Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Since I never saw that old “flipper” DVD from 1997, I can’t compare the two, but I found the new Thieves to provide a disappointing picture.
Actually, I might need to split my review in two, for this image varied from one half to the other. For the most part, the movie’s first half demonstrated the highest number of problems. Many of these issues also cropped up during the second part, but they seemed more pronounced in its initial 75 minutes or so.
Sharpness caused quite a few concerns. At times, it looked nicely detailed and distinctive, but more than a few exceptions to that rule occurred. Substantial parts of the movie looked vaguely loose and indistinct, and some scenes were more noticeably soft and fuzzy. Even medium shots displayed some of these issues, and the image was rather gauzy-looking on occasion.
No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects occurred, but some decided edge enhancement placed haloes around images at times. A mix of print flaws also marred the presentation. On various occasions, I saw examples of nicks, hairs, marks, grit, specks, streaks, and vertical lines.
Colors often looked fairly pale and faded. For the most part, they failed to appear very lush or rich. Instead, they could come across as a bit lifeless. The image’s gauziness meant the black levels tended to seem somewhat murky and dull, and shadows could appear moderately dense and opaque. Overall, much of the movie was flat and muddy.
As I noted, the image did improve as the film progressed, and some very attractive sequences occurred. Unusually, interiors usually presented the movie’s strongest visuals, especially inside the church and Nottingham’s castle. Those could appear nicely detailed and vivid. Exteriors suffered partially because of the smoke and fog used to illustrate the English setting. Given the difficulty inherent in such a reproduction, some of my criticisms may seem a little unfair, but I didn’t think that most of Thieves’ flaws resulted from the photographic style. Too many seemingly unrelated concerns appeared, so although the DVD included enough positive sequences to make it to a “C“, it still seemed weaker than I expected.
One odd issue related to the aspect ratio appears if you listen to the audio commentary that includes director Kevin Reynolds. He indicates that he composed the movie for 1.66:1 instead of 1.85:1. The actual 1.78:1 ratio compromises between the two. From what I can tell, Thieves has never appeared on home video in a 1.66:1 ratio.
While not a seriously impressive affair, the audio of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves worked a lot better for me than the picture did. The DVD included Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. Though both seemed good, I felt the DTS mix provided a moderately superior effort. I’ll discuss it first and then relate the differences I heard between it and the Dolby mix.
The soundfield focused most heavily on the forward spectrum. Music demonstrated very nice stereo separation and imaging, and effects helped create a good sense of setting. At times the track seemed a little “speaker specific”, and not all of the elements blended as well as I’d like, but they usually meshed pretty nicely. The mix gave us a good feeling of atmosphere and came to life pretty well during action sequences. The surrounds contributed a good layer of reinforcement for the music, and they also kicked in some nice definition for fight scenes as well as some atmospheric attitude. It didn’t excel particularly, but the soundfield was acceptable.
Although the soundfield was a little less involving than I’d expect, I thought the quality of the audio worked the best. The score seemed especially terrific, as the music consistently sounded robust and dynamic. Bass response was tight and rich for the score. Speech suffered from some slightly poor looping, but the lines remained fairly natural and distinct, and I heard no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. Effects occasionally sounded a little thick, but they mostly came across as accurate and distinctive. They also displayed solid low-end material.
How did the DTS track outdo the Dolby Digital one? The former showed better integration of the elements. The various effects seemed to be stuck more heavily in the different speakers for the Dolby mix and they blended less well. Dynamics also appeared a little less involving, as the DTS track demonstrated firmer and more impressive bass. For example, the percussive parts of the score sounded somewhat mushy during the Dolby edition but tightened up for the DTS track. The differences didn’t seem tremendous, but I felt the DTS mix earned a “B+” versus the “B” for the Dolby one.
This two-DVD release of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves packs a decent selection of supplements. On Disc One, we start with the movie itself, which appears in an extended version. According to the packaging, the extra bits show up in chapters 15, 19, 28, 35, and 36. These segments mostly feature additional footage with Nottingham and Mortianna, as we find a substantial subplot that didn’t make the theatrical version. However, at least one other chapter includes new footage; as noted in an audio commentary, part of Friar Tuck’s first sequence in chapter 20 presents clips not in the original movie.
Thieves comes with two audio commentaries. The first features director Kevin Reynolds and actor Kevin Costner, both of whom sat together for this running, screen-specific track. That element surprised me; allegedly Reynolds and Costner experienced a falling out some time ago, so I didn’t expect to find the pair together for this piece.
Unfortunately, no sparks fly during this dull commentary. Praise dominates this track, especially from Costner, who very frequently lauds parts of the production and Reynolds’ work. Many extended gaps occur during the presentation as well. Locations and sets dominate the rest of the discussion, though a few more interesting matters pop up at times. We learn a little of how the pair arrived on the movie, and Costner acknowledges his inconsistent accent and explains it. They chat briefly about rival films from the time and provide the occasional interesting anecdote from the set. For the most part, however, Reynolds and Costner fail to give us much useful material, and this commentary rarely seems compelling.
