This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Agony Booth review: The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

My first review for the Agony Booth has just been published. This is of the less-than-satisfying blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow. Thanks to everyone at the site for their support and I look forward to writing more for the site in the future.

It’s not exactly controversial to say that many action blockbusters are dumb films. The trick is for them to still be entertaining. This is why some blockbusters like The Lone Ranger bomb big time, while others such as Independence Day score. Independence Day, or ID4 as it’s known, was directed by Roland Emmerich, who previously had a big hit with Stargate. Unfortunately, a lot of his subsequent work has been less than stellar, including our current subject The Day After Tomorrow.

The film is actually based on a book, The Coming Global Superstorm by fringe science legends Art Bell and Whitley Strieber. It describes how global warming could cause a massive storm that plunges the planet into a new ice age in a matter of weeks. Given the two authors, there’s enough reason to be skeptical of the book’s claims, but going by this movie, Emmerich took all of it at face value.

And whereas ID4 had decent enough pacing to make the audience forget about the many plot holes and lapses in logic, Tomorrow’s script and characters are so laughable and predictable that, by the end of the film, you realize it’s ID4, just in a different, weather-related package.

The movie begins with the camera panning over broken chunks of glaciers, and text on the screen tells us that we’re in Antarctica. We see men, led by paleoclimatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) drilling into the ice for samples, as ominous music warns the audience that something horrible is about to happen. Sure enough, the ice breaks apart, and their drilling machine gets swallowed up by the crevasse that just formed. Jack and his friend Frank (Jay O. Sanders) manage to grab the operator Jason (Dash Mihok), preventing him from falling to his death. Jack then performs a Batman leap over the huge gap in the ice to save some of their samples.

He then repeats his superhero leap and barely makes it. In stereotypical blockbuster movie fashion, we get a moment where Jack slips and has only a pick axe to keep him from falling into oblivion.

After Frank and Jason pull him up, they ask the same question I’m sure Quaid’s been asking himself since he agreed to do Jaws 3: “What were you thinking?”

We next see Jack at a UN conference in New Delhi, where he attempts to convince the gathered audience that the world is heading for another ice age. Not surprisingly, the US delegation, led by Vice President (and Dick Cheney-lookalike) Raymond Becker (Kenneth Welsh) doesn’t believe Jack when he presents his findings.

And for anyone who thinks the resemblance to Cheney was purely coincidental, the VP’s black, money-grubbing soul leaks out when he listens to Jack’s dire warnings that something must be done about the impending disaster and responds with, “It will cost the world’s economy hundreds of millions of dollars!”

Fortunately, the one person in the audience who doesn’t brush off Jack is Terry Rapson (Ian Holm), who introduces himself to Jack outside the conference hall. Here, we also learn that New Dehli is experiencing a record snowfall.

The next scene is at a research center in Scotland, where a guy is watching a soccer game. He then acts like a hypocrite when he wakes up his sleeping coworker before returning to the game. Hey, I’m not one to endorse sleeping on the job, but I’d say watching TV on the job is just as bad.

Fortunately, the guy who was sleeping proves the more competent of the two when, en route to the coffee pot, he notices a reading on the computer that our soccer fan was too absorbed in his game to notice. This turns out to be the beginnings of the deep freeze that Jack warned about, and soon other locations are experiencing turbulent weather, including Tokyo getting super deadly-sized hail.

As if Jack doesn’t already have enough on his plate, he’s also having problems with his son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), who’s (I guess) estranged from his dad because of trouble in school. Jack calls his wife Lucy (Sela Ward) to talk about how Sam is failing calculus. But she’s more concerned that Jack is never home, and Sam needs a ride to the airport the next morning for a trip to New York City for an academic competition. Lucy’s duties as a doctor (which, I would think, keep her away from home just as much as Jack) are keeping her from taking Sam herself.

Jack is drafted to drive Sam to the airport to force some “quality time” together, and also so he can yell at Sam about his lousy grades. Jack reluctantly agrees, since having to deal with a Dick Cheney-esque VP probably makes everything else feel like a cakewalk.

