Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Robin of Sherwood: Set 2 Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson

The conclusion to the mystical retelling of the Robin Hood legend with breakthrough roles for Jason Connery and Ray Winstone (Indiana Jones 4, The Departed, Sexy Beast), Robin Of Sherwood Set 2is now available on Blu-ray. Presented in stunning high-definition, the Blu-ray 3-disc/DVD bonus disc set includes 13 episodes and more than nine hours of special features, including nine episode commentaries, a 76 minute making of documentary, outtakes, and much more.  Robin of Sherwood also launched the TV writing career of Anthony Horowitz (Foyle’s War, Midsomer Murders, Poirot, and the newest Sherlock Holmes novel), who wrote five of the episodes and participates in one of the commentaries.

Film (3 out of 5 stars) 

When I reviewed Robin of Sherwood: Set 1 (read my review here), I said, “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?  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.”  Not only does this final season of the show continue that trend, but it actually amps up the magic and mystical trappings which once again takes the show in an unfortunate direction.
It’s not that I am against the mixing in magic with the Robin Hood legend, but I really dislike the over the top way it’s portrayed in this series.  There is still a mystic man hanging out the forest with antlers on his head but this time he apparently has a son which is convenient since someone has to take over for the fallen Robin of Loxley when Michael Praed decided to leave the show for Broadway and then Dynasty.  I do have to hand it to series creator Richard Carpenter since he came up with a clever way to continue the show after killing off his main character.  Since the legend of Robin Hood has many different facets to it, Carpenter just focused on another one – the story of a nobleman who forsakes his heritage to help out the oppressed.
This time, the focus is on the young nobleman Robert of Huntingdon (Jason Connery) who it turns out happens to be the “hooded man” from the final episode from the second season.  At the end of that episode, the hooded man freed Robin’s compatriots from jail but remained anonymous until Connery could be cast in the role.  As the show resumes, we learn that the mystic of the forest Herne, has instructed Robert to take over the duties of leading Robin’s men against the corrupt powers that be.  Robert doesn’t want to get involved but when Maid Marian (Judi Trott) gets herself kidnapped by a madman who seems to favor Braveheart’s look, he springs into action to rescue her.  But before he can do that, he will need to get some backup before taking on the stronghold.
Rounding up Robin’s former comrades ends up being a lot more work than Robert anticipated and he ends up having to fight each of them in one fashion or another before they will join him.  Since it’s been a year since Robin’s death, each of the men of Sherwood have moved on with their lives except for the homicidal Will Scarlet (Ray Winstone) who spends his days drunk.  Little John (Clive Mantle) is now a goat herder, Nasir the Saracen (Mark Ryan) has ended up fighting in a gladiatorial fight club, with the others not faring well either.  Instead of rushing the introduction of a new main character, Carpenter wisely spreads it out over three episodes which gives the story time to develop more naturally and in a more believable fashion.
Jason Connery proved to be a good choice to take over the lead role and the differences between Praed and him reinvigorate the show.  Whereas Praed’s Robin was moody and was given to brooding, Connery’s Robert is a lot more playful and fun.  Connery brings a light touch to the role and it really helps offset his character from his predecessor and the rest of the so-called “merry men.”  Connery is less believable as a seasoned fighter since he looks like he weights about ninety pounds but he’s also nimble and fast so that balances it out.  The enemies are still the same since the evil Sheriff of Nottingham (Nikolas Grace), his right hand man Guy of Gisburne (Robert Addie), and the corrupt Abbott Hugo (Philip Jackson) still are robbing the poor and generally just being unpleasant.  That’s not to say that there aren’t any new villains for the heroes to fight, since there are plenty of new bad guys including the sorcerer Gulnar (Richard O”Brien).  The show’s still benefits from filming on location which adds a lot of beauty and realism to an otherwise serious to the point of being silly series.  If you are a fan of movies like John Boorman’s Excalibur and Flash Gordon, then you should enjoy the series, but just don’t expect a traditional re-telling of the Robin Hood legend.
This final season includes the following episodes:
Disc 1
  • Herne’s Son, Part One & Two
  • The Power of Albion
  • The Inheritance
Disc 2
  • The Sheriff of Nottingham
  • The Cross of St. Ciricus
  • Cromm Cruac
Disc 3
  • The Betrayal
  • Adam Bell
  • The Pretender
Disc 4
  • Rutterkin
  • The Time of the Wolf, Part One & Two
Disc 5
  • Special Features

Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080p (1.33:1) transfer is much like the first set since it looks good overall but it’s age is reflected throughout the show.  Taken from the original 16mm film, the 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 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Robin of Sherwood offers either the original mono track or a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track which is decent but not very immersive.  Oddly enough, only the first three episodes are in lossless PCM 2.0.  This is very similar as the first set as the 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 once again 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.  The cheesy music really undermines the show and really dates it.

Extras (5 out of 5 stars) 

One thing this show does right is the special features.  Much like set one, this set is jam packed with extras that should satisfy every fan of the show.  There’s over nine hours of extras here that cover every aspect of the show’s production.
  • Commentaries – There’s nine commentary tracks with actors Jason Connery, Mark Ryan, Clive Mantle, Nickolas Grace, Anthony Horowitz, producer Esta Charkham, and writer Sid Roberson sharing the duties. The participants share an easy camaraderie that’s still strong and these commentaries are fun to listen to.
  • Isolated Score Tracks – Three episodes (“Herne’s Son, Part 1″, “The Power of Albion”, and “The Sheriff of Nottingham”) offer isolated scores for fans of the show’s music.
  • Nothing’s Forgotten: The Making of Robin of Sherwood Series Three – This is the highlight of the extras thanks to the in depth feature length retrospective that includes the principal cast and production crew.  They talk about the changes from season two to season three, the making of the show, and share their recollections and more.
  • Robin Hood 1-2-3: A Screen Swordplay Demonstration – Mark Ryan and Bob Chapin give a swordfighting demonstration of some sword moves that Ryan used when he played Nasir.
  • It’s Showtime – This is a promotional piece starring Happy Days’  Tom Bosley who publicizes the third season’s premiere on Showtime.  I’m not sure how Bosley got mixed up in this show, but it’s always good to see him.
  • Series 3 Outtakes –  Over thirteen minutes of bloopers and outtakes that are fun to watch.
  • US Opening Titles – In the U.S. market the show was known as Robin Hood which makes sense as that makes a lot more commercial sense.  This is the alternate U.S. title sequence.
  • Esta Charkham’s Photographic Retrospective –  A scrapbook of past locations, the cast, and some behind the scenes shots from the filming of the show.
  • Promotional Still Gallery – Almost ten minutes of photos of the cast and behind the scenes pictures that has to include hundreds of pictures.
  • The Hooded Man, Clannad and Robin of Sherwood – A talk with Maire Brenna of Clannad talking about creating the music for the show.
  • TV-AM Location Report – A vintage report from the set.
  • DVD-ROM – PDFs of a collection of scripts

Summary (4 out of 5 stars)

I have to admit that I never really got into this show.  Between the music, the poorly rehearsed fights, and the super cheesy mysticism, the cast never had a chance to balance it all out.  I had hoped that the presence of Jason Connery and a new direction for the show might improve it, but instead it delved even further into the pagan mumbo-jumbo that hurt the previous seasons.  Some people might like the addition of sorcery to the Robin Hood mythos, but I don’t count myself as one of them, at least not this incarnation of it.  If you are a fan of the show then you will be happy with this set especially once you see the abundance of extras here.
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