hood a la Raiders”, and while it’s not THAT good, you can very much see that basic idea running though the film, as Kevin Costner’s Robin goes through an escalating series of action and adventure set pieces that punctuate the film. Beginning with the darkness, both visual and thematic, of Robin’s escape from a prison during the crusades, where his life is saved by a former enemy, Azeem (Morgan Freeman) is a bold choice that marks this out from the bright technicolor of the Robins of Errol Flynn and Disney and starts the film off on an exciting note.

The action is the film’s standout feature throughout. Today, part of that is because in an age of largely CG action in big films, the palpable reality of Prince of Thieves’ sets and stunts lend a genuine sense of danger as, once things really ramp up, fireballs fly from catapults into the tree city built in Sherwood forest. The attack on Sherwood is a great large scale set piece, but the more grounded fights, whether it’s Robin taking on Guy of Gisbourne (Michael Wincott, putting his gravelly voice to menacing use) and his men, a good natured staff battle with Little John (Nick Brimble, imposing but avuncular) or the final duel with Alan Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham. You can sometimes see the join between actor and stuntman, but the sequences are well choreographed and executed.

robin hood 4k discFor all the film’s darkness, a sense of glee runs through it. This is never better combined than in scenes with the Sheriff. Alan Rickman, only a few years past Die Hard here, drops the German accent and hams up his Hans Gruber to outrageous levels. Director Kevin Reynolds matches him for excess, at times almost daring him to leer right into camera and out of the frame. The disdainful wit Rickman gives the Sheriff remains an absolute joy (“I’m going to cut your heart out with a spoon”), but he doesn’t let that overtake his slimy, if cartoony, villainy, which he plays to the hilt in the film’s climax as the Sheriff ‘marries’ Marion (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, who has less to do than you’d hope, given her character’s first appearance). Even a few years later, the decision to make one of the film’s unambiguous heroes a Muslim would likely have been controversial, but this is another aspect in which the film has aged well. Throughout we see that the Christians around Azeem are initially dismissive, or even outright prejudiced, but he wins them round. Morgan Freeman is astute choice for the part, brining his customary gravitas, and giving good account of himself in the action, considering he was around 53 during shooting.

Where the film was arguably always less convincing, and where that is absolutely exacerbated by the passage of time, is in the casting of Robin Hood himself. Kevin Costner was a massive star at this time. The film shot just after he finished Dances With Wolves, and followed it into cinemas the next year. He was always going to play Robin Hood; all three competing project that were kicking around in 1990 wanted him, it was just that he liked Prince of Thieves’ script most. As a kid, I think I just went with what I was presented with in terms of casting and acting. This guy says he’s Robin Hood… works for me, I mean, I gave a fox the benefit of the doubt on that front.

30 years later, I’m more convinced by the fox. Costner is woefully and hilariously miscast. Everything about his presence screams both American and early ’90s. Keanu Reeves’ accent in Bram Stoker’s Dracula is often singled out as one of the worst in film, and you won’t find me defending it, but at least Reeves tries (too hard, if anything). Costner doesn’t even bother, and his laid back Californian tones sound extremely out of place among a supporting ensemble that is largely English. The same can be said for Christian Slater, whose Jack Nicholsonisms don’t go anywhere as Will Scarlet and Mike McShane, though he gets by a little more, given that his performance is all drunken bluster (and one great joke: “Oh, is this your finger?”). Costner executes the physicality of the role well, but more than the accent what’s lacking is that spark to make us believe him as a leader of men. Freeman believably turns around an entire town to fight with Robin in a single short speech, but Costner never has that rhetorical heft.

Robin Hood Prince of Thieves isn’t the same experience it was when I was ten, and it doesn’t throw me back to that childlike wonder and glee the way Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade still does, but that’s not to say it’s not worth revisiting. At 143 minutes even in the theatrical cut, it can feel long, but once it hits those action beats it’s fantastic fun, and Rickman, Freeman and other performances besides still power it on to be a great entertainment, if not quite Robin Hood a la Raiders.


robin hood 4k disc

The Disc

Arrow’s 4K Limited Edition comes as a single 4K disc, with no Blu-ray packed in. The advantage of this is that the disc, like all 4Ks, is region free. The hard cardboard case features beautiful new key art by Paul Shipper. This is also featured on the 4K case, but that art is reversible, with the other side showing the original poster. You have the same choice of images on the included fold out poster. A 60 page book features short essays from Mark Cunliffe and Jackson Cooper, as well as woodcut styled artwork and copious production stills and behind the scenes images.

As for the film itself; I’ve always felt that 4K disproportionately benefits things shot on film. Many digital films are finished at 2K, so the best you’ll ever have is an upscale, but a true 4K scan and restoration from the negative can yield incredible detail, as it does here. Textures are incredible, with the exteriors looking true to life and the intricacies of John Bloomfield’s costuming leaping off the screen. Blacks are deep and colours vivid. The only downside comes in the opening sequence, where the extra resolution makes the fact the Jerusalem street was shot in a studio look a little too obvious, but otherwise this an exemplary restoration.

robin hood 4k discThe Extras

The main attraction here is the inclusion of the extended cut, also fully restored in 4K. Its 12 extra minutes are, to memory, given over largely to extra time with the Sheriff. More Alan Rickman is welcome, but at 155 minutes it’s a long sit, and the theatrical cut could already stand to lose some time for pacing.

The commentaries carried over from the old disc, one with Kevins Costner and Reynolds, the other with writers Pen Densham and John Watson and Morgan Freeman and Christian Slater are both solidly interesting, but the history between the Kevins makes theirs the more essential of the two.

A new documentary, Here We Are Kings, clocks in at just over an hour. Again, it’s an interesting watch, and the backstory on Densham and Watson’s early years in the business and how they got the film set up is particularly engaging, but it suffers from not having been able to get any of the cast’s bigger names to come back.

From the time of release, we get 19 minutes worth of EPK style interviews with the cast and a 30 minute documentary, hosted by Pierce Brosnan, which has some on set footage, but looks more at the history of the legend.

Finally, of course, there is Bryan Adams’ video for Everything I Do (I Do It For You). Having been sentient in 1991, if I ever hear that song again it will be a day too soon, but it’s there, as is the film’s trailer.

Robin Hood Prince of Thieves 4K
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robin-hood-prince-of-thieves-4kA spectacular 4K picture means this is the best Prince of Thieves has ever looked. If you grew up on it you may find it doesn’t entirely hold up. But your kids are gonna love it.