Naturally, Jack totally forgets to pick up Sam until the last minute, and gets there just as a cab is pulling up. Jack pays the cabbie for his trouble, and while on the way to the airport, Sam explains that his calculus professor failed him because he didn’t write out the solutions to the problems, and thus assumed he must have cheated. Rather than simply tell Sam to swallow his pride and write out the solutions next time to make everyone happy, Jack says he’ll have a word with the teacher. But Sam brushes him off and simply darts out of the car without saying goodbye. Yeah, don’t even thank your dad for paying the cabbie you called, asshole!

We then get a quick scene of astronauts on the International Space Station observing the weather patterns that are preventing them from returning home. Cut to Sam on an airplane with his classmates Laura (Emmy Rossum) and Steve Urkel-lookalike Brian (Arjay Smith). Sam is afraid to fly, so Laura tells him there’s nothing to worry about. Despite her reassurances, weather-related turbulence causes the plane to rock so violently I think I might have put in Final Destination by mistake. This also gives Sam a reason to hold Laura’s hand.

They make it to New York, and traffic is at a dead stop. Sam, Laura, and Brian are in a cab heading to the public library, and they decide to walk since they’re only two blocks away. I have to wonder how long they were sitting there before they figured that out. As they get out, a huge flock of birds flies over the city, an obvious portent of doom. And in the nearby Central Park Zoo, we get shots of other animals, such as seals and wolves, getting agitated as well.

Next, the trio is at the competition itself, where Laura catches the eye of J.D. (Austin Nichols), a student from a rival school. He introduces himself at the after party, where Laura is the only one who’s changed clothes, and put on a slinky cocktail dress because she’s a girl and this is a Roland Emmerich film. J.D. offers Laura a tour of the place, and Brian notices that Sam is getting jealous. Thanks, movie, for making your predictable plot points as obvious as possible.

In the next scene, Rapson calls Jack and says that his theories are coming true, and Jack is shocked, because he didn’t think it would happen in his own lifetime. He then goes to a weather station, where he’s introduced to hurricane specialist Janet Tokada (Tamlyn Tomita). But their attention is soon drawn to news of multiple tornadoes in Los Angeles, which the reporter in the chopper notes have taken out the Hollywood sign (no need to remind us you made Independence Day, Roland). Unsurprisingly, there are people on the ground risking their lives just to get a few stupid pictures of the damn twisters, and serve as the ubiquitous victims of the natural disaster.

Over in Washington D.C., VP Becker informs the President (Perry King) that L.A. is in ruins. Although the President here doesn’t resemble George W. Bush, it’s pretty obvious he was the inspiration, because he immediately asks his VP what to do.

At the weather center, Jacks says that the storms are only going to get worse. His boss gives him 48 hours to prove it and Janet offers her assistance in building a new forecast model. This also gives Jason the chance to hit on her, mainly by answering all the questions she directs at Frank (yeah, you’re sure to get a date with her now, pal). Eventually, they determine that the world has mere weeks before everything goes from bad to worse.

Cut to Sam, Laura, and Brian stuck in the library, due to all air traffic being grounded. Jack calls Sam to tell him to get home ASAP, but this falls on deaf ears, because Sam is far more interested in staying wherever Laura is.

Jack heads to D.C., where he tells VP Becker that they have to act quickly and evacuate the northern states. This, as you can probably guess, leads to Becker once again telling Jack to piss off.

Meanwhile, over in Scotland, some army chopper pilots encounter a massive storm that causes them all to crash. And then one pilot opens the door to his chopper and instantly freezes to death.

We go back to our three young leads, who are trying to get out of New York, which is now completely flooded. And that’s when a massive tsunami hits the city (why not?).

Sam sees a huge wall of water coming at them, so all the students make a run for the library. They all get inside in the nick of time and are completely safe, because apparently the library’s revolving door is watertight.

