In critiquing a work, literary or otherwise, it's often more informative to dissect why something doesn't work than why it does.
I finally got around to seeing the 2010 Ridley Scott release of "Robin Hood," starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. I had heard all the hullabaloo about its not being accurate to the legend of Robin Hood, and I was prepared for that. But truthfully, that's not at all why I believe this movie was poorly received.
"Gladiator" was, let's face it: an epic win on all counts. Action, betrayal, sacrifice, courage, love, you name it, all wrapped in a pretty package with the amazingly gifted Russell Crowe to tie it up. And that one, directed by Ridley Scott too - which is why I was so disappointed to find "Robin Hood" didn't work.
The reason is editing. Scott already had the directing chops, the grand scale of the film, and the acting talent in place. The soundtrack was acceptable, too. But I get the sense that the best parts of the film were either snipped from the script or left on the cutting room floor.
Character, character, character. You've heard me say it. A film with the right scale, acting talent, music, director, and kitchen sink is still just a strip of celluloid without the right characterization. "Robin Hood" didn't make use of the acting talent it had to get inside these characters' heads - and there was opportunity to do so. The film was all action and no heart. By the time Robin tells Marion "I love you," I don't believe it, because he had no arc to speak of to lead him there. If there were scenes of character emotion, they must have been ruthlessly culled from the film before it reached theaters. Think Maximus praying for his family in "Gladiator," or the look on his face when he discusses them with Juba during a quiet moment. Think of the obvious love the soldiers of Rome had for Maximus, even in the heat of battle. Even the way Maximus's voice shook and hestitated when he talked of his dead wife. There is a reason for this character to love, and a stake for him to defeat Commodus.
We should have gotten inside Robin's head from the start of "Robin Hood." There were no stakes, other than the obvious risk of life and limb. There was no emotional Point A to get Robin to the Point B of loving Marion and needing to be a part of the struggle to save England from sinking to its knees. It might have been better if Scott started by making Robin reluctant to be involved, and then pulled in, first kicking and screaming, and then determined to be there, to the fight with France. The scenes that did show some of this only scratched the surface. Marion's father stole the spotlight from the hero and Marion, for the comparatively few scenes he had in this movie. The villain was convincing, but when Robin finally has the opportunity to confront him, there's no real threat to Robin or Marion. Prince John is too occupied with facing an impending battle and needing the immediate support of an army to be bothered menacing Robin. I wanted to see a direct threat to Robin and Marion, faced and then overcome.
In short, lots of action but not nearly enough emotion. Give me Kevin Costner vs. Alan Rickman any day of the week.