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Warner Home Video presents
Maid Marian: But why you, a knight, should live here like an animal in the forest—robbing, killing, outlawed?
DVD ReviewThe DVD Review and Extras Review are by David Krauss
The legend of Robin Hood and his merry band of benevolent thieves has always been a cinematic natural. Although Douglas Fairbanks Sr. filmed a highly successful silent version of the Old English yarn back in 1922, most of us envision Errol Flynn whenever the man with the green felt hat and clinging tights comes to mind. (We won't even mention Kevin Costner...) With his trusty bow and endless supply of penetrating arrows, Flynn battles a cast of thousands in Warner's memorable 1938 film, captivating generations of audiences with his youthful vigor and devil-may-care attitude. So what if his costume, hairstyle, and make-up are a tad effeminate; Flynn remains the quintessential Robin Hood and the epitome of Sherwood Forest chic. He also reigned for years as the king of movie swashbuckling, and no greater role came his way than Sir Robin of Locksley, a fearless Saxon nobleman whose outrage over a political coup and unjust taxation inspires him to become a freedom-fighting outlaw.
The Adventures of Robin Hood was the studio's top-grossing film of 1938, and its boundless energy, superior production values, and delightful portrayals keep it fresh and entertaining even today. Every role is so perfectly cast—Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian, Basil Rathbone as the sinister Sir Guy of Gisbourne, Claude Rains as the power-hungry Prince John, Alan Hale as Little John, and Eugene Pallette as Friar Tuck—that watching any other version seems sacrilegious. Yet thanks to this lovingly restored HD DVD, no one will ever be tempted to commit such blasphemy again.
Forget the exciting story, grand spectacle, and fine performances—this Robin Hood HD DVD is all about the Technicolor, and its meticulous refurbishment alone makes this set worth everyone's investment. With eye-popping, gorgeously saturated reds, greens, yellows, and purples, the film is a sumptuous visual feast, and Warner technicians have made sure it will stand as a lasting testament to the beauty of early three-strip Technicolor. Just sitting back and drinking in all the stimuli of Sol Polito and Tony Gaudio's lush cinematography is entertainment in and of itself.
But, of course, The Adventures of Robin Hood provides so much more than breathtaking images. There's romance, acrobatic swordfights, thrilling feats of archery, clever banter, and stunts galore (many performed by Flynn himself)—all perfectly balanced to garner universal appeal. Tipping the scales at just over $2 million, Robin Hood was Warner's most expensive picture to date, and every penny is on glorious display. Directors William Keighley and Michael Curtiz recreate twelfth-century England with terrific gusto, from its gluttonous feasting and barbaric mores to its garish costumes and pompous pageantry. And thanks to Ralph Dawson's editing and Erich Wolfgang Korngold's rousing score (both of which won Oscars), the film achieves an enviable symbiosis of pace and mood.
In addition to Robin Hood's heavy dose of escapist adventure, Depression-era audiences must have identified with and relished its basic story. Watching Robin's forthright felons robbing from the rich, corrupt Norman lords and giving to the poor, persecuted Saxons surely struck a chord, as contemporary American families struggled to maintain their financial grip. Equally relevant, Prince John's devious usurpation of the English throne (from his brother, Richard the Lion Heart, imprisoned while crusading in Austria) paralleled Europe's tenuous position amid the burgeoning strength of Adolf Hitler. As a result, the film's moralistic messages of hope in the face of despair and good triumphing over evil were especially comforting and personal, and still strike a chord today.
Of the eight films Flynn and de Havilland made together between 1935 and 1941, Robin Hood is by far the best remembered. The pair's warm, deep affection gently softens the movie, offering an effective respite from the boisterous action and comedy sequences. Although de Havilland would be immortalized the following year in the far meatier role of Melanie Hamilton in Gone With the Wind, to many she will always be Maid Marian.
And even in posterity, Flynn will never escape Robin Hood. The sight of him swinging on a vine over to a promontory, jauntily raising his arm and shouting with a dazzling smile, "Welcome to Sherwood, my lady!" remains an indelible Hollywood image, and the stuff of which careers are made. Flynn makes Robin Hood unforgettable, and Warner makes this HD DVD an essential addition to every movie-lover's collection.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: As wonderful as the transfer is on the two-disc special edition, the HD DVD ratchets the quality up several more notches. Fine detail is excellent, most noticeably on the chainmail. Instead of the moiré and shimmer that appears on the standard DVD, the chainmail is completely rock-solid here. Color is eye-popping throughout, especially on the elaborate costuming of the Normans. Sir Guy's primary color tunics make a glorious contrast to Robin Hood's earth tones, while Lady Marian's sumptuous gowns are incredibly beautiful. The purple of the robes of the Bishop of Black Canons are almost overwhelming, as is the red of Will Scarlett's clothing.
A wide variety of textures come across beautifully as well, and shadow detail is exceptional. The shade-dappled forest scenes are crisply clear, and the details of the background stonework is plainly visible in the shadow play of the final swordfight. There is substantial grain, but it's well-rendered and filmlike. One can even see a little fringing from where the Ultra Resolution process wasn't able to quite line up the three Technicolor strips. It's incredible that a movie nearly 70 years old looks this good, but this should be proof positive that it's not just modern movies that can benefit from the HD DVD treatment.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The audio doesn't permit of quite the improvement that the visuals have, but it still sounds reasonably good for the period. There is some mild hiss, but rather than being overfiltered it allows a nice analog warmth to Erich Korngold's immortal score. That score offers quite a surprising range of sound, with bass impact that has decent oomph for its age. The kettledrums in particular have a solid presence. As one might expect, the emphasis is on the treble but the score never sounds shrill. While the reviewer on the original disc felt the dialogue was sometimes overwhelmed by the music, I never got that sensation here.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu
Scene Access with 29 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
11 Other Trailer(s) featuring Captain Blood, The Prince and the Pauper, Dodge City, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, The Sea Hawk, Dive Bomber, They Died With Their Boots On, Objective, Burma!, Kim, The Master of Ballantrae, Angels With Dirty Faces
1 Alternate Endings
Isolated Music Score with remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by film historian and author Rudy Behlmer
Following is David Krauss' review of the standard two-disc set's extras:
Extras Grade: A+
Final CommentsWith its inimitable sense of style, color, adventure, and energy, The Adventures of Robin Hood outshines countless films of the 1930s. Warner's glorious Technicolor restoration invigorates this classic swashbuckler and reinforces its many timeless elements. The disc's even more superb image quality, good sound, and avalanche of absorbing extras help this package score an undisputed bull's-eye and our highest possible recommendation. This splendid disc by itself should urge you to make the jump to HD DVD.
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