They’re all trapped inside, but Sam manages to make a call to his parents (who have met up somewhere along the way) via the library’s payphones. This gives Jack a chance to warn him that things are about to become so cold that simply going outside could cause instant death. And the phones in the library are also getting flooded, but Sam stays on the line long enough to hear that his dad will come for him, before the rising water almost drowns him.

This leads to Laura warming Sam up with her body, which she explains as something she learned in health class, and which may be the closest thing this film has to a gratuitous sex scene. To help stay warm, the students proceed to burn the library’s books in a fireplace, much to one of the librarians’ horror.

At the same time, Jack meets with the President, and suggests evacuating everyone in the southern United States into Mexico, adding that everyone to the north is screwed. But that doesn’t stop him from taking Frank and Jason to go find Sam who, last I heard, was in the northern US.

The intrepid group gets as far as Philadelphia when their truck crashes, prompting Jack to say, “Break out the snow shoes! We walk from here!” This line makes me chuckle, because Quaid says it like it’s just another inconvenience, rather than something that requires walking nearly 100 miles in potentially lethal weather. During their super long hike across the snow, Frank dies when he falls through the glass roof of a mall. I wonder if he died from smelling the place’s Auntie Anne’s.

Back in NYC, Sam and Laura kiss after he confesses that he only joined the team so he could be near her. See? There’s nothing like a new ice age to break the proverbial ice in a relationship.

At the same time, the President gets killed by a storm while heading to Mexico. So it would appear VP Becker just got a promotion. Damn, first half the world gets frozen over, then Cheney gets to be President. It really is the apocalypse!

Laura begins to feel ill, and somehow Sam, a teenager with no medical experience, correctly determines that her wound has led to blood poisoning. But as it so happens, a (miraculously intact) Russian cargo ship has floated into the middle of a freezing metropolitan area and is right outside the library. So Sam and Brian decide to go aboard the conveniently abandoned vessel, where, yep, they happen to find the exact medicine they need.

This leads to the funniest part of the film, where wolves (who earlier escaped from the Central Park Zoo) sneak onto the boat, and proceed to attack our heroes. It’s a good thing for Sam that no polar bears or any other animals accustomed to freezing climates escaped from the zoo, otherwise he and everyone else in the library may have already been dinner.

They make it back to the library in one piece, and it seems the snow has become solid enough to walk on. Everyone takes this as their cue to make their escape, completely ignoring Sam’s warnings about the coming deadly weather. Predictably, they tell Sam to piss off, and just as predictably, they end up dead.

Then comes what might be the dumbest scene in the film, where the deadly cold finally arrives. And I do mean “arrives”, because we actually see ice forming on skyscrapers one by one, as the coldness “moves” through the city and heads for the library. Our characters are literally able to run from the cold into the room with the fireplace, and we even get a “coldness POV” shot as if they’re running from an axe murderer or something.

Eventually, Jack and Jason reach the library and reunite with Sam, Laura, Brian and everyone else who listened to Sam earlier. I guess that super-deadly cold air must be taking a coffee break right now, because helicopters are able to move in and rescue all the survivors.

Becker addresses the nation as the new President, and all but admits that he screwed up, saying that he and the rest of his government don’t deserve another term in office.

The movie ends with the astronauts still aboard the ISS (remember them?) commenting on how the air looks so clear from where they are. I guess they’re not too bummed out about their homes most likely being buried in snow. The final shot is of the Earth, with the northern hemisphere all frozen over.

To summarize, this film is basically Blockbuster 101. You have the characters who you know will die because they either a) don’t listen to the main characters or b) are especially chummy with the main characters. You have the obligatory big SFX set pieces, as well as the arbitrary romance subplot.

Sadly, the characters are basically all useless clichés. I’ve always thought that Dennis Quaid was one of our most underrated actors, so it’s quite disheartening to see him spending this movie spewing the same pseudoscientific gibberish over and over again.

