I remember the first time I saw “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”. It was in Hong Kong – when I used to live on Beacon Hill at Alnwick Road. My Hong Kong readers will perhaps know that Alnwick road is a tiny little road off of Ede Road right near where I played millions of soccer games with fellow blogger Joe and his family when we were kids. I still remember the sound of Joe’s dad’s voice booming “Big foot! Big foot!” but I would invariably kick the ball limply into the goalie’s waiting arms or else kick it wildly over the fence into the carpark below. I’m off track already.
Back then, if a good movie came on TV my dad would tape it on the VCR. Remember taping things on the VCR? Anyway – our Robin Hood tape was a particularly bad recording from TVB Pearl and the tape would sort of darken every few seconds and then go normal again. Each stage of darkness and normal-ness lasted just long enough for me to forget the other stage and so that at each transition I was reminded afresh of the misery of watching this budget copy. Just rent the movie at a video store you suggest? I don’t know if we were making trips to KPS Video just yet – but renting costs money. Taping it off the VCR is free.
Even in fluctuating darkness and piss poor quality, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves resonated with me in a powerful way. First of all and most importantly, it introduced me to two very important actors who went on to feature in some of my favorite movies of all time: Alan Rickman and Morgan Freeman. And secondly, it was one of the first movies that ever got me into film scores. Or “Movie Soundtracks” as the kids say. Does it get any nerdier than being “into” movie soundtracks?
Well I’m into them, and it all started with Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Michael Kamen did the soundtrack and it’s a gem. He’s dead now, but his music lives on. He also did the amazing music for “Band of Brothers” – another great melody.
So. 1991. Alnwick Road.
Even as a kid I remember hating the title. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Super lame. Just call it Robin Hood. Flash forward a couple of decades and they finally made a movie just called “Robin Hood” and it sucked compared to “Prince of Thieves”. Why? Because the reason Prince of Thieves is good is not because of what it was called. In fact… it’s arguably not even that good a movie. Casting Kevin Costner as Robin Hood is a blow to the film’s respectability and then in comes Christian Slater to just put things over the edge.
But all that being said – what makes Prince of Thieves a classic is Alan Rickman.
Sitting in Alnwick Road in 1991 was the first time I ever heard of Alan Rickman. But even as a kid who didn’t understand half the jokes, Rickman just flat out stole the movie for me. He was scary, he was funny, he was a bully but he was also, somehow, sympathetic. Even at the very end, when Rickman’s Sherrif of Nottingham is (can I say comically) attempting to rape Maid Marion, he is still somehow endearing to the audience. You almost want him to win. Especially when Robin Hood is played by the casual, cocky, all-American Kevin Costner, who looks like he just can’t wait to get back to his trailer to keep watching baseball or something.
Rickman, on the other hand, is having way more fun in Prince of Thieves than he has any right to. He tears up the scenery in every single one of the moments that he’s in the film. He literally pounces around the sets delivering lines with so much pause and emphasis that he turns almost every line of dialogue into quotable classics. His introductory shot, a few minutes into the film, is haunting as a hooded, cloaked and mounted rider who lowers his mask to utter the devastating ultimatum: “Join us… or die.” Two hours later, Rickman provides the ultimate climax as his Sherrif and Costner’s Robin Hood stumble around a castle chamber in my, hands down, favorite sword fight in movie history. This epic duel is capped off with a long, drawn out death scene by Rickman that remains menacing while bordering on the ridiculous. He pulls it off with ease. The movie ends with a denouement that seems pale and empty in comparison as every one watching knows that the movie really ended with Rickman. I just love myself some Alan Rickman. He deserves his own post. And by God, he’s going to get it.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves had a big impact and put some important movie things on the map for me for the first time. For that, and for Alan Rickman’s incredible performance, Prince of Thieves has cemented its place among my all-time favorite movies. If you haven’t seen it, check it out on your next movie night.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Dir: Kevin Reynolds. Released: June 14th, 1991. Warner Bros. Pictures
“Wait a minute. Robin Hood steals money from my pocket, forcing me to hurt the public, and they love him for it?”
“Might I have the pleasure of your name, before I have you run through?”
“Do you mind Locksley? We’ve just been married.”
“This is English courage.” (said with an American accent)
“I’m going to cut your heart out with a SPOON!”
“Join us. Join us… or die.”
*This has been Part 2 of my 1991 retrospective trilogy. The last and final part will be published in our December issue… because I’ve always thought of It as a Christmas movie. Any guesses as to what It could be? Stay tuned.