Nov 30 2009 5:43pm

Beyond Sherwood Forest: The Fantasy of Robin Hood?

Syfy’s weekly original movies are generally good for two things:

1) Mansquito.
2) Saying, “Sure, this is bad, but it’s no Mansquito.”

However, even SyFy’s single-minded quest to make the worst movies ever hit a snag this weekend, when they presented Beyond Sherwood Forest. It’s Robin Hood, with a dragon, and it should have been awful.

Shockingly, it wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it was no great shakes either, but it was just as entertaining as any episode of the recent BBC series. Better, it felt like there was a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek self-awareness of the trappings of the legend. (The blatant Prince of Thieves moment above is followed by the slow-motion path of the arrow...which bounces harmlessly off the dragon as Robin looks on, dismayed. Reader, I cracked up.)

So, if even SyFy can make a decent Robin Hood flick, that begs the question: what makes a legend tamper-proof?

The easy answer to the first question is that no legend is tamper-proof; Prince of Thieves beat the Robin Hood legend to a bloody pulp fifteen years ago. However, unlike other legends that have been buried by bad movie adaptations (Dear Greek Myths: so sorry about Troy), Robin Hood seems to survive all the spoofs and TV series that can be thrown at it, and Beyond Sherwood Forest is no exception.

See, Julian Sands is creepy. (Well, also his character is, but that’s incidental.) He kills Robin’s father and chases Robin into the woods, where little Robin grows into a comely outlaw whose Sanctuary contract must have had a rider that begins, “Sooooo, we do these weekly movies...”

Meanwhile, the equally comely Maid Marian (Erica Durance, immune to awful scripts from all that Smallville) runs away from her arranged marriage, joins forces with the woodland outlaws, and gets caught up in backlash from a populace whose ties with Robin have made them a government target.

Also, there’s a young lady vampire Druid who turns into a dragon in the sunshine and works for Julian Sands because he tore her heart out and is holding it hostage in the basement of the castle. You know, the usual.

Partially, this movie skims above the rest of the SyFy muck because it doesn’t make the mistake of trying to be more than it is; it’s a B-movie and knows it, and even though people are constantly stabbing an invisible dragon, you get the idea that they were all in it for the free trip to Prague. (Except Julian, who looks like he really believes there’s a dragon, because that’s how he rolls.)

But in another smart move, the movie itself sidelines the dragon until it needs an excuse for CGI or a reason for vampire Druids to be hanging out in Sherwood Forest. (That’s how you know it’s a SyFy movie.) But the A-plot is largely what every Robin Hood movie is about: the struggle of a few good-hearted outlaws with superhuman fighting abilities going up against the tyranny of an illegitimate governor.

It’s an odd choice for a SyFy premise, except that Robin Hood already slides close to the edge of the fantasy line with his preternatural abilities and +10 charisma. (Peter S. Beagle nailed it with his ghostly Robin Hood procession in The Last Unicorn: too fantastic, even in a fantasy world.) Really, is it only strange that no one added dragons to this guy a little sooner?

Recent remakes of Robin Hood have focused on the gritty realism of the legend; the BBC series paints Robin has a traumatized war veteran, and Ridley Scott’s upcoming take handles the idea of a hero whose best days are behind him. But Robin Hood is, at heart, an escapist fantasy; his legend centers on unbelievable abilities, a supporting cast Joss Whedon would envy, and his success through chivalry (a code of behavior more often lauded than practiced). He was, like most folk heroes, more than human; and what better fantasy than that?

Also, this one time, he fought a dragon.

Genevieve cannot even believe Julian Sands is a real person; he’s too amazing to be real. How can you mean everything you say and still be so flat? She discusses this and other movie mysteries on her blog.

Alex Bledsoe
1. alexbledsoe
This was the first 2009 SyFy movie I've watched all the way to the end. And considering it's November, that's not a good average. But it was nice to see the werewolf girl from "Ginger Snaps" transform into something inhuman again.
Iain Coleman
2. Iain_Coleman
it was just as entertaining as any episode of the recent BBC series.

Oh God. That bad?
Adam Whitehead
3. Werthead
An entire article on the fantasical elements of Robin Hood and not one mention of the mystical, drenched-in-Celtic-symbolism mid-1980s TV series that introduced the world to the mighty Ray Winstone?

For shame!

Susan James
4. SusanJames
What makes a legend tamper-proof?
Well, my first literary crush was Robin Hood. I was about 9, but even at that tender age, I knew there was something so right about a witty, gallant guy in tight pants and short tunic. Add in the good-bad boy element and shazam- you can't lose. Every guy wants to be him and everyone girl wants to bed him. Dragons, no dragons, make him moodier, historical: its all just icing on the cake.
piaw na
5. piaw
Am I alone in thinking that the best TV rendition of Robin Hood's legend was "Robin of Sherwood"?

Heck, maybe it's the best dramatic rendition I've seen, period.
Iain Coleman
6. Iain_Coleman
Richard Carpenter's Robin of Sherwood is by far the best dramatic rendering of the legend. Carpenter introduced a lot of Celtic mysticism, but did it in such a way that it felt like an authentic but long-forgotten aspect of the tale, rather than a modern reimagining. Combined with cynical and knowing scripts, an evocative soundtrack and an absolutely splendid cast, it's no wonder it's still fondly remembered to this day.
7. pilgrimsoul
So nice to see Robin Hood correctly classified as FANTASY instead of history.
Kate Keith-Fitzgerald
8. ceitfianna
I have always loved the Robin Hood legend. I was first hooked with N.C. Wyeth's illustrations and Paul Creswick's words and Prince of Thieves made me wince so much and I was in elementary school at the time.