Ian Holm, Sela Ward, and Jay O. Sanders are all clearly here for a paycheck, while Emmy Rossum and Tamlyn Tomita are just here as eye candy. In fairness though, Sela Ward has several nice scenes with a sick child, but it’s kind of odd to focus on one sick kid when millions of people are dying elsewhere. (Emmerich did a similar thing in ID4, showing a dog being miraculously saved while thousands were bring incinerated by a massive fireball.)

Likewise, Gyllenhaal and Rossum play characters straight out of a romantic comedy, where Boy holds back feelings for Girl (even while Rival Boy poses a challenge for her affections) until late in the film, and then confesses and they live happily ever after. At least they respectively had Brokeback Mountain and Shameless in their futures.

I guess the ending was also meant to be some sort of comment on immigration issues, showing the reverse of the current situation, with many Americans seeking refuge in Mexico. Though, I wonder where all the people freezing in Europe and Russia went to.

Like the previous year’s The Core, this film rightfully came under attack upon release by professionals who actually had some scientific knowledge. Specifically, while rising sea levels and changing weather patterns are certainly potential effects of global warming, the rapid pace at which those things occur in this film is just plain implausible.

Just as understandable were criticisms from those who thought depicting major death and destruction in New York just three years after 9/11 was insensitive. At least War of the Worlds had the decency to leave NYC alone.

Despite all this, there are actually worse SFX-laden blockbusters out there, as After Earth recently proved. This is because, for all its flaws, Tomorrow is never boring and you’re sure to get at least some enjoyment out of it (if you didn’t vote for Bush). But it doesn’t stick out from the many dumb blockbusters that came before or since, and it doesn’t seem to even aspire to be all that memorable.

If it’s a scathing commentary of the Bush administration you’re looking for, watch Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 instead, which was released the same year. Whether you agree with Moore’s politics or not, the only bad acting you’ll get in that film is from Bush himself (who, amusingly, was awarded a Razzie Award as Worst Actor for his “performance”).

Likewise, if you’re looking for a good film about the effects of climate change, watch Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Like Tomorrow, it has a dark message, but, unlike Tomorrow, it tells us how we can make things better without the use of any eye-rolling clichés.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Interview with Deborah Voorhees

I recently had the pleasure of talking with Deborah Voorhees who is best known for her appearance in Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985) and for coincidentally sharing the same surname as Friday's killer Jason.
Deborah is also a talented writer and director. She recently finished her latest movie, Billy Shakespeare, which looks at Shakespeare in modern times. The film's website has all the details.

1. Deborah, you obviously have a following thanks to your role in Friday the 13th Part V. Would you return to the series if you were ever asked to?

-I’m sure that would be a blast. But I don’t know if they’d do one that brings the old “dead” characters back (laughs) unless it was a zombie flick.

2. Prior to that, you were a Playboy bunny. How would that experience compare with playing one of Jason’s victims?

-They are both iconic symbols in America. Everyone knows Jason and the Playboy Bunny.

3. Among your other screen credits are appearances on shows like Dallas and Days of Our Lives. Any memories that stick out from those shows?

-I really enjoyed being on Dallas because I also I worked as a stand in for two summers. I was there every day on the set; I felt more like I was a part of the team, rather than just coming in for a role and leaving. Larry Hagman (who played J.R.) used to sing “Peggy Sue” when I walked on set, except he changed the name to Debisue.

4. You’re also a writer, a teacher and a director. Is there one of those professions that you find particularly fulfilling?

