Robbing from the upper middle class and giving to the lower middle class.
Another week, another obscure Robin Hood-related DVD gets released. How many of these Robin Hood shows and movies have there been over the years? This one, The New Adventures of Robin Hood, was made in 1997. You know what was popular in 1997? Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess. This series follows those shows’ playbooks to the letter. The cheese is so thick not even one of Robin’s arrows can penetrate it.
In old-timey England, Prince John (Andrew Bicknell) lives in luxury while the commoners barely get by. Enter Robin Hood (Matthew Porretta, Alan Wake), who robs from the rich and gives to the poor. Robin travels throughout the forested countryside fighting evil and whatnot with his friends, Marion (Anna Galvin, Caprica), Little John (Richard Ashton, The Fifth Element), and Friar Tuck (Martyn Ellis, Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London). When he needs guidance, Robin turns to the wizard Olwyn (Christopher Lee, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) for some cryptic advice.
This four-disc set contains all 13 episodes of the show’s first season. The episodes raise many questions:
• “Rage of the Mongols”
A bunch of Mongols are stealing from a local village, so Robin and friends teach the meek villagers to stand up for themselves, mostly through the help of Ewok-style forest booby traps.
Conundrum of the Week: I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the Mongol empire never extended all the way to England.
• “Attack of the Vikings”
Robin runs into Prince John while hunting, and they are both immediately captured by Vikings. The two enemies must now rely on each other to escape from a common foe.
Conundrum of the Week: Exactly what part of Sherwood Forest was it where Robin, Prince John, and the Vikings all bumped into each other at once? The glen of incredible coincidence? The field of remarkable bad timing?
• “Robin and the Golden Arrow”
Prince John’s latest enforcer is a big thug wearing nigh-invulnerable armor. The only thing that can penetrate the armor is the magical golden arrow, so Robin does the heroic quest thing to get his hands on it.
Conundrum of the Week: So why didn’t Robin and company just attack the guy when he took off the armor to, say, sleep, or take a bath? Or why not trap him in one of those Ewok net traps from two episodes ago? Or…
• “The Race Against Death”
Prince John announces an archery contest in an attempt to trap Robin Hood. Robin enters anyway, in the hopes of winning the prize money to free a young lady from an arranged marriage. Robin’s friends help him out by inventing hang gliders. Meanwhile, illiterate Little John decides he’s going to learn how to read.
Conundrum of the Week: Hang gliding? Really? Is Robin friends with Ator?
• “A Price on His Soul”
Robin Hood versus vampires? Sure, why not. A 300-year-old vamp-like creature shows up, and he who needs human blood to survive. The dark god he worships tells him that if he takes Robin’s “life force,” he’ll live forever.
Conundrum of the Week: Isn’t the vampire guy already living forever, what with the whole not aging thing?
• “Marion to the Rescue”
Marion returns home to her estranged family, where she must stop yet another corrupt arranged marriage. A magic spell goes awry, complicating the rescue.
Conundrum of the Week: Marion’s sister-in-law makes a “good help is so hard to find” joke twice in one episode? Did they think this would be a hilarious running gag?
• “The Legend of Olwyn”
Robin gets hit on the head, knocking him unconscious. While out cold, he hallucinates, learning Olwyn’s secret past, and reliving his first encounter with the mysterious wizard, and his own origins as a crimefighter. It turns out Robin is (of course) the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy.
Conundrum of the Week: Why does Olwyn’s home have Christmas tree lights in the background?
• “Witches of the Abbey”
Three witches who look and talk like they’ve stepped off the set of The Hills decide they need a new musclebound slave. They set their sights on Little John and abduct him, hiding him away in their convent.
Conundrum of the Week: Wait…they’re witches and they’re nuns? Were the writers working out some personal issues?
• “The Arabian Knight”
The titular Arabian, along with his stereotypical turban-wearing henchmen and his equally stereotypical harem of belly dancers, is making life miserable by robbing all the local villagers. Robin and company jump in to save the day, of course.
Conundrum of the Week: I wasn’t aware that “Francisco” is an Arabian name.
• “The Birthday Trap”
Robin returns to his childhood home, to be reunited with his stepmother and his old girlfriend, Catherine. Then, it’s more family fun when a brother-sister team of thieves crash the party, wearing KISS-style makeup no less, in the hopes of making off with Robin’s stepmother’s wealth.
Conundrum of the Week: What the hell is that ribbon thing in Catherine’s hair?
• “Miracle at Avalon”
A magic portal to the heavenly realm of Avalon opens up, and out steps a young girl with great healing powers. She’s on Earth to walk among mortals for a time, to further her education or somesuch. Cut to years later, when Robin meets her and remembers encountering her when he was a kid. Then, the evil Sir Guy of Gisborne arrives, hoping to use the girl’s power in his latest scheme.
