Film Reviews

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) – Limited Edition Blu-ray Review

When it was released in 1991, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was heavily criticised for being too dark and sombre. Critic Roger Ebert said “The most depressing thing about the movie is that children will attend it expecting to have a good time.” Yet since then we’ve had versions from Ridley Scott (po-faced) and Bathurst (lamentable), both of which make this version look like an absolute laugh riot. Viewed now it’s an optimistic, fun, and thoroughly enjoyable telling of a classic story. Yes, it’s flawed: it doesn’t take one day to get from the white cliffs of Dover to Nottingham, especially not if you go via Hadrian’s Wall, and the accents are all over the place. But this isn’t history – it’s Hollywood.

The performances throughout are great fun. Kevin Costner does a good enough job as the eponymous hero, but his Dudley Do-Right Robin pales against almost every other character. Anyone who has seen the film knows that the real Prince of Thieves is Alan Rickman, who steals every scene he is in, but there is plenty of praise to go around. Michael Wincott and Geraldine McEwan are resplendent as the Sheriff’s cohorts, backed up by a snivelling John Tordoff who makes a wonderful lackey.

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But what of the Merry Men? Morgan Freeman takes the role of Robin’s right hand man, Azeem. Not found in the original Robin Hood legends, we first see a Moor character in the Richard Carpenter Robin of Sherwood series, whom Azeem must clearly owe a debt to. Thank goodness he does, as Freeman is another actor who elevates every scene he is in. With Little John relegated to first substitute, Nick Brimble still does a wonderful job of bringing the larger than life role to the screen, though even here we have more upstaging, as Soo Drouet as his wife Fanny is an absolute gem. As an aside, Brian Blessed was originally asked to play the part of Little John but, due to other commitments, was unable to. However, who doesn’t want Brian Blessed in their film? And so he was given the cameo of Lord Locksley Senior. 

But the list goes on, with the rest of the supporting cast bringing a huge range of talent and continuing a hodgepodge of faces well known to British audiences. Daniel Peacock as Bull lends a ‘working man’ authenticity to the rag-tag men of Sherwood, Jack Wild and Derek Deadman making surprise appearances, one as Much, the other as Kneelock (though you need to read the credits to know that), and which of us of a certain age manages to see Howard Lew Lewis without imagining that Rabies from Maid Marian and Her Merry Men exists in some weird, multiverse crossover? Plus there’s 90s heart throb Christian Slater as Will Scarlet, Mike McShane as a larger than life Friar Tuck (whose first meeting with Robin is perhaps Costner’s best moment in the entire movie), and a rather excellent Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Lady Marian, as well as one of the greatest surprise cameos of all time at the end of the film. All in all, a lot of bang for your buck.

The disc comes with not one, but two different versions of the film: the theatrical release and the extended edition. The twelve-minute difference in essence brings us more Rickman and McEwan, which is all we could ever ask for. It does have a few bits that maybe should have stayed on the cutting room floor, but it’s absolutely worth a watch if only for a brief interaction between the characters of Azeem and Tuck, which makes the latter’s acceptance of the Muslim a little later in the film all the more poignant. You also get to see more of the late, great, Pat Roach.

The special features are excellent. Carrying over everything from the 2003 DVD release, which originally gave us the extended edition, you already get a bumper load of things to enjoy. Two audio commentaries, one with Costner and director Kevin Reynolds, another with Freeman and Slater and writers/producers Pen Densham and John Watson. Of these the first is more interesting, with the second occasionally coming off a little bitter at how the film was treated on its initial release. There’s also ‘Robin Hood: The Myth, the Man, the Movie’, a documentary filmed at the time and hosted by Pierce Brosnan. It’s… fine. There are also archival interviews with Costner, Freeman, Mastrantonio, Slater, and Rickman. Because you have to give it a nod, there’s Bryan Adams singing ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It for You’ at Slane Castle, Ireland. On top of that you get music soundtrack cues, a theatrical trailer, TV spots, and an image gallery.

But there’s more. Arrow Video have put together ‘Here We Are Kings: Making Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’. This retrospective talks about the whole process of getting the film made, looking at the difficulties and issues while celebrating the passion. It also offers geeky facts by the bucket load. Confirmation that the same costume being used by the character Mortianna also appeared in the Tom Baker Who story ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ is the kind of tid-bit some of us get out of bed for.

Of course, it’s impossible to talk about this film without also mentioning the music. But forget Adams. He spent 16 weeks at number one in the UK, that’s more than enough about that. Instead, let’s focus on Michael Kamen, the genius who, with Prince of Thieves, created what is arguably one of the greatest scores of the decade. There is a long chapter in the new documentary celebrating the man and his work, both on Prince of Thieves and more broadly, and it is a pleasure to see.

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The release also contains a reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork, a 60-page collector’s booklet, two double-sided fold-out posters and six double-sided, postcard-sized art cards, none of which were available for review. With the 4K restorations Arrow have done a fantastic job of restoring this film. They’ve presented a crisp, clean print with excellent audio without taking away the wonderful gloss that blockbusters of the time employed. Once again they steer clear of the mistake of trying to ‘improve’ a cinematographer’s original vision, and instead allow us to enjoy it at its best.

It’s become a cliché to say that Arrow have set the bar for special editions but here Arrow have, well, set the bar for special editions. With the huge number of special features on the earlier DVD they could have rested on their laurels, as so many do. But instead they’ve put time, effort, and a lot of work into creating a package that justifies your money. A lot of the value and joy for collectors and fans looks like it is in the artwork and booklets. Without seeing these it’s impossible to give a full – perhaps even fair – review or rating for this release. Yet it still comes with a ringing endorsement.

Oh, and don’t forget to call off Christmas.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is out on Limited Edition Blu-ray and 4K UHD from Arrow Video on 28th November.

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