During Super Bowl XLIV, I got my first glimpse of the upcoming Robin Hood Film. Instead of excitement, the trailer elicited the following reaction from most of the people in the room: “Really? Another one?” After all, it is reasonable to think that this English folk hero, who has spawned at least five movies not to mention countless television series and books, may be suffering from over exposure. However, after reexamining four of the most prominent Robin Hood features, I’ve decided that these prior versions have all been lacking and that this new adaptation has the opportunity to make an important— nay, an essential— contribution to cinema.
The legend of Robin Hood includes some rather heavy themes like oppression, tyranny and a lot of violence; nevertheless, most of the Robin Hood films approach this figure with a surprising amount of levity. In many versions of the legend, Robin is captured in the crusades and, upon his return to England, sees the suffering of the people of Nottingham at the hands of the tyrannical Prince John. In response, he organizes a rogue band to inflict revenge on this despot. As a result of these conflicts, many people die and undergo gory medieval torture. Moreover, the myth brings up complex questions on the relationship of a ruler to his people and the use of rebellion as a tool for the subjugated.
Despite this mature subject matter, the 1938 adaptation, Adventures of Robin Hood, puts the “merry” in Merry Men. While the characters talk a lot about freedom and Saxon peasants are tortured and killed by the Norman nobles, ultimately, they are acting within a world of bloodless (quite literally— there is death but there is no visible blood) duels, comical villains, and inevitable happy endings. Not surprisingly, the 1973 Disney version also does not include violence and gore. This cartoon does incorporate the serious subtext of unjust governments and crippling poverty, but it is mostly a barrage of talking chickens, bears, and foxes singing optimistic tunes. Thus, while both films foster an awareness and distaste of Prince John’s illegitimate and unjust reign, they do so in a lighthearted manner without the drama and action that could easily be included in an adaptation of this loaded tale.
In contrast, 1991’s Prince of Thieves is a more grim film and certainly has it share of blood and gore; however, the movie itself is not that good. The film opens with Robin of Locksley, played by Kevin Costner, with a wild beard and tattered clothing, trying to escape from an Ottoman prison. He manages to escape but has to leave his friend behind to a terrible fate. Following this trauma, Robin returns to England and is greeted by the site of his destroyed estate and murdered family. While Prince features these grave elements that the other films lack, I believe one reviewer put it well when he said, “it wasn’t exactly the swashbuckling masterpiece it could have been.” Ultimately, the film fails in that the script isn’t that great and Kevin Costner is hard to take seriously in tights.
In fact, the movie’s over-the-top melodrama and mediocrity made it an easy target for Mel Brook’s Robin Hood version two years later. Unlike the other versions discussed, Men in Tights isn’t really about the Robin Hood tale. Instead, it is about how this legend has been depicted in film. The movie parodies the costumes, excessive gaiety, and homosexual undertones of Errol Flynn and his troop and also pokes fun at the obscene violence of Prince and its attempt to incorporate a black character (seen Morgan Freedman as Azeem and Dave Chapelle as Achoo) into an overwhelmingly white story. Ultimately, this spoof demonstrates that Robin Hood films have had their weaknesses and that this legend still has untapped cinematic potential.
The trailer of Robin Hood (2010) suggests that this new film may have remedied these issues. In this version, there is no shortage of violence, seriousness or bloodshed. Moreover, it seems like it deals with the issues that the other films do— every line in the trailer has something to do with an illegitimate ruler and the right of the people to fight against tyranny— but in a more serious, convincing manner. Most importantly, it might actually be good. The film is directed my Ridley Scott (Alien, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down) and stars the impressive pairing of Cate Blanchett and Russell Crowe. In addition, Scott and Crowe have already teamed up to tell the story of a disgruntled warrior who champions the people and fights an illegitimate tyrant while showing a lot of leg. And Gladiator 2: Un-Shackled in Sherwood sounds pretty awesome to me.
 John J. Puccio. Blu-ray review. First Pulished May 22, 2009.