Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves - Extended Cut (Blu-ray) (1991)

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Released 4-Sep-2019

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Adventure Audio Commentary-by Kevin Costner and Kevin Reynolds
Audio Commentary-Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Pen Densham & John Watson
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1991
Running Time 155:03
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Kevin Reynolds
Studio
Distributor

ViaVision
Starring Kevin Costner
Morgan Freeman
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
Christian Slater
Alan Rickman
Geraldine McEwan
Michael McShane
Brian Blessed
Michael Wincott
Nick Brimble
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $19.95 Music Michael Kamen


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Ditching the idiosyncratic lightheartedness of Errol Flynn's iconic outing as the swashbuckling titular outlaw, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves presents more of a brutal, realistic reimagining of the centuries-old folklore legend, and the result is not strictly for young children. Positioned as the must-see movie event of the 1991 summer season, this Robin Hood endured a tough journey to the big screen, with behind-the-scenes clashes and production setbacks, all of which occurred in the public eye. Happily, however, the finished film does not bear the hallmarks of a troubled production, and it developed into a box office hit, becoming the second-highest grossing movie of 1991 (behind Terminator 2: Judgment Day). Directed by Kevin Reynolds (Waterworld), Prince of Thieves is a spectacular medieval action-adventure, misguided in some respects but successful where it counts, and it remains a hugely entertaining watch nearly three decades on.

    While fighting in the Crusades, nobleman Robin of Locksley (Kevin Costner) manages to break out of prison in Jerusalem. In the process, he saves a Moor named Azeem (Morgan Freeman), who consequently vows to protect Robin until he repays his life debt. Robin returns to his British homeland with Azeem, but finds that his father (Brian Blessed) is dead, and the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman) has claimed power over the kingdom for himself, aided by Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Michael Wincott). Driven into Sherwood Forest while escaping the Sheriff's soldiers, Robin encounters a group of outlaws, including Little John (Nick Brimble) and Will Scarlet (Christian Slater), who yearn for their freedom once again. Robin quickly emerges as a leader for these Merry Men, determined to disrupt the Sheriff's rampant tyranny by robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, becoming a hero to the common people. Amid his battle for freedom, Robin also finds love in childhood friend Lady Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio).

    Despite running an intimidating 155 minutes (in its extended form), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves moves like water for the most part, exhibiting a sensational sense of pacing as the picture covers ample narrative ground. Admittedly, Prince of Thieves is a bit sluggish at the forefront as Robin travels back to England and discovers the state of his kingdom, but it soon picks up, with the film kicking into high gear when Robin and his Merry Men begin raging war against the Sheriff. The screenplay, credited to Pen Densham and John Watson, juggles subplots and a vast ensemble of characters, creating a distinct interpretation of the English folk tale. (Mel Brooks' 1993 parody film, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, used the narrative template set by Prince of Thieves.) The only part of the narrative which feels half-baked is the romance between Robin and Marian - there is no spark to justify the coupling, and their interest in each other feels motivated purely by script demands.

    Carrying a significant (for the era) $48 million price-tag, the sense of time and place throughout Prince of Thieves is extraordinary, with elaborate sets and authentic locations convincingly recreating medieval England in the 12th century. Aided by cinematographer Douglas Milsome (Full Metal Jacket), Reynolds adopts a fluid shooting style, with effective Steadicam shots and creative camerawork - including the iconic arrow POV shot which featured in the teaser trailer. Reynolds stages an array of fight sequences and battles, which are tautly edited for maximum excitement, breaking up the dialogue to provide an irresistibly entertaining show. Additionally, Prince of Thieves tests the limits of its PG-13 rating, yet Reynolds also maintains a welcome sense of joviality to prevent the movie from feeling excessively gloomy or mean-spirited. But the crème de la crème is a killer score by maestro Michael Kamen (Die Hard, Lethal Weapon), which superbly underscores the emotion and excitement from scene to scene. Kamen's music consistently bursts with flavour and majesty, perfectly accompanying the visuals.

    There is little argument that Costner is miscast as the titular outlaw, making no consistent effort to hide or suppress his natural American accent, with his drawl noticeably changing throughout. Costner is still appealing enough in the role, as he emanates his usual movie star charisma, but the American accent remains jarring considering the character's British origins. Your mileage will vary. The real star of the show here is the always-reliable Rickman, who was given carte blanche to do whatever he wished as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Rickman sinks his teeth into the material, hamming it up in delightful fashion, and delivering a string of amusing one-liners (some of which were not scripted) that add to the film's entertainment value. Legend has it that Costner (one of the film's producers) reduced Rickman's screen-time in editing after test audiences found themselves liking the Sheriff more than Robin. Elsewhere in the cast, Freeman is unsurprisingly first-rate as Azeem, injecting satisfying gravitas into the material, while Wincott also makes a positive impression as Guy of Gisbourne. Meanwhile, a young (21-year-old) Slater makes for an adequately pleasing Will Scarlett, trying his hardest to hide his natural American accent.

    Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is undeniably lacking a consistent vision, intermixing broad humour and campy performances with an otherwise straight-faced and violent retelling of the medieval legend, while the accents are all over the place. But viewed as a piece of blockbuster entertainment, Prince of Thieves somehow works - it's charming, exciting and fast-paced, while production values impress and there are several memorable moments. Interestingly, this was the last (serious) big screen Robin Hood film for nineteen years: it was followed by Ridley Scott's Robin Hood in 2010.

    The extended cut of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves adds a number of new scenes and extensions, most of which involve the Sheriff of Nottingham, and expand his role in the movie. These additions are fun to see, but I can't say they necessarily improve the already lengthy movie, particularly since they introduce a continuity error - the scribe has his tongue removed, but is later seen speaking in an added scene. Ultimately, I find myself missing the superior brevity of the theatrical cut.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Whereas Via Vision's Blu-ray presentation of the theatrical cut is virtually a total disaster, the extended edition of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves looks a bit more pleasing, but it's still not a home run. This appears to be the same master prepared by Warner Bros. for the special edition DVD back in 2003, and was subsequently used for its 2009 Blu-ray debut - moreover, this is exactly the same VC-1 encode from said Blu-ray, framed at 1.78:1 and mastered in 1080p with an average video bitrate of 24.70 Mbps. It's worth pointing out that the movie was originally released in 1.85:1, and this master is actually open matte, showing a bit of additional information at the top and bottom of the screen. Warner's master is in decent shape, but it's not exactly remarkable, and Via Vision missed a golden opportunity to re-encode the movie in MPEG-4 AVC and max out the bitrate for the best presentation possible short of a remaster (which it does need). Make no mistake, though - after viewing Via Vision's dismal presentation of the theatrical cut, this is a huge and welcome step up, and it's also a terrific upgrade over the DVD.

    As early Blu-ray catalogue titles go, Prince of Thieves is one of the better examples. Thankfully, the master isn't slathered in unsightly digital noise reduction to turn the image into a smeary mess, nor is there excessive edge enhancement. It is a tad soft on the whole, though, and there are limitations to the dated scan in terms of textures and grain. There is also some grain management, which is more noticeable in some scenes than others. I detected some smeariness at times, which is most noticeable in moving shots which incorporate tilts and pans. The smeariness is most evident and distracting during optical shots, of which there are many throughout the movie - one supposes that the remastering team went heavy on the digital noise reduction for the opticals. Additionally, it almost goes without saying, but the transfer really suffers in terms of specular detail at times, as to be expected from a dated, Standard Dynamic Range presentation - fires and skies are absolutely blown out (just see a wide shot at 79:00, and subsequent shots in the same scene of skies), while detail is soft and unrefined when harsh light sources are used. Clarity is mediocre in darkness or when smoke is involved, with a murkiness engulfing the image. Shadow detail is lost at times, such as a scene at the 82-minute mark inside a treehouse. It's also clear that diffusion filters were used at times, particularly when Marion is on-screen, which gives her an angelic quality but denies precise detailing on her face.

    On a more positive note, Warner's remastering team did a great job removing dirt, specks, scratches and other film artefacts, as the transfer is in great shape and exhibits very little in the way of print damage. Telecine wobble is also not much of an issue, as on-screen titles are relatively steady. When grain is evident, it's usually finely-resolved as opposed to distracting or chunky, accentuating the textures on display. Naturally, fine detail fares best in daylight, with close-ups revealing ample textures on clothing and skin, while respectable sharpness ensures strong object delineation. Indeed, hair is frequently well-defined, even in mid shots, though the filtering does take away some precision at times. Additionally, one shot of Freeman at 14:18 is extremely soft; it's evident that the actor is out of focus. Colours are much more pleasing than the theatrical cut and the DVD, with lush greens, more balanced skin tones, and vibrant primaries. Naturally, it could look better with a High Dynamic Range grade, but I don't have any real complaints. Contrast is also respectable, allowing for a reasonable sense of image depth and adequate black levels.

    All in all, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves looks fine if inconsistent throughout this high definition presentation. At its best, textures and colours are pleasing, with a fine layer of grain and satisfying highlights (even a campfire scene at the 45-minute mark manages respectable shadow detail). At its worst, it's somewhat murky and noticeably smeary, though it's always a d*** sight better than the theatrical cut Blu-ray, and it improves upon the DVD at every turn. On smaller screens, the transfer undeniably looks better, as the smeariness is more pronounced on my 65" television. Luckily, the encode never falls victim to unsightly video artefacts, such as aliasing, banding or macroblocking.

