Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Film Appreciation - Whatever Blood is in Your Veins

1991's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves robs from Cody Hamman's memory banks and gives to Film Appreciation.

I have an Uncle Butch. That's not his real name, but it's the nickname that his father gave him when he was an infant, back in the early '50s, before describing a certain type of lesbian became the primary usage of the word Butch. The nickname has stuck with him through his whole life, so well that no one calls him by his real name, most people probably don't even know what it is. He's Butch.

Butch is a great, kindhearted guy with an ornery sense of humor, always laughing and joking. I like to spend time around him when I can, even though we don't really have any common interests. That's the case with me and most people in my family, since I've had an obsession with movies at the exclusion of all else my entire life. Most of my relatives do like to watch movies, but it's not really a subject for conversation, movies are just something to entertain them occasionally, when they have some free time after everything else is taken care of. They watch them, enjoy them or not, move on and get back to work. That's very true of Butch, who fills his time not with movie watching but with doing mechanic and restoration work on trucks and cars and helping out on a farm. I'm sure he's watched his share of movies, but I can only say with certainty that he's watched three: Avatar in 3D, The Frighteners on television, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

I know he's seen the Robin Hood film because it's the one movie that I've watched with him. Butch has always tried his best to get to know me and have a good uncle-nephew interaction, which hasn't been easy since we live in different states, I'm a very quiet, introverted person, and I have the aforementioned overwhelming movie obsession. So when Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was released on June 14, 1991, in the middle of one of my annual Indiana stays discussed in the Spider-Man 2 article, Butch took the opportunity to bring his avuncular bonding attempts onto my cinematic turf. He and Aunt Jo took me to see it in a movie theatre.

I was excited to go. I was well-acquainted with stories of Robin Hood, from previous films - Disney's 1973 animated version in particular was a childhood favorite - to the Great Illustrated Classics version of Howard Pyle's 1883 novel, the work which had gone far to firmly establish the character as the noble hero who "robs from the rich and gives to the poor", rather than the murderous criminal he had usually been portrayed as in the legend previously.

The legend of Robin Hood has been passed along since at least the late 1300s, with references to the name going back to at least 1228. The legend has gone through many changes and different iterations throughout the centuries, and the 1991 film version was Robin Hood as a summer blockbuster event, starring Kevin Costner fresh off the Oscar-winning success of Dances with Wolves. There was a lot of hype for the movie, and I was caught up in it. The trailer made it look awesome, and I was really impressed by the inclusion of the P.O.V. shot of an arrow as it flies through the air.

I remember a few things about the night over twenty years ago when I saw the movie with Uncle Butch and Aunt Jo. One detail is retained in my memory because my mind keeps a catalog of my every mistake and embarrassing moment so that it can torture me with the thought of it every so often throughout the years, long after people who didn't mind it in the first place have completely forgotten about it. My one and only night out at the movies with Butch and Jo, I ordered a large drink at the concession stand. A Cherry Coke, I believe it was. When I was handed the drink, it was larger than I expected. The largest large drink any of us had ever seen. I carried this drink, which seemed almost as big as my seven-year-old self, to our seats in the theatre, and I had to set it on the floor at my feet because the seats didn't have armrest cupholders. Within a few minutes, I had knocked over that drink and spilled it all. Uncle Butch took the spill in stride, with nothing but an amused comment that the people in front of us would be getting wet feet, but that spill haunts me to this day.

The spill was disappointing, but the film that followed was not. In his negative review, Roger Ebert said it was depressing to know that children would go to the movie expecting to have a good time. Don't be depressed for me, pal. This child did have a good time.

Prince of Thieves, which includes a great deal of the type of origin story that would be all the rage ten/twenty years after (it's about an hour before the "robbing from the rich" begins, still not as much origin story as there is in the 2010 Ridley Scott Robin Hood), was a fun adventure with a wide scope, full of elements I enjoyed recognizing from the other versions of Robin Hood that I was familiar with, entertaining characters - even a witch that peers into the future by stirring blood and spit with her fingernail, appealing to my taste for horror - and a great cast.

I thought Costner was a fine Robin Hood. The nitpicks about him having the wrong accent meant nothing to me. I liked several of the "Merry Men"; Morgan Freeman as Azeem, a character inspired by the 1984 - 86 British TV series Robin of Sherwood, Christian Slater as Will Scarlett, Nick Brimble as Little John, Michael McShane as Friar Tuck. The fact that Maid Marian was played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio led to me wondering about all these three name Marys in showbiz: Mary Tyler Moore, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary Louise Parker, Mary Ellen Trainor, Mary Kay Place, etc... There was Geraldine McEwan as the aforementioned witch Mortianna, advisor to the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham, played lightly and very theatrically by Alan Rickman. Sean Connery, who once played Robin Hood himself, opposite Audrey Hepburn's Maid Marian in 1976's Robin and Marian, appears for a cameo as King Richard the Lionheart near the end of the film.

Butch knew about Connery's cameo before going into the movie, and was fascinated by how much he had been paid for his quick appearance. The internet tells me Connery was on set for two days and was paid $250,000, which he donated to charity, much like he did his record-breaking pay for Diamonds Are Forever in 1971. I think Butch was convinced that Connery had been paid $1 million.

Playing over the end credits was the Bryan Adams song "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You". The song was a big hit and the video, built around clips from the film, got a lot of play on the music video channels. The song was eventually nominated for an Academy Award, after ruling the charts over the summer of 1991. It was #1 in the U.S. for seven weeks, Canada for nine weeks, and the U.K. for sixteen. I wasn't a big fan of it, that soft, lovey dovey stuff was aimed more at my parents, but I heard the song many times that year, and did like the video, which I probably didn't see until after the movie.

The Bryan Adams video, the VHS release, and showings on cable kept my interest in the film alive for a while. The year after, I took the novelization with me to Indiana to read during that year's stay. But as time passed, the viewings of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves eventually stopped, and I think they were done by 1994, because I never realized that the Sheriff's main henchman was played by Michael Wincott, who I became a fan of after his portrayal of Top Dollar in The Crow. The Robin Hood movie I was watching in 1994 was Mel Brooks's Prince of Thieves parody Robin Hood: Men in Tights, which was popular among my school friends.

So it might have been up to eighteen years since I had seen the movie before I bought a copy of it on DVD last month, on July 29th. The theatrical viewing with Butch and Jo had been on my mind in recent months, as has Indiana stays through the years. After two years that were virtually Indiana-less, circumstances have brought me back to the state this summer. I've been spending a lot of time around my old Hoosier stomping grounds, and hanging out with Uncle Butch regularly. So when I spotted the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves DVD in a $5 bin at an Indiana Walmart, it seemed like the right time to add it to my collection.

After returning home, I read the news that the movie has been on Kevin Costner's mind lately as well. Less than a week earlier, Costner had filed a lawsuit claiming that the studio failed to pay him his annual share of the film's profits in 2010 and 2011.

Rewatching the film today, although it doesn't capture my interest and imagination quite as much as it did back in the day, I still think it's a good movie, and will always appreciate it for that time when it came out and I thought it was really cool, and for being the one movie I've watched with Butch.

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