Retro-Review: Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves (1991)

This movie is one of the most perfect examples of how casting can ruin a film. It has been at least 20 years since I saw it last and many of the film’s stronger elements remain clear in my mind, but so does the woeful miscasting of Kevin Costner. It’s a frustrating film, excellent in many respects but dragged down by one central flaw.

The film begins with Robin of Locksley (Kevin Costner) who has gone to the Holy Land on a crusade and been captured. He escapes with the help of Azeem (Morgan Freeman) and returns to England where the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman stealing every single scene) is plotting to steal the throne of the kingdom from absent King Richard with the help of a witch Mortianna (Geraldine McEwan). Robin assembles his band of outlaw revolutionaries and the whole thing ends in a climactic battle and a duel between Robin and the Sheriff.

First of all, the film is really well shot for the most part, with only a few early-90’s excesses (extreme close-ups with a wide-angle lens, or rock-video backlight on the hero shrouded in mist, for example). The locations are excellent, as are the costumes and production design. The pace of the film is brisk and action-packed, never a dull moment in what is a serviceable script told with exciting imagery and tight editing, though it does tip so far into melodrama at times it almost becomes pantomime. Maybe I’m being kind, but as someone who lived before the Lord of the Rings made sword movies cool, I had to appreciate the crumbs I got. In my opinion the script is fine as far as these kinds of movies went at the time, but I am aware of its flaws.

Except for Kevin Costner and Christian Slater, the movie’s casting is very good. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio makes for a fiery, independent Maid Marian, Morgan Freeman turns in an excellent performance and Alan Rickman absolutely runs away with the film. How ironic is it that the Sheriff of Nottingham steals the movie from the titular Prince of Thieves? Makes you wonder who the subtitle is actually referring to.

There is no doubt that Costner is the biggest deficit in the movie, and with him carrying the whole thing it’s hard to see past him. It’s not just the fact that his fake accent, when he bothers to attempt it, is distractingly dreadful. His delivery is so uninspiring that I just can’t believe the band of Merry Men would follow him into harm’s way. Every time he opens his mouth to speak his lines the film falls flat. He is like a black hole at the center of an otherwise decent movie.

By far, though, the best part of the whole production is the score by Michael Kamen. I remember owning the CD back in the day and listening to it over and over. The hero’s theme is suitably rousing and the love theme is quite beautiful, although it has the unfortunate distinction of Bryan Adams’ rendition of it as the hit single “Everything I Do” which got played out during the decade at weddings and on soft rock radio. The orchestral version used in the film is really lovely.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is a movie I want to like. It’s got a lot going for it but everything is just weighed down by the lead actor. It’s unfortunate, because there is a lot to like, but it is so hard to overcome that one, glaring central flaw.

Retro-Trailer

D&D Grows

This weekend saw the second session of my new D&D campaign and two new players have joined: Natasha (as tiefling warlock Zabrina) and Dusty (as human ranger Seal). That brings the number of players to six, which is close to the maximum I’ve ever had. And more people want to join.

What’s funny is that, for most of my life growing up, D&D was kind of a closeted activity. It certainly wasn’t cool. I struggled to find and have just three players a lot of the time. In high school, things opened up and that was when, for a few sessions, I found myself with seven players. Ever since then I’ve usually had four or five, which is the number I’m most comfortable with simply because it’s a lot faster to go around the table during combat with less players involved. I love having lots of players, the more the merrier, but at a certain point it gets cumbersome.

Now, I have six players, with interest from three more. I’m nervous to add more because everyone is pretty green and it takes a long time getting things done as it is. That will improve, of course, as everyone gets more familiar with the rules, and the fifth edition is the most streamlined version of the game to date. Still, I remember very well how slow-moving my game was with seven players, even though that was 25 years ago.

The other issue with more players is scheduling. Getting everyone together is very hard, no matter the size of the group, but the bigger the crew the more difficult it can be to align everyone. A possible solution would be to run two groups, but even just one is a lot of work. I am seriously considering it, though. I mean, I have plenty of setting developed and ready to go. My obstacle is a self-imposed one: I always want novelty and rarely care to revisit a campaign. Novelty demands a lot more work, though.

When did D&D become such a popular thing?

Return of D&D: Dragon Isles of the Xanthium Sea

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I never thought I was going to run a D&D game again, but a few things changed my mind and I’m glad they did. I had a lot of fun and I think the players did too, and that’s the point.

All that last night’s session amounted to was character creation and an encounter to get everyone’s feet wet with the mechanics of the game. I had thought three hours would suffice but it stretched on a lot longer. Nevertheless, the bar-room fight against lowly Manes demons that were coming through an open portal to hell was a fun way to start things off.

The Player Characters

  • Alexia: Leiana (half-elf rogue)
  • Ted: Darius (human wizard)
  • Tyler: Rayden (dragonborn druid)
  • Paul: Leeroy Jenkins (half-orc fighter)

You read that right: we literally have a Leeroy Jenkins in the party. Not only that, he took the Noble background option with the Knight variant, giving him three retainers (Bane, Maul and Ani). And he’s a Lawful Good half-orc. Probably the most challenging set of details I’ve ever had to work into a campaign. I wonder how this will play out in the long-term….

The Setting

The Dragon Isles of the Xanthium Sea are so-named because every island in the sea and on the coastline has at least one resident dragon. The Independent City-State of Verupta is the sole exception, whose ruling dragon, Karvazilla, was slayed by the adventurer Radomillo and his companions 300 years ago. Verupta is among the oldest cities in the world with a history stretching back several thousand years. It is the crossroads of all the oldest kingdoms and empires in Hyracanum, so anything goes in terms of character race and class. In terms of esthetics, imagine a blend of Istanbul, Cairo and Renaissance Venice by way of ancient Persia.

The Motivation

Creative expression is something I think I need and the D&D game is a perfect outlet for the imagination. Also, because other players are relying on me to generate a world and adventures on a schedule, it has deadlines, which I find help me focus. I like being forced to invent stuff, it’s like exercise for the imagination. That, I think, is the primary reason for starting up a game again after such a long stretch of inactivity.

The other big reason is that I was inspired by Joe Manganiello’s appearance on the Tonight Show with Stephen Colbert in August where they just talked non-stop about D&D. It was hilarious and amazing, but what piqued my interest was how Joe talked about setting up his game as the “LA hub” where showbusiness people play together. I can’t think of a more fun way to network, and so I started this game as a way of potentially having the same thing here in Vancouver.

For now the plan is to play once a month, but that may be flexible. The great thing about this group right now is that everyone is a first-time player except for me, and I’m pretty rusty. It’s really ideal and so far I love it.