Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the 1991 gritty reboot of the Robin Hood legend, turns 30 today. And while there are plenty of warranted criticisms against the film, there’s also plenty of stuff to love, too. Sure, the movie has no real grasp on the historical elements it injects into the mythology, and Kevin Costner‘s attempt at an English accent is laughable. But Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is not without its charms. So here are five things to love about Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
1. Alan Rickman is Having Fun
Even people who downright hate Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves will admit that Alan Rickman‘s performance is one of the movie’s saving graces. Playing the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham, Rickman chews the scenery so hard, it’s surprising he didn’t chip a tooth. Rickman reportedly thought the script for Prince of Thieves was “terrible,” so he sat down with comedian Ruby Wax and playwright Peter Barnes and asked them to help him make some improvements. They spiced up Rickman’s lines, and director Kevin Reynolds gave the actor free rein to go wild and improvise whenever he wanted.
The end result is a fun, over-the-top performance that even won over critics. Roger Ebert gave Prince of Thieves a mostly negative review, but wrote of Rickman’s performance:
“Alan Rickman, in complete contrast, plays the Sheriff as if he were David Letterman: He’s a wicked, droll, sly, witty master of the put-down and one-liners, who rolls his eyes in exasperation when Robin comes bursting in…Rickman’s performance has nothing to do with anything else in the movie, and indeed seems to proceed from a uniquely personal set of assumptions about what century, universe, etc., the story is set in, but at least when Rickman appears on the screen we perk up, because we know we’ll be entertained, at whatever cost to the story.”
Rickman runs around the film clad in black and having a blast playing the Sheriff as a lecherous weasel who says things like, “Cancel Christmas!” The late actor’s work in Prince of Thieves was so memorable that rumors persist that star Kevin Costner trimmed down some of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s scenes because he was worried Rickman’s performance would steal the movie (and he was right).
2. Michael Kamen’s Musical Score Rules
After Alan Rickman’s performance, the best thing about Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is the big, sweeping, epic score courtesy of Michael Kamen. Full of blasting trumpets and war-like drums, the fanfare-like blast of the score’s main theme ended up becoming the official music for the New Line Cinema logo. Sure, Bryan Adams’ weepy theme song got most of the film’s musical attention, but it’s Kamen’s instantly memorable score that steals the show.
3. It Was a Gritty Reboot Before Gritty Reboots Became a Punchline
These days, if a filmmaker comes out and says they’re making a “gritty reboot” of a familiar IP, they’re met with scorn and derision, and rightfully so. But back when Prince of Thieves hit theaters, gritty reboots weren’t a dime a dozen. And the idea of taking the swashbuckling adventures of Robin Hood — a property synonymous with both the mostly light-hearted 1938 movie starring Errol Flynn, and the 1973 animated Disney movie where Robin Hood was portrayed as an anthropomorphic fox that inexplicably makes people horny — and reworking it into something darker, was novel at the time. Since then, we’ve had more gritty reboots of Robin Hood, but Prince of Thieves got there first and did it the best. Because while the movie is dark and brooding, full of talk of incest, cannibalism, and loaded with a prevailing nastiness (Robin deliberately rubs horse shit on himself at one point), it still remembers to have some fun.
4. In Retrospect, Kevin Costner’s Terrible Accent is Entertaining
Even before Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves hit theaters, Kevin Costner’s accent, or lack thereof, had become infamous. For the record, Costner is a good actor, and he has a certain laid-back charisma that makes him fairly likable. But he’s not exactly known for his range, or his abilities to nail down accents (for another terrible Costner accent, witness his attempts at the Boston Brahmin accent in the otherwise great Thirteen Days).
Reports vary, but the story goes that Costner really wanted to try an English accent for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, but director Kevin Reynolds was against it. Costner apparently didn’t care and attempted to perform the accent anyway. Sometimes. Other times, he doesn’t seem to be trying at all. It’s admittedly laughable, but that’s part of the charm, especially now. To hear Costner’s accent vary from scene to scene somehow makes Prince of Thieves more distinct, albeit in an entirely goofy way. Besides, Costner’s isn’t even the worst attempt at an English accent in the movie — that “honor” belongs to Christian Slater, playing Robin’s half-brother Will Scarlett.
Whatever Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves‘ flaws, it also features a Sam Raimi-like shot where the camera is suddenly attached to one of Robin Hood’s arrows as it flies at a tree and splits another arrow in half. And that’s the kind of silly nonsense movies like this need. Give us more movies where cameras are attached to flying arrows, I say.
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