Robin Hood the Humanist

Classical, that is.  Not like liberal ‘men are gods’ humanist.  Actually he comes across as more of an opportunist, because most of the time he’s not philosophical enough to be the other.  Which is good, because I doubt any yeoman took philosophy seriously back then, but one wonders why he suddenly becomes so thoughtful toward the end.

Actually I saw “Robin Hood(2010)” in theatres sometime last spring, and saw it again on DVD last week.  But I couldn’t post last week for a complicated series of events involving ice, snow, and the front end of my car.  And the back end of another, though it was much less affected by the whole scenario.  I am now discovering the joys of body work and the costs thereof.  Obviously, with all that joyousness running around, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to post opinions on movies of 12th century archers.

Fortunately, I did have time to finish sending off grad school applications–the Very Last I ever hope to submit.  And go to a mystery play party with my brother and friends.  And finish off on the latest output of the Tolkien art kick I’m on.  Oh, speaking of which:

It’s a picture of the dwarves of Belegost, from the Silmarillion.  The Dwarves are fighting alongside the elves (yes, you read that right.  This was back in the day) in an incredibly epic battle against Sauron’s old boss.  The dwarves come up against the dragons, and actually drive them back.  This is the moment when the dwarf king Azaghal stabs into the chest of Glaurung, first of dragons.  It wounds the dragon and he retreats, along with his children.

Personally I don’t think it as good as the Thorin picture, but for some reason it’s become enormously popular over at my DeviantART account.  Which is always nice.

Still stuck on Discworld, though that’s starting to get depressing.  Now that I recognize the worldview, I realize how much of his ‘humor’ he actually means.  When you take some of his jokes seriously, they’re actually very disheartening.  I think I’ll write a review of that fairly soon.

Not this week though.  This week it’s Robin Hood.

Simply the picture should clue you in off the bat… this isn’t your ordinary Robin Hood movie.  There’s very little Lincoln green, golden beards, or even silver arrows involved.  Sherwood Forest is there, but they don’t do anything in it until the end of the movie.  As for King Richard… it happens right at the beginning, so it’s hardly a spoiler to tell you he dies.  And stays dead.  There’s no “return of King Richard to oust evil Prince John.”  No.  Prince John is KING John.  He’s the rightful ruler, even if he’s an idiot.

This is a considerably more historical version of Robin Hood than most (not that that’s saying much).  It very artfully and convincingly portrays the importance of the longbow in combat, specifically how raised the common archer to the importance of a knight (tactically speaking).  It works that in quite well with the practical historical result: the new importance of the common man, leading to the development of the Magna Carta.  There are various historical figures and events referred to throughout the course of the movie.

I can’t tell whether my gripes are in spite of this accuracy, or because of it.  When a movie gets so many facts right, the ones they get wrong are more dangerous, and, if you know your history, more glaring.  I can buy an ACTUAL French invasion as opposed to the one that was merely threatened, because there’s nothing exciting about political threats.  I can buy D-day like landing crafts and archers riding into battle on horseback.  I can even (with some reservations) buy Robin having a slightly modern view of Richard’s crusade.  Modern movie, modern political correctness.

What I CAN’T buy is Maid Marian showing up to battle in armor.  With a bunch of bandit boys on ponies.  WHAT.  Not only is that a tactically useless contribution, it’s mere presence is a historical anachronism.  Armor wouldn’t be made for ladies back then, and if it was, no lady in her right mind would even think of riding out in it.  Nor would any self-respecting man, like Robin, simply blow it off with “Very well, Locklesly, take your men (in the loose sense) and cover the left flank.”  No, no, no.

What’s worse is the funeral.  They have a funeral for one of the characters and they give him a pyre.  A PYRE.  In 12th century, Christian England, when pyres were considered pagan.  That’s not only obviously inaccurate, but pointless Hollywood alteration.  They did a pyre simply because EVERY medieval movie these days has pyres (except for, oh, Lord of the Rings).  You’d think in all the research on battles and armor and what-not, SOMEONE would have picked up that people in the 12th century didn’t burn their dead, as a matter of religion.

But then again, maybe that’s because to the movie industry at large, religion doesn’t matter.  Robin Hood, while getting a lot of the historical pressures behind the Magna Carta right, forgets the ONE pressure that gave the rebellion legitimacy–the church. King John was under interdict, THAT’S why the nobles felt they had a right to rebel against him.  A king rules because God gave him the right to, but if God (in the shape of the church) says he doesn’t have that right anymore, then all bets are off.  That was a crucial element of the pressures that forced John to act as he did.

None of this shows up in the movie.  King John mentions his ‘divine right,’ but only as an excuse to be unjust.  The church is there, but they’re largely cold, greedy misers (with the exception of the ‘un-churchy’ Friar Tuck).  Robin Hood declares the Crusade to be ‘godless.’  Richard the Lionheart DOES seem to be genuinely concerned with religious matters, but he dies too soon for them to be addressed.  The most religious statement we get in the whole is Robin’s statment: “It’d be bad luck to repay our good fortune with ill dues.”  I.E.  “This is karma, dudes.  We gotta pay for all this good luck.”

But this is unfair of me, because as I’ve said, these are more Hollywood problems than problems with this specific movie.  As a movie, it’s done very well and convincingly.  The villain is villainous, the hero is heroic and yet very human.  The heroine is to my mind a little overdone, but she too is likeable.  The characters themselves are rich and engaging.  King Richard is both a man AND a legend, King John is not so much villainous as petty.  And the plot interesting on many levels.  And the message of the movie–that rulers derive their power from the people–is a sound enough moral, one that most people agree with.  If this movie did not reference so much history, I should be much less annoyed.  But, ironically, I would also be less interested, as it’s mostly the historical connections that make the story so cool.  The movie “National Treasure” comes to mind.

Watch this movie.  At least once, maybe more.  Buy it, even, though I’m not sure I would.  But try also to acquaint yourself with the real story of the Magna Carta, and stay aware of what the movie gets wrong.

One thought on “Robin Hood the Humanist

  1. I thought Robin hood was a fox?Its a shame Hollywood is so deeply ingrained in their culture. A lot of movies could be much better if Hollywood didn’t have to preach their worldview through them. Its perhaps one of the reason I just don’t like watching movies anymore, they tend to be trashy and the ones that aren’t trashy are preach a message I believe is wrong.Perhaps what is equally a shame is how terrible Christian movies are. I applaud the efforts of Christians to make movies with a wholesome message, but they tend to suffer from bad writing, bad acting and too much message. Fireproof comes to mind, it had better acting than most, though there were a few scenes that stuck out as terrible.  The story was also well done, but in the end, after the main characters have saved their message and the moral of the story is complete, it goes on an unnecessary tangent about honoring your parents. A good message, but it came out of no where and felt rather forced.Anyway, interesting review. Maybe I’ll watch it at some point. – Lord Platypus


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