Now I'm looking forward to try and watch this since I avoided it when it was on before.
9. Beardmonger
"Robin Hood is a myth," Captain Cully said nervously, "a classic example of the folk figures synthesized out of need. John Henry is another. Men have to have heroes, but no man can ever be as big as the need, and so legend grows around a grain of truth, like a pearl. Not that it isn't a remarkable trick, of course."
Sandi Kallas
10. Sandikal
Also, there’s a young lady vampire Druid who turns into a dragon in the sunshine and works for Julian Sands because he tore her heart out and is holding it hostage in the basement of the castle. You know, the usual.

It sounds like this movie has everything.
john mullen
11. johntheirishmongol
Of the various incarnations of Robin Hood (thank god for Errol Flynn) the one that really ripped the heart out of it was Robin and Marion. I couldn't watch Sean Connery for years after that came out.

If you ever get the chance, thee was a late 50s, early 60's version of Robin Hood with Richard Greene that was pretty good.
12. Harry Connolly
Directed by Peter Deluise(!)

Can't someone buy a comb for Julian Sands? Or maybe a decent hairbrush?
Erika A.
13. brownjawa
I haven't watched this yet! Now, I must... :)
David Levinson
14. DemetriosX
johntheirishmongol @11, actually, Robin and Marian is pretty good. And rather than "ripping the heart out of" the legend, it adheres fairly closely to the medieval poem regarding the death of Robin Hood: deliberately bled to death by a treacherous nun, Marian not so sure she wants him back, firing an arrow to locate his grave. It's all there.
Jennifer Marie Brissett
16. jmbrissett
I am sooo with "piaw" and "Werthead" on Robin of Sherwood being great. I was in love with this series when it was on in the '80s. I recently watched it again from Netflix and it holds up extremely well. SyFy could NEVER produce a show of that quality. I mean never, ever!

The settings, the costumes everything in the show was so authentically done. Even the music is beautiful -- done by Clannad, the family of Enya. (Although it would have been nice if they varied the soundtrack a bit. It did begin to wear on me after awhile.) The first season is better than the second (IMHO, the new Robin didn't have the same zing.) But both seasons are worth watching.
S Diller
17. CuenDiller
Firekeeper @9

"Robin, Robin, Mr. Hood sir, wait for me!"

I love that book
Mike Conley
18. NomadUK
DemetriosX@14: I'm with you. I love Robin and Marian. What a great flick. The ending just kills me every time.

Of course, it's hard not to love anything with Audrey Hepburn in it, at least a little bit.
19. Foxessa
I too am one for whome Robin of Sherwood was a terrific watch -- though, this was the series that brought understanding that UK television of the 80's had to have bought up ALL the apples -- apples everywhere, in every medieval-like series, in every episode, many, many apples!

I first encountered Robin Hood in a book my mother had, when about 9 or 10. For a farm girl on the high plains the tales, the characters and -- forest? what's a forest? -- were enthralling.
Bret B
20. bretjb
I think Robin Hood takes so easily to tampering is that it has always been tampered. I really began to dig Robin Hood when I took an upper division class on the Robyn Hood stories in my undergraduate days.

Robin Hood was a different creature when he first started, and has slowly evolved to become the person we know him to be. A lot of the "newness" of the tales we see in the BBC series and other tales comes from the older (~1300) stories.

In fact, he started out as a good churchman who simply lived in the forest to be free from some of societies rules and bindings. He has morphed from a sort of brigand to some noble origin as of today, in the way picking up his roguish charm, and a woman (Marian was introduced only in the 1700s - likely because of the British making sure their men were men's men). He's always had a few stable characteristics: the best of the best of rogues, and his bow, but other than that, almost everything about the lad has changed by someone or another.
Ben Frey
21. BenPatient
Oh come on! I liked Prince of Thieves...non-accented Robin and all.

The simple fact is that Alan Rickman pulled of the nastiest, evil-est Sheriff of Nottingham of all time. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio was also amazing as Marian. Morgan Freeman was his usual fine self, too. I would also say that the soundtrack is one of my favorites. I would rank it up there with some of J. Williams' best, even.

Yes it was campy and had flaws (and that horrible Bryan Adams song tie-in), but it was entertaining. How can you be "untrue" to a legend that's never really even been codified. We aren't dealing with history, here, and we aren't even dealing with a subject that has a "canon" interpretation. It's like saying that any given King Arthur novel is "inaccurate."

Best Robin Hood ever? Heck no. Worst? Not by a long shot. In fact, having seen this SyFy rendition and some of the BBC stuff too, I must say that Prince of Thieves is looking better all the time.
22. aldricmf
Robin Hood has also appeared in the sister genre of fantasy -- science fiction. In Esther Friesner's The Sherwood Game, Robin and his band are smart, self-aware computer programs who get up to their old tricks in the real world, and discover a few new tricks too. seo
23. SDN
I always liked Parke Godwin's two book take (Sherwood and Robin and the King), set around the Norman Conquest, with Robin as a Saxon.

And Robin and Marian wasn't too bad (any movie Sean Connery can't save is really bad, e.g. Highlander 2: The Sickening: there should have been only one).
24. Tarynator
I've really enjoyed Stephen R. Lawhead's King Raven trilogy starting with "Hood" placing Robin Hood as a Welsh nobleman during the Norman Conquest. It rings much more "true" than the Crusades version with Prince John and all. I love all incantations, from Howard Pyle to the BBC series...but Lawhead made me feel like I could believe the story.

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