Saturday, July 9, 2011

Robin of Sherwood Set 1 Blu-ray Review

Combining elements of history, myth and magic with some action, Robin of Sherwood: Set 1 has arrived on Blu-ray with all 13 episodes from Series 1 and 2.  Marking the series’ first Blu-ray release, this presentation of the 1980’s British series comes digitally remastered and presented in stunning high definition with over eight hours of bonus material .  Shot entirely on location in England’s castles and countryside, this set brings the centuries-old legend to vivid life.  Broadcast on PBS and Showtime asRobin Hood, the ensemble cast includes Michael Praed (Dynasty) as Robin of Loxley, Ray Winstone (Sexy Beast, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Departed) as seething-mad Will Scarlet, and Nickolas Grace (Brideshead Revisited) as the greedy, conniving Sheriff of Nottingham.

Film (3 out of 5 stars)

To sum up what Robin of Sherwood is like, I would say that it’s a mix of ExcaliburFlash Gordon, and The Legend of the Seeker.  Notice how I didn’t mention Robin Hood?  I’m a big fan of Robin Hood related movies and I’ve loved just about every version of it including the Errol Flynn one, the Disney one, the one with Daffy Duck, the Costner one, and I even liked some of the Russell Crowe version too.  Of course, my favorite version of all time is The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn which I consider to be the definitive version.  In an apparent attempt to distance themselves from other versions, the creator of this show Richard Carpenter incorporated black magic and pagan worship into the Robin Hood mythos with disastrous results in my opinion.
The show starts with the well established mythos of the killing of a deer in the royal forest by Robin’s dimwitted brother Much (Peter Llewellyn Williams).  Robin (Michael Praed) tries to take the fall for it but they both end up in a dungeon where they meet other unfortunate souls including Will Scarlet (Ray Winstone).  Of course they escape and become outlaws in the forest evading the incompetent Guy of Gisburne (Robert Addie), much to the fury of the slightly insane Sheriff of Nottingham (Nickolas Grace).
The plot takes an absurd detour from the usual legend as soon as Robin and his merry band enter Sherwood forest when Robin meets a weird druid named Herne The Hunter (John Abineri) who wears a deer’s head as a hat.  Herne has visions and can do magic and Robin becomes his willing accomplice.  Speaking of magic, when Robin first encounters Little John (Clive Mantle), the man is possessed and is only freed  from an evil Baron’s control when Robin wipes off the pentagram drawn on his chest.  At another point, some nuns try to summon the Devil through some magic swords.  Combine that with some cheesy dialogue and questionable directorial choices and I’m not a happy camper.  I can’t tell you how many times Robin Hood could have easily killed the Sheriff or Gisburne and instead shot the red shirts next to them.  I understand that would also kill the show but at some point it gets ridiculous.
There are so many preposterous additions to the Robin Hood mythos that just don’t belong which makes the show feel like a weird hybrid.  What makes it even stranger is that despite adding mysticism to the legend, the show makes an effort to respect actual recorded history.  It covers Richard the Lionhearted’s (John Rhys-Davies) return and shows his qualities and his flaws in an honest manner.  The show’s main saving grace were the guest stars like the aforementioned John Rhys-Davies who bring a higher caliber of acting and presence to the show.  Another Lucasfilm vet Jeremy Bulloch who played Boba Fett also appeared in eight episodes.
By most accounts, season two is when most people felt that this show hit it’s stride and turned into a great show and even I will concede that it is a lot better than the first season.  The show is huge in England and it did influence aspects of other Robin Hood productions with the main one being the inclusion of a Saracen into Robin’s party (who was played by Morgan Freeman in Robin Good: Prince of Thieves).  The locations used to film the show are excellent and it’s nice to see castles, abbeys, and a forest that looks lush and natural.  I’d be curious to see season three with the new lead star Jason Connery (Sean’s son) who took over for Praed when he left to join the Broadway production of The Three Musketeers.  While this show wasn’t for me, I know that there a ton of people that love it and I’m glad a well put together Blu-ray set is available to them now.

Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080p (1.33:1) transfer looks good overall but it’s age is reflected throughout the show.  Scenes that take place outside look sharp and lush for the most part, but the indoor shots look murky and noise prevalent during dark scenes.  Colors are decent but somewhat muted and flesh tones are natural but also muted as well.  There’s also a lot of grain present which isn’t as distracting as usual as it seems to fit in with the look of the show.  This is most likely the best this show will ever look based on it’s age and because of the film and practices used at the time of filming.

Audio (3 out of 5 stars) 

Robin of Sherwood’s Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is decent but not very immersive.  Dialogue is clear for the most part but for some reason the sound effects are louder than everything else and also sound exaggerated almost to the point of possibly being a parody.  I’m sure that wasn’t their intention, but that’s how it comes across now.  I’d also like to voice my opinion that the show’s music by Irish band Clannad wasn’t very good (despite the awards they won for it) and it wasn’t suitable for when the show’s time-frame was set.

Special Features (5 out of 5 stars) 

Whatever complaints I have about the show, none of them apply to the extensive extras found on this set.  There’s over eight hours of extras on this set!
  • Audio Commentaries For 5 Episodes – With series creator Richard Carpenter, director Ian Sharp, and producer Paul Knight where they discuss the genesis of the show and, casting, and production.  Their memories are still sharp and these are very interesting and informative commentaries.
  • The Electric Theatre Show – This is an excellent behind-the-scenes documentary, upgraded and expanded from the original series that was filmed during the beginning of the series and features interviews with the cast and crew.
  • Nothing’s Forgotten: The Making of Robin of Sherwood (Remastered) – A two-part documentary about the making of Series 1 and 2 (102 min.)  This is the big extra for fans and the uninitiated alike.  This covers every aspect of the show with a ton of cast and crew interviews.  Carpenter goes into great detail about how he conceived the show and why he added the mysticism to it.  It was nice to find out that the cast still sees each other frequently and it was also interesting to hear Praede talk about his reasons for leaving the show and what happened to him after that.
  • Three Segments Featuring Director Robert Young – The director talks about taking over the the second half of the show after the original director Ian Sharp departed the show.  He also talks about his directing philosophy and his relationship with the cast.  Additional interviews from some of the cast members are included.
  • 40-page booklet with extensive production notes – This is a comprehensive overview of the show by author Simon Wells where he covers just about everything concerning the show.  This combined with the documentaries on this disc, should provide a complete picture of the show.
  • Photo Galleries with nearly 500 Images in HD – Twenty-four minutes of HD pictures that capture the show well.
  • Outtakes – There’s sixteen minutes of outtakes, some of which are pretty funny.  Many of them are also included in the behind the scenes documentaries.
  • More Extras for your PC – There’s additional material including PDF documents including PR, Richard Carpenter’s original story treatment, and several scripts (access via the bonus DVD via your computer); and more!
  • Textless and Foreign Credit Sequence – An alternative credit sequence for die hard fans.
  • Music Only Tracks for Four Episodes – For those of you that love the music of Clannad, this one is for you.

Final Thoughts (4 out of 5 stars) 

I may not be a fan of the choice to incorporate mysticism into the Robin Hood legend, but I have to admit, this show had a lot of the right ingredients and after watching the special features my respect for the people involved in the show grew.  Richard Carpenter is a wonderful storyteller and while I don’t agree with the direction he chose to go for the show, there’s no denying that he isn’t a natural raconteur.  Seeing the cast interviews with them being twenty years older, I wish that they had filmed the show at that point since part of the reason the show didn’t work for me was because they were all around eighteen to twenty years old when this was filmed which is far too young in my opinion to be credible as these characters.  Perhaps, The Adventures of Robin Hood has left such an indelible mark on me that I can’t appreciate other variations on the story.  But to be fair, I also enjoyed Robin Hood: Prince of Thieveswhich is kind of funny since it owes a large debt to this show as it appropriated many things from it. If you are a fan of this show already, then I highly recommend getting this set just for the extras alone.  If you’ve never seen it before, you might want to rent the first disc to see if this is your cup of tea before buying it.
Robin of Sherwood Set One is now available for purchase by clicking on the image below!

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