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.


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