Movie: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
Why Did I watch this?
Hehe, okay. This is primarily because I'm a huge Mel Brooks fan and have memorized Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993). I know in his filmography that's definitely a lesser work, but the one-two punch with that and Spaceballs (1987) got me through my childhood. I always knew that it was heavily based on Prince of Thieves, and as we'll get to, I didn't know just HOW much of it is a shot for shot parody. But like many films on this list, it always seemed like a big cultural deal. I was five when it came out, so for whatever reason I just missed it on first release.
What Did I know ahead of time?
A solid amount, apparently. Again, all my knowledge came from Men in Tights. Very honestly if you know that movie well, you know this one. I knew about Kevin Costner's terrible / non-existent British accent and how slithery and awesome Alan Rickman's Sherriff of Rottingham would be. I didn't know Morgan Freeman would have the significant Dave Chappelle role. But also like, it's Robin Hood, you know the deal.
How Was It?
In general this is honestly pretty good. It's very much an earnest, rousing 90s action swashbuckler, and it's very fun to cheer for the good guys and sneer at the bad guys. Costner assuredly turns in an all-time terrible performance, but somehow that doesn't really get in the way of the fun of this film.
And I'm going to say it again. The plot follows Men in Tights exactly. EXACTLY. We should dive into this right away, because I always thought Tights was a general swashbuckler parody that lifted a little bit from Prince of Thieves. Every scene and character line up exactly. Except there wasn't really an analogous Prince John character, which was weird. Now I don't know where that mole thing came from, I always thought it was just referencing something.
So, the plot is exactly that. Robin of Locksley is fighting in the Crusades, he's imprisoned, has to escape, finds his family castle destroyed, so he joins up with some freaks in the woods to undermine the cruel Sherriff of Nottingham and ensure that King Richard can keep his thrown. So it is obviously socialist, but also seems that way just to ensure the Divine Monarchy prevails. And the king is Sean Connery! I think I knew that but I forgot. It's a legit casting. But he's always the King so whatever. Good to be the King.
Tights does all this but with a comedic bent. You can get the sense that they just went through the screenplay and then added jokes to whatever was happening on screen. I couldn't help but laugh every time a character appears, from Tracey Ullman's witch to Broonhilde. I guess I don't know where they came from, but everything is so specific and exaggerated. It just got me thinking, like, why so late in his career would Mel Brooks target this specific movie? I suppose it's ripe for parody because so much of it is ridiculous, but also somehow...this was the #2 movie of 1991?! I guess it was a big deal, then? He kind of already did sci-fi with Spaceballs earlier, so a Terminator parody was out. Wouldn't like a Gangster parody of Goodfellas (1990) have a lot more staying power? It's endlessly fascinating to me looking at people from the past picking what they thought would last and be iconic. Then again, if Mel Brooks cared about that, he probably wouldn't have included a lengthy cringey Sherwood Rap.
Also, Dave Chappelle is in Tights, in a pretty major role. After just seeing him on SNL it's quite wondrous to see his film debut. You get the sense that he is putting his own spin on things but is probably pretty constricted with what the can and can't do. It's always nice to remember he got his start with Mel Brooks.
Anyway, back to the actual film here. As bad as Costner's accent is, Morgan Freeman's miscellaneous Middle Eastern accent is not much better. I liked the running gag that he doesn't really want to help anyone, but keeps saying he swore and oath. It does pay off! Man that dude can throw a saber. There are some really unbelievable fight scenes, people flying through the air, out the window, like, it's a very self-serious movie but there are these interludes of very broad slapstick comedy. Man this movie is a beautiful mess.
Alan Rickman is here, as the most sniveling villain of all time. His hair is huge and so, so black. He's like an insane witch-worshipping lothario cop and some of his lines around the women he definitely rapes are equally brutal and hilarious in a Wolf of Wall Street (2013) hopefully ironic way. There are some heavy, HEAVY themes here, and the film doesn't pull any punches with his intentions. My wife loves him for some reason.
Christian Slater is here! Will Scarlett O'Hara! He's kind of a twerp and very young, I'm glad the movie didn't really go the route I expected it to with his betrayal. He's fine. Michael Wincott from NOPE (2022) is here! What a gravelly awful voice he has. He does a great job as the Sherriff's Lieutenant. Fun all around.
Not too many roles for women. You've got Marion, the witch, the definitely-not-Marion because she's ugly. Marion gets this badass Gimp Ninja introduction but then doesn't do too much else. I guess that's her deal. Robin Hood does get the greatest treasure in all the land, so that's something.
But there wasn't an archery contest! I was waiting for that the whole movie. Where was my Patriot Arrow? Oh well. I really thought they were leading up to that. They did it sort of, I think the direct scene is when they are training in the woods and then everyone is together and Robin has a disguise (kind of) as a beggar. I love the running gag that he smells.
I kept thinking about the cinematography here compared to Rings of Power and House of the Dragon, and it might just be nostalgia, but there's something to be said for the practical set design, grainy film, and dim lighting when shooting a Medieval epic. It's so dark, damp, and dingy with low lighting and close, claustrophobic sets. There is a practicality here that adds to the needed realism for this kind of genre. Also plenty of cheap woods to film in!
There are many expansive shots and great vistas as well. Something like The Green Knight (2021) did Medieval Fantasy in a modern context the right way. There is, however, little shot continuity and one zoom into the forest that is so random and prolonged it feels like a joke. Like, they escape and say "We need to go into Haunted Sherwood Forest!" and then the camera just slow zooms in on some trees and holds there. Mel Brooks did more of this specific camera parody in his 70s films when he took on Universal Horror and Hitchcock films, it'd be fun if he had clued in on the bizarre editing and camera techniques on display from director Kevin Reynolds here.
There are wide angle lenses, zooms, POV shots, a lot of dynamic stuff, which I'll give them some credit for, this movie looks more interesting than your average modern blockbuster, but some of it definitely takes you out of the experience.
Anyway, the most important thing here is that this film was INTERESTING. Engaging, fun, and felt epic. There always seems to be a high profile Robin Hood movie for some reason, and this one rises above the others by being earnest, sincere, stupid, and its own thing. It's not trying to make a Gritty Robin Hood like Russell Crowe or a modern cynical Robin Hood like Taron Edgerton. I should watch those next year. But I enjoyed this and you should, too! Especially if Men in Tights exists rent-free in your brain like it does in mine.
Good Turkey this Week!