There’s not an ounce of history in Adventures of Robin Hood, and why should there be? This is a fantastical, whimsical, and wildly energetic approach to the legend of Robin Hood, more colorful than many of the cartoons based on this same story.
Errol Flynn is the perfect Robin Hood, with a face that instantly generates the distinction of the “dashing hero,” perfect for this tale of overthrowing the corrupt king. It’s as simple as they come, the overtaxed Saxons sick of the treatment, and Robin Hood springing forth with his own solution.
The film is loaded with extravagant sets, lush costumes, and countless extras. Scenes that were dropped for budgetary reasons would have been staggering to see on screen, but what’s here is a feast for the eyes. It has all of the hallmarks of classic Hollywood, the frenzied, beautifully choreographed fight scenes tamed with the right amount of romance, Olivia de Havilland taking the role of Maid Marian.
The money tossed at this production, going over budget at $2 million to become what was then the most expensive film in Warner’s history, shows on screen. The castle sets are expansive, the backgrounds are littered with extras, and the battle scenes contain some superlative choreography. While Errol Flynn may remain the focal point, the fight behind him is the key to setting the scale and intensity. When it comes down to a one-on-one brawl, the swordfights are beautiful in a way, even if a bent sword becomes apparent due to some tense sparring.
Shot on location in various California locales and studio lots, this period piece never loses its place in time, believable as a 12th century epic, and those costumes don’t hurt either. The Technicolor adds to its true beauty though, the intensity of that process so stunning on screen as to bring new life to everything. The film wouldn’t be the same without it.
It’s certainly the richness of the Technicolor that is preserved so beautifully in this Blu-ray, a truly respectful effort than ranks amongst the most colorful discs on the market. You can really appreciate how this was shot with color in mind, King Richard and his men wearing specifically shaded cloaks around 1:17:00. Each hue is more brilliant than the last. The exquisite forest photography is loaded with shades of greens, each jaw droppingly beautiful in their own right. Maid Marian wears a variety of outfits throughout, increasing in complexity and in their beauty with regards to this encode.
The disc was released in 2008, and its age has begun to show in terms of compression. The VC-1 codec doesn’t keep up too well in extremely complex shots, requiring a little more room to work as well as it should. Foreground plants in the forest carry precision definition, while those off in the distance collapse a bit into compression. It doesn’t bother close-ups, the lack of facial detail having more to do with the slight lighting effects, at times blooming, than anything else. It’s there to add to the near fairy tale-like setting, and it works wonders.
What is maintained when the camera moves close is the detail of those costumes. Beyond their extravagant color likes fine craftsmanship, hand-crafted pieces with immense detailing. Those patterns, with all of their colors, are presented flawlessly here. Simpler textures, like thick wool on the cape at 26:57, remain visible too.
Black levels establish a deep dimensionality to the image, while the contrast never proves overbearing. The print itself is in excellent shape, scenes with extensive damage able to be counted on one hand. Most of it is limited to slight white specks that pass instantly, a white line barely even noticeable during a forest fight being the worst of it. Judder and flicker are never an issue. Grain fluctuates from natural to conspicuously absent or simply well rendered. A processed, digital look is rare, Robin Hood a bit smooth at 19:07, although still somewhat natural.
Warner skimps on the audio, providing a paltry Dolby Digital mono mix. The drums are where the compression proves most evident, a rather muddy attempt at a treble-heavy low-end that fails miserably.
Dialogue fares a bit better, certainly suffering from minimal distortion, and sticking to a fairly clean level of fidelity. All of the lines are audible, if a bit low in terms of balance. The score can really ratchet up in a few spots. Sword clashes are are certainly not the cleanest piece of audio you’ll ever hear, although their slightly scratchy, digital quality is tolerable.
Any hiss or popping has been removed, and the effect on the fidelity seems to have been nill. Any issue there is purely the fault of the compression as far as what can be heard. It’s great to see the video treated so well; it;’s a shame the same can’t be said for the audio.
The list of extras is simply exhaustive. A commentary track by Rudy Behlmer is great, although he provides a lot of other information in the other featurettes and documentaries. An intro by Leonard Maltin begins a series of extras known at “A Night at the Movies,” which looks to replicate the experience of seeing a film in 1938 with a newsreel, cartoon, short film, and a trailer. Two classic Looney Tunes shorts based on Robin Hood are included, and with that Merrie Melodies in the prior section, make for three pieces of classic animation in HD on this disc, and they are simply incredible to look at.
A series of outtakes from 1938 Warner films is included, followed by A Cavalcade of Archery, a vintage featurette pertaining to the film. The Cruise of Zaca is an 18-minute short featuring Errol Flynn off the set and visiting a certain location.
Glorious Technicolor is the first documentary, running an hour and hosted by Angela Lansbury. This covers the history of the process and its benefits. Welcome to Sherwood is another nearly hour-long look at Adventures of Robin Hood, filled with interviews. Robin Hood Through the Ages looks at previous attempts to bring the legend to the screen, this trailed by a collection of behind-the-scenes footage shot on 16 mm. A collection of deleted scenes is up next, with a promo gallery, radio retelling, isolated score, and music collection finishing this disc.