-That’s a good question. They are different but they have characteristics that are the same. As a teacher, writer, director and actor, creativity is required to do well. Prior to teaching, I thought it would be boring, teaching the same thing over and over. I imagined that I’d say, “Kids open the book to Chapter 11, read it and answer the questions on the back.” That’s how school was when I grew up. Now, though, teaching is more dynamic. Good schools and good teachers teach outside of the textbook. They create curriculums and adjust the lesson on a moments notice if the kids aren’t “getting it.” I enjoyed working with students and coming up with new lessons. It could also be frustrating when parents, students, and administrators couldn’t see that learning requires a certain amount of frustration. If a child is never frustrated from a lack of understanding, it simply means that he or she isn’t being challenged. Many kids become bored and shut down. Teaching demands a lot of interaction with the faculty, the administration, the parents and kids. Writing is the opposite in this way. Writing is solitary; you’re on your own most of the time. I can become a hermit when I am writing. I may concentrate more heavily on it again at some point. But right now, with filmmaking, I am concentrating on putting my current works on film, and that’s a whole other level of learning. Billy Shakespeare has been an incredible learning experience. The most challenging, demanding, and creative side of filmmaking happens in the editing room. Being forced to edit my own film taught me more about directing and writing then actually writing and directing. That’s when you find out if you have what you need to make the story flow. It taught me a lot about what I can do next time to connect the scenes more smoothly. It taught me how to be a better director and writer.

5. Speaking of Billy Shakespeare, how did the idea for that movie come about?

-While working as a journalist with The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, I covered arts and entertainment, so I went to the theater a lot and fell in love with Shakespeare. I started reading his works and reading about his life and compared them to my experiences in the crazy world of Hollywood. The city is vibrant and exciting in many ways, but actors and others in the biz are often treated like cattle. One audition I went on was for the role of a 16-year-old high school student. The casting agent liked my reading, but the feedback my agent received was ‘the character is supposed to be innocent and she has big boobs.’ Another similar incident was ‘she gave a great read; we love her, but this character is supposed to be smart; she has big boobs.” Shakespeare, likewise, went through his own struggles in London. The theater houses were viewed as only slightly more elevated than the brothels. I began imaging what his trials would look like in modern-day Hollywood. At first, it started out as a few jokes but soon it grew into a full script, for which I took historical aspects of his life and reimagined them in today’s L.A. For example, a love triangle in the film revolves around the historical question: who is ‘Mr. W.H.?’ Shakespeare wrote 126 sonnets, of a rather romantic nature, to this mysterious person, which has led some to speculate that he was gay. This isn’t necessarily so since during the Renaissance, the love between men was viewed as deeper because of the belief that women weren’t capable of the same purity of love.

6. Your production company, Voorhees Films, is currently making a comedy set in the 1800s. Can you tell us anything about that?

-We’re not shooting yet. We’re in pre-production. It’s about a 17-year-old Genevieve, who is jilted on her wedding day after she humiliates her husband-to-be by publically straddling a horse, which in this period is akin to fornicating in public. Her father sends her away to her aunt’s to be prepared for marriage to the man of her father’s “dreams.” Right now, I’m raising money for Cranford and promoting Billy Shakespeare.

7. Voorhees Films also records weddings and makes music videos and commercials. How does that differ from making a movie?

-Yes, we also create celebrations of life videos. All these are similar to writing a story for a newspaper because you are creating a story with a beginning, middle, and an end. The shorter pieces offer instant gratification, but I do love creating films—from writing the script, to directing, to editing. The challenge is intense. As a director, I really enjoy working with actors and being on the other side of the camera. As an actor on the set, you have a lot of down time. As a director, there is no down time. It’s very intense because everybody needs your attention. So you have to basically be working and thinking about 6 or 7 different things at the same time.

8. You’ve also written a novel called Memoirs of a Hit Man. Can you tell us about that?

-When I was at The Dallas Morning News, I spent time with three different men who were assassins. It’s fiction but the novel projects the emotional and intellectual integrity of what they went though in the Special Forces.

9. In addition, you have written numerous news stories. Is there any specific sort of news that you have a preference for?

