What Went Wrong: Robin Hood
By Brian Pew
June 14, 2010
Based on the slop that Hollywood force feeds its audience on a weekly basis, it may be difficult to remember a time when the industry did not have such a quick trigger finger for greenlighting projects. But just a few years ago, the writer’s strike put an end to a host of developments. The ill effects were even felt before the strike officially started, as nervous studios looked to cover their collective rumps from the pending financial flogging. One major exception to the gun shy industry was Universal’s announcement in 2007 of a newly planned Robin Hood. Universal was so certain of the power of the Green Tights that they moved forward with a big budget revamp even despite the backdrop of a potentially crippling work stoppage.
We only have partial results, but so far the returns are damning for the reboot of Robin Hood. The Russell Crowe vehicle may be faring better abroad, but through three full weekends of release the medieval action flick is not yet at $90 million in domestic receipts. This laughable sum is against a purported budget of $237 million and possibly hundreds of millions more with marketing and distribution costs. Robin’s men are anything but merry at this point. Suicidal is far more likely. Critical reception didn’t make things any easier. The new Robin Hood currently stands at a tepid 44% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes. Dear readers, that is more rotten than MacGruber. MACGRUBER! All of this points to the question at hand: What Went Wrong?
Unless you are completely jaded in this era of preposterous budget figures (and who could blame you?) there might have been a double take at the $237 million dollar figure. That’s good enough to place Robin Hood in the top five of all-time unadjusted film budgets. Sure, the movie had a casts of thousands, epic medieval battle scenes, and expensive talent. But should a Robin Hood budget be even remotely close to a spectacle such as Avatar? I think not. Especially considering that movies set in that particular time period are historically a tough sell. In fact, the only medieval themed movie to pass the $100 million mark was Kevin Costner's Robin Hood iteration back in 1991. Given the track record of such films, what could have possessed Universal to spend so much?
By all indications, it was not their original intent to open up their war chests to finance the production. Robin Hood had a topsy-turvy pre-production that set it back a few years (and a few million). It started out as a project telling the Sheriff of Nottingham’s story, in which the classic villain was actually a good guy. When director Ridley Scott climbed aboard, he nixed the original script and brought in hired hands to do some reworking, causing unexpected delays.
Other setbacks came from several casting changes. Crowe was originally on-board as BOTH the Sheriff and Robin Hood, but Universal stepped in and (thankfully) remedied that poor decision. Maid Marion was also recast from Sienna Miller to Cate Blanchett when it was realized that the gorgeous Ms. Miller made her leading man look like he was in his mid-40s. Nevermind that he is, the studio did not want to highlight an obvious issue.
All of these and more delays added up, as the negative costs reached $65 million even before set production began. The whole production process of Robin Hood dismayed Universal to the point that the studio is on record for steering clear of adult drama and action in favor of comedies, family films, and other cheaper genres. Any time a single movie alters the entire production philosophy of a studio, you can wager that something either amazing or terrible happened. Unfortunately for Universal, Robin Hood falls under the “terrible” column.
Perhaps not as overt as going WAY over budget, the nature of the origin premise seems to be a natural put-off to filmgoers. This version of Robin Hood is not the classic tale, but rather a foundation story of how Robin Hood came to be. As of late, “origin” tales have equaled box office disappointment. Think of how Batman Begins paled in comparison to The Dark Knight, or how you haven’t seen any more X-Men Origin flicks since Wolverine was a one weekend wonder. Why does this happen? This is a point of contention that has been batted around by the BOP staff before. One theory is that movies spend too much time setting up the story instead of showing the action. In other words, for this Robin Hood there was not enough of “robbing the rich to give to the poor.”
Lastly, something must be done about this Russell Crowe/Ridley Scott combo platter. Sure, we enjoyed Gladiator, and American Gangster had its moments. But after this fifth serving of the bromance, the couple is only batting two-out-of-a-five. Let us not forget the duds A Good Year and Body of Lies. Some pairings - I’m thinking about Tim Burton and Johnny Depp here - literally bring the best out of each other. The Scott/Crowe duo seems to bring out nothing other than familiarity. And based reviews for Robin Hood, that assessment seems legitimate.
Many of the critics pointed out how the film is made up of solid acting, set pieces, etc., but when put together something was missing. For all of the changes in preproduction, all of the money spent, and how well the two know each other, the fact that Robin Hood goes down as a miss must be squarely on their shoulders. Let’s just hope that the rumors that Ridley is up for The Hobbit now that Del Toro is passing are vicious, hateful, unsubstantiated lies, lest we get a sixth serving of Scott/Crowe with Russell as Bilbo (*shudder*).