Conundrum of the Week: What’s the deal with the glam rock/David Bowie-looking woman hanging out with Sir Guy?
• “Dragon from the Sky”
A fiery object is seen over the night sky, and everyone assumes it’s a dragon. Prince John’s men investigate only to discover that it’s…a green-skinned space alien? No, really, it’s a 1950s B-movie alien in a flying saucer, with green skin and silver tinfoil armor, shooting lasers and everything.
Conundrum of the Week: What were the producers smoking?!?
• “Nightmare and the Magic Castle”
So there’s this evil sorcerer who’s incredibly powerful. He’s sealed up inside a magic castle where he can’t harm anyone, but he’s planning to escape and ravage the world with fire and plagues. To stop him, Robin has to break into the castle and kill the guy before he can get out.
Conundrum of the Week: Most of Robin’s encounters inside the castle occur in his nightmares, before he goes to the castle. Problems in the editing room, maybe?
A lot of filmmakers, most recently Ridley Scott, have attempted a fairly realistic approach with Robin Hood, by depicting life as it really was back in the day, and then working the legend into that setting. The makers of The New Adventures of Robin Hood go in the opposite direction, with a full-on fantasy, complete with wizards, dragons, magic, and so on. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing—I love me some fantasy adventure—but both the writing and production values don’t merit what they’re shooting for.
The first thing you’ll likely notice when watching this show is the endless parade of historical inaccuracies. Even though this is the dark ages, everyone’s hair looks great. The women have perfect makeup, and their outfits are designed for maximum cleavage-heaving. The poor peasant villagers all wear bright pastels. It’s not just the clothes and hair. The credits reveal that this show was a U.S./French co-production filmed on location in Lithuania. As such, every character sounds like he or she is from a different country. The actors vary from English accents to American accents to accents from I-have-no-idea-where. These inconsistent, fluctuating dialects will have you longing for the richness and subtlety of Kevin Costner’s English accent. With a show like this, I know you’re expecting me to make a “Renaissance fair rejects” comment, but that would be an insult to Renaissance fair rejects.
You could argue that the emphasis on fantasy over realism gives the creators freedom to do away with historical accuracy, letting them introduce Mongols, Vikings, and more as villains. Instead, though, all it does is make viewers say, “Since when are there Mongols in a Robin Hood story?” Then we see crazy stuff like wizards, vampires and (I still can’t believe it) space aliens, and suddenly it’s like we’re not watching Robin Hood at all, but The Adventures of Random Generic Swordsman.
The action scenes are decent, but sometimes clumsily staged. The swords look bendy and plastic as the actors and stuntmen swing them around, and every punch has the same sound effect, a combined fleshy “thwack” and “splat” sound (“splack?”). Robin doesn’t use his bow and arrow as often as you’d think. I have to wonder if the creators only had him use the bow once in a while just because they know that’s what people expect from the character. Even then, he likes to swing the bow around like a club—or, dare I say, like a bat’leth—rather than fire arrows. As an alternative, Robin also has this dart gun thing. It looks kind of like a pack of cigarettes, except that it shoots a bunch of little darts at his enemies, knocking them unconscious. This is a favorite weapon of his, and no doubt of the show’s creators as well, because he uses it often.
The actors are likable enough, and they deserve applause for jumping into this thing with enthusiasm, but the scripts give them nothing to work with. Robin is the good-natured hero, and that’s all. There are some hints of him feeling remorse any time he has to kill an enemy, but this is not followed up on in any meaningful way. Whenever a woman flirts with Robin, there’s usually a jealous reaction shot from Marion, but that’s all there is for any romantic tension between the two. Instead, she’s another one of the good guys, the strong-yet-caring female hero. Little John gets a character trait of wanting to rush into battle without thinking first, and that’s all he adds. Friar Tuck is here for comic relief, but the comedy falls as short as, well, everything else. Laugh as he gets distracted looking for berries in the forest while the others fight the bad guys. Chuckle as he invents history’s first clothes dryer, only to have his pants shrink in the wash, and so on. Speaking of comedy, Prince John is my least favorite kind of villain—the buffoon villain. We’re supposed to think it’s hilarious how his attempts to catch Robin are idiotic and how they always blow up in his face. Unfortunately, this means he’s never a credible threat to our heroes, so the stock villains-of-the-week have to do the evil heavy lifting.
It takes a great actor to make these disastrous scripts work, and Christopher Lee is indeed a great actor. He delivers his lines like he’s auditioning for Saruman, giving some serious dramatic weight to all this silliness. When he talks about the power of the mystical golden arrow, he might as well be talking about a certain ring. It’s always nice to see him bring his usual professionalism to the cheesiest of cheese.
The audio and video are adequate, but nothing special, with a basic full frame picture and stereo sound. Any bonus features must have been left behind in Lithuania.
I still can’t get over that they had Robin Hood meeting a green-skinned alien in a flying saucer. I mean…wow.