-My favorite was to write about little-known artists such as a folk artist named Ike Morgan, who was a schizophrenic patient at a psychiatric hospital. His work has been seen in museums and high-dollar galleries. Another of my favorite stories was about a homeless man who created walking sticks on which he carved the psalms from the bible. He wasn’t easy to find to interview because he didn’t have a residence or phone. After visiting a few homeless shelters, I learned he was working behind a gallery close to downtown Dallas. When I met him, he actually pulled a knife on me. I wasn’t afraid, though, because I was thinking of the story. I explained who I was and he said, he had heard I was looking for him, but warned me to watch where I walked because “I might get cut.” After that we had a fabulous interview. I also interviewed an incredibly talented photographer named Laura Wilson, who created artistic photographic series on the Hutterites, ranchers and many other subjects. She is the mother of Luke and Owen Wilson.

10. I read that you don’t watch many horror films. Is there a genre that you especially like?

-I like romantic comedies and dark comedies. The House of Yes just cracks me up. I want to laugh. I don’t want to be scared. I don’t like that ‘boo’ stuff (laughs). I am too big of a chicken.

11. Do you plan to direct and write more movies in the future?

-I do. Besides what I’m working on, I want to do a documentary on Shakespeare. I’m working out the angle at the moment. I also want to do Romeo and Juliet in modern times but with a twist and some Shakespearean shorts.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Robin and Marian (1976)

"I love you...more than God!"
-Maid Marian to Robin Hood.