    English subtitles for the hearing impaired are included. I found no mistakes in terms of spelling/grammar, or formatting.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    In addition to the commentaries, there are two audio options available on this Blu-ray: a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 track, and a 16-bit DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. For whatever reason, Via Vision do not include the Dolby TrueHD track included on their Blu-ray, though at least we're still treated to a lossless DTS-HD MA mix, which is the primary focus of this review. (For what it's worth, the disc also drops all of the additional language options of the Warner Bros. Blu-ray.) The audio is fine across the board, with no signs of sync issues or source-related anomalies, such as hissing or popping - Warner Bros. did a great job remastering the audio for home video. The track also makes good use of the surround channels, with music and sound effects coming from the rear speakers, and with evident separation and panning effects when the occasion calls for it. The surround channels are more lively in action set-pieces, or a celebration scene at Robin's camp in Sherwood Forest, though minor environmental sounds are evident during quieter moments. Prioritisation is likewise satisfying, with clear dialogue, while there's sufficient impact to sound effects during the battle sequences. Michael Kamen's memorable score also comes through cleanly. Admittedly, the surround activity is not as lively as a contemporary Atmos mix, and the track is not as pristine as perhaps it could be, but these are minor knocks against an otherwise perfectly serviceable audio mix.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    This standalone extended edition disc only comes with two audio commentaries. These can be found in the "Set Up" submenu.

Audio Commentary by Kevin Costner and Kevin Reynolds

    Even though the friendship between these two fell apart after the troublesome production of Waterworld, and even though they famously had a bad time making Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the pair get together for this first audio commentary track, which was recorded in 2003. Initial discussions include the aspect ratio (it was shot for 1.66:1), costuming and score, before progressing onto a more scene-specific discussion of this medieval action-adventure. Topics include sets, actors, choreography, Costner's accent, and more. Costner points out the trademarks of Reynolds' filmmaking style, praising his scene transitions (while saying that scenes in The Searchers do not cut together smoothly) and the individuality of his approach in an age where movies feel more and more factory-made. In fact, Costner spends a lot of time heaping praise onto the writing, camera movements and even a montage - he's the driving force behind this commentary, with Reynolds mostly responding to Costner's remarks. There is some dead space are the pair just watch certain scenes and moments, and they drift off-topic (Costner mentions The Postman), while there are plenty of meaningless proclamations like "This is a great scene!". Frankly, I can't say I was too engaged by this commentary, nor did I get much out of it beyond a few trivial titbits. This isn't an essential listen, sadly.

Audio Commentary by Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Pen Densham and John Watson

    The second audio commentary on this disc features actors Freeman and Slater, as well as writers/producers Pen Densham and John Watson. Thankfully, this commentary is a bit more thoughtful, with Densham and Watson initially speaking in-depth about the process of developing and writing Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Slater and Freeman take a backseat, with Slater not uttering a single word for large portions of the movie (he says nothing until he first appears in the movie at the 40-minute mark), while Freeman offers tiny comments, bouncing off the more enthusiastic Densham and Watson. One of the writers even admits to making miscellaneous noises on the soundtrack, such as dying grunts and horse noises, and they point out that Sherwood Forest doesn't really exist anymore. There's also a discussion about people commonly associating Robin Hood with tights; and therefore, this production's costume department deliberately avoided tights. Additionally, they mention use of family members as extras, point out one specific extra who was killed several times in a single battle sequence, and explain that the iconic POV arrow shot was filmed specifically for the trailer but was added to the movie after such a positive reception. Another great story is in relation to Michael McShane, who was cast as Friar Tuck following his appearance on the U.K. version of Whose Line Is It Anyway?. Also interesting is mention of Stuart Baird's involvement in post-production - he's known for re-editing troubled movies. Since this is the extended cut, the writers also usually point out which material is new. All in all, this is a mostly interesting track.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Compared to the extended cut Blu-ray released by Warner Bros. in all territories in 2009, this release misses out on:

    All of these extras are available on Via Vision's Ultimate Edition Blu-ray, which also adds the theatrical cut in poor quality. Via Vision's Ultimate Edition is the winner...for now.

Summary

    An enormous box office success in 1991, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves endures as a love-it-or-hate-it affair - it has attracted both vocal haters and passionate fans. Although the finished film is not perfect, and I can understand some of the main criticisms, it still works for me. It's an exciting, rip-roaring action-adventure, and I have a great time whenever I watch it.

    Via Vision's standalone Blu-ray of the extended cut contains the movie and two commentaries, dropping the other extras from the Warner Bros. Blu-ray (which are instead included on VV's Ultimate Edition set). The presentation of the film is fine, but a remaster is still needed on the video front. If you don't care about extras, this is worth picking up.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Saturday, October 19, 2019
Review Equipment
DVDSony UBP-X700 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayLG OLED65E6T. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationSamsung Series 7 HT-J7750W
SpeakersSamsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up

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