The second commentary comes from producers/writers Pen Densham and John Watson with actors Morgan Freeman and Christian Slater. All four sit together for this running, screen-specific piece. While not terrific, this track seems much more interesting than the one with the Kevins.
Densham and Watson strongly dominate the commentary. The actors occasionally toss in a few memories and reflections on their work, but mostly the writers/producers discuss the material. They relate how the program came to fruition and various elements of bringing a new version of the myth to the screen. They also get into script issues, production aspects like choosing locations and casting, and a mix of other topics. They also make sure we know what scenes are new to the extended edition. Overall, the commentary moves at a decent pace – though it sags occasionally during the second half - and it seems like a fairly useful synopsis of the production.
When we shift to DVD Two, we get more materials. Many are housed in the Behind the Scenes domain. Under “Featurettes”, we get three pieces. Hosted by Pierce Brosnan, Robin Hood: The Myth, the Man, the Movie comes from 1991 and provides a mix of movie clips, historical information and behind the scenes shots, and interviews. We hear from director Kevin Reynolds, actors Costner, Freeman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Christian Slater, Michael McShane and Alan Rickman, writers/producers Watson and Densham, costume desinger John Bloomfield, composer Michael Kamen, stunt coordinator Paul Weston, historian Sir James Holt, author Graham Black, education officer John Charlesworth, Robin Hood “relative” David Lemm, Sheriff of Nottingham Alfred Stone, Robin Hood folklore authority Jim Lees, and film historian Rudy Behlmer.
The 31-minute and 50-second “Myth” starts with a quick overview of the historical legend; that takes up about a third of its running time. After that, we get notes about the movie, with an emphasis on costumes, music, the cast, stunts, and various anecdotes from the set. The program includes some decent information. The historical bits are superficial but interesting, and the shots from the Thieves set are fun to see. However, the show’s heavily promotional tone seems too obvious most of the time, and that makes “Myth” somewhat tough to take. It exists simply to get folks into theaters, and it lacks much depth.
Next we find a collection of vintage interviews with cast. We get remarks from Costner, Mastrantonio, Freeman, Rickman and Slater. Each of the clips lasts between three minutes, nine seconds and four minutes, 25 seconds, for a total of 19 minutes, 22 seconds of footage. Unfortunately, the comments seem awfully bland. Mostly we hear about the different characters and what the actors thought of the material. They also reflect on the other performers, but no one says much of interest.
For the last part of the “featurettes”, we get Bryan Adams live for a performance of the megahit “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” from Ireland’s Slane Castle. The piece runs four minutes, 14 seconds as Adams offers an acoustic take of the tune. It seems odd that we don’t find the original music video for the song, but this offers an interesting alternate.
The other domain under “Behind the Scenes” examines “Production Design”. All four of these components offer text discussions of their subjects. The Legend of Robin Hood presents a look at the historical concepts, while Robin Hood In the Movies gives us a nice examination of cinematic versions of the story. The latter seems surprisingly complete; it even tosses in flicks like Time Bandits that only briefly feature the character.
With all those predecessors, the next piece looks at Why Tell the Story Again? We learn why the filmmakers decided to get into this tale once more. Lastly, Creating 12th-Century England briefly assesses attempts to make the movie look authentic.
When we move to the Publicity Gallery, we start with the movie’s theatrical trailer and also see six TV spots. Morgan Creek DVDs presents ads for see of that studio’s movies: American Outlaws, Ace Ventura, The In Crowd, Chill Factor, Juwanna Mann, and True Romance. Lastly, the Photo Gallery includes 112 shots. Most of these are publicity shots, though a smattering of behind the scenes pictures appear at the end. Annoying, they all are placed inside a small window that crops them.
For the Cast and Crew area, we get short biographies for actors Costner, Freeman, Slater, Rickman, and Mastrantonio plus composer Michael Kamen, writers Pen Densham and John Watson, and director Kevin Reynolds. The Weapons Gallery offers surprisingly rich text notes about the following devices: sword, scimitar, bow, cross bow, and axe.
The final extra is odd but cool. We get Michael Kamen’s score presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. This isn’t an isolated track you watch along with the movie. Instead, it works just like a compact disc on your DVD: you can run the whole thing or skip to different parts. I don’t care about the music myself, but this nonetheless seems like a very nice bonus.
A fairly bland example of a summer movie, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves seems too awkward and forced to succeed. I know a film’s in trouble when I feel consistently distracted, and since I found it hard to focus on this flick, that indicated problems. Thieves simply feels like a self-conscious attempt to borrow highlights from other movies without any ingenuity or spark of its own. The DVD presents surprisingly bland and murky visuals along with pretty positive audio and an erratic but generally solid batch of supplements. Despite my concerns about the picture quality, I’d still recommend the special edition of Thieves to fans, as I think they’ll generally feel happy with the package. However, I can’t recommend this uninspiring flick to those without an established affection for it.