To ring in Valentine's Day, I'm looking at a film which was ahead of its time, but used a classic, beloved love story as its template.
The first film version of Robin Hood I remember seeing was Disney's animated Robin Hood (1973), in which animals played the parts, including a Baloo-esque bear as Little John. It is not as praised as other Disney outings such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) or Beauty and the Beast (1991), but it is fun, with great, funny voice work from Sir Peter Ustinov as Prince John (who is a lion) and Terry-Thomas as his aide Sir Hiss (who's a snake).
But the most famous film version of the outlaw who robbed from the rich to feed the poor during the Crusades is The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), which its wonderful set pieces and Errol Flynn's Robin sword fighting with Sir Guy of Gisbourne, played by the great Basil Rathbone. The movie deservedly won Oscars for Art Direction, Film Editing and Erich Wolfgang Korngold's musical score.
There have been other film versions of Robin Hood, including a TV series which ran from 1955-1959. But, after Flynn's version, the most well-known version is probably Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves(1991), in which Kevin Costner played the title role. Costner himself was criticized for not sounding British, but other aspects of the movie were praised, including Alan Rickman's funny and scary turn as the Sheriff of Nottingham and Morgan Freeman's work as Robin's Moorish friend Azeem. Another nice touch was Sir Sean Connery's cameo as Richard the Lionheart at the movie's end. This gave celebrity cameos in films a good name because his presence was a delightful surprise for both the audience and the characters. It was also fitting because Connery played the role of Robin Hood himself 15 years earlier in Robin and Marian.
This version tells the story of the outlaw with a unique twist. It begins years after Robin thwarted the Sheriff (Robert Shaw) while romancing Maid Marian (Audrey Hepburn). Robin and Little John (Nicol Williamson) are now in France as the Crusades are reaching their end. They begin to express disapproval over the violent methods used by Richard (Richard Harris) when he needlessly slaughters the people inside a castle Richard mistakenly thinks houses a gold statue. After ordering Robin and John's incarceration, Richard is wounded before he carries out the killings.
Robin is later brought before the dying King, who attempts to kill him, but is too weak and, with his dying breath, releases Robin and Little John.
Following Richard's funeral, Robin decides that the time is right to return to England. Once there, they reunite with their friends Will Scarlet (Denholm Elliott) and Friar Tuck (Ronnie Barker), who inform him that Marian is now a nun. Robin and Little John head to the abbey she is at. Marian is surprised to see her former love but has no interest in reuniting with him, as she is ready to turn herself in to the Sheriff for going against the orders of King John (Ian Holm).
Robin saves Marian despite the pleas of both her and the Sheriff, neither of whom wish for any trouble to arise.
When they return to Sherwood Forest, Robin and Marian have a heart-to-heart in which she asks him if he really wants another conflict with the Sheriff on his hands. Robin replies by telling her an incident in which he and Little John witnessed Richard ordering the killing of many Muslims while the churchmen accompanying them praised the carnage as a sign of God's greatness. He then says that the only reason he didn't return to England at that point was out of his loyalty to Richard.
At the same time, the Sheriff's compatriot Sir Ranulf (Kenneth Haigh) leads troops into Sherwood to take Robin, despite the Sheriff's warnings that he won't succeed. Robin kills Ranulf's men and spares him with a hostile warning. He then tells Marian he simply wants to resume his life in Sherwood with her.
Robin's return also brings cheers from the populace, some of whom wish to join him. This leads to King John ordering the arrests and murders of many of them. During this, Little John kills Sir Ranulf.
Robin then realizes that the only way he can end this is to challenge the Sheriff to a duel. This duel ends with Robin being mortally wounded before vanquishing the Sheriff. Little John and Marian take her to her abbey to tend to his wounds. It is then that she clandestinely gives both Robin and herself poison. Anguished at first, Robin then realizes that he would not have been able to recover and Marian simply took the step that would ensure they'd always be together. He then aims an arrow out the window toward Sherwood and tells a tearful Little John to bury them where the arrow lands.
Fittingly, the last shot of the film is a P.O.V. shot of the arrow as it goes up in the air.
Needless to say, all the actors are letter perfect in their roles here. Connery and Hepburn in the title roles elevate this movie to one of the great movie love stories, right up there with Casablanca (1942), and has a nice, romantic John Barry score to match.
The two stars are matched by Williamson whose Little John is loyal to Robin without simply being 'the sidekick.' One of the most touching moments in the film, though, is when he tells Marian:
"If I was Robin, I never would have left you."
This notion of Little John being in love with someone who is attached to his best friend makes for a moving twist and makes Little John's sadness at the end of the picture even more poignant.
Harris's brief but memorable appearance as Richard is also great. Depending on who you ask, the real Richard was either a hero or a tyrant, so it's interesting that a Robin Hood movie paints him as the latter, especially when Connery's depiction of the character in Prince of Thieves was more heroic.
Also great is Shaw, whose Sheriff is that rarest of antagonists: thoughtful. Robin wishes to return to the glorious life he led before joining Richard, but the Sheriff does not necessarily wish to restart their old conflict. But he also believes that they are tied by destiny, hence his line to Sir Raulf when the latter proclaims Robin is a dead man:
"Yes, but not just anyone's. He's mine!"
Their climatic fight scene is also a highlight, without falling into the trap of simply being a redo of the fight scene between Connery and Shaw in From Russia With Love (1963), the second James Bond movie. That conflict, between Connery's 007 and Shaw's Grant, is, without a doubt the best mano-a-mano fight scene in movie history. Their fight in this film is just as memorable because the characters and the motivations are different (Robin and the Sheriff actually help each other get to their feet before their fight begins). In both films, their characters have nice dialogue exchanges prior to their fight scenes.
This movie also became noteworthy for marking Hepburn's return to the big screen after eight years. When he introduced the picture on Turner Classic Movies in 2002, Robert Osborne stated that Marian was her last great role.
In a way, this takes Robin, Marian and the others in a different direction the same way The Dark Knight (2008) took the character of Batman in a different direction. The key difference is that the ending to this picture is even more downbeat (even Prince of Thieves, with its gritty tone, has an ending that makes you smile).
Replace the well-known characters with people we never heard of and this picture may have been as successful as Love Story (1970). But the fact that this picture was a Robin Hood picture led to expectations from the public that it'd be a fun adventure (indeed, the original title was The Death of Robin Hood, but Columbia Pictures, which released the film, thought a title change would make it more marketable), especially since it was directed by Richard Lester, who previously scored with the one-two punch of The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974).
Hence, the film's bold decision to do something different with these beloved figures proved something of a double-edge sword as audiences were initially not inclined to see a film which didn't end with Robin and Marian living happily ever after.
But this film deserves credit for doing something different. It also aims to put a lump in your throat and succeeds wonderfully.