Acorn Media’s newest release is Robin of Sherwood Set 1. Already available on DVD, this release brings the British drama series to Blu-ray, and includes all 13 episodes of Series 1 and Series 2 in a four-disc set. Though the picture is 4:3, as television shows were filmed then, it is presented here in 1080p. Some of the bonus materials are 16:9 widescreen, but they are in 480p.
The series is based on the Robin Hood legends and fables from hundreds of years ago, featuring the famous rebel who lives in Sherwood Forest with a gang of like-minded men. They steal from the rich and give to the poor, though that phrase isn’t uttered exactly in these episodes. Shown under the title Robin Hood in the United States, these episodes originally ran in 1984 and 1985. The film has been remastered for Blu-ray.
Robin of Sherwood follows the adventures of Robin of Loxley a.k.a. Robin in the Hood (Michael Praed, Timewatch, Dynasty) as he gathers a group of merry men and tries to bring justice to England from his hideout deep in the forest. Unlike many versions of the famous tale, this Robin must deal with magic, from sorcery and curses, to possessions and pagan rituals. He is tapped by Herne the Hunter (John Abineri), a man who dresses as a half deer. The local serfs pray to Herne, considering him Protector of the Realm.
Robin is aided by the lovely, but tough, Maid Marion (Judi Trott), whom he marries early in the series. This Marion can shoot an arrow and help out in a fight. She’s one of the boys, although Robin and Friar Tuck (Phil Rose) look after her a bit more. The Friar can handle himself when the soliders attack, and both he and Marion are sometimes shown as a liability, but they are also every bit as much a part of the team as any of the men.
Speaking of the band of Merry Men, the group includes four characters additional main members. Although others show up as extras, most of them are killed in battle. Much (Peter Llewellyn Williams) is Robin’s meek adopted brother, sometimes referred to as the half wit, and who tends to stay near the edges of the fight. Short tempered Will Scarlet (Ray Winstone, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Departed) butts heads with Robin when he disagrees on the leader’s decisions. Giant Little John (Clive Mantle) is possessed when Robin first meets him, but after John is freed from the spell, the tender-hearted man becomes a loyal follower. Finally, Nasir (Mark Ryan, the new Transformers movies), a character invented just for this series, is a mysterious Palestinian who can wield two swords at once.
It’s a rag tag crew, to be sure, but they persevere against mightier enemies than themselves again and again. Even when the villagers are ungrateful, they still help. The Merry Men may bicker and argue, but they also play and practice together, and will do anything for each other. Members of the group break off from time to time, especially Scarlett, but always return when they are needed. All are willing to risk their lives to save their fellows, even when it seems hopeless.
The Merry Men have their work cut out for them, as there are intelligent, dangerous enemies for them to face. The slightly insane Sheriff of Nottingham (Nickolas Grace, An Ideal Husband, Brideshead Revisited) is a frequent thorn in their side, as is his dim-witted minion, Sir Guy of Gisburne (Robert Addie, Excalibur, Intimacy). The two are in most of the episodes, and wish to kill the band whenever they show themselves.
Other bad guys come and go. Perhaps most telling about the level of caliber of these guest stars is that they are often put into the opening credits. Of all the regular characters mentioned above, only Robin and the Sheriff make it into the theme song, but most episodes contain another name or two as well. That’s because top notch performers play friend and foe alike in this series. One of the most memorable is John Rhys Davies (Lord of the Rings) as King Richard, who does not save the day, but seeks to use Robin and his men for his own motives.
Honestly, all of the cast is terrific. Each one of the recurring parts have depth and development as the story goes along. Not a single hero or villain is a black and white part. The Merry Men have their faults that get them into trouble. Sometimes their enemies let them escape for one reason or another. While the Sheriff would like to kill the whole Sherwood band, they are not his primary focus day in and day out. Similarly, the Merry Men don’t sit around plotting to oust the ruler of Nottingham, but instead, live their lives, and do their ambush robberies. Such people would not feel realistic without great performers behind them. A facial expression often means as much as witty dialogue.
The magic may seem a little hokey at first, owing to old style special effects, but it informs the story, and almost all of it is based on local legends from the area or historical fact. Plus, since it isn’t usually done, it adds a neat extra element to set this versions apart from the many other incarnations out there. The creators of Robin of Sherwood take great pains to ensure a series as authentic to the time and place it is set as possible, and they overwhelming succeed.
The story holds up wonderfully. There is no boredom to be had, and the same scripts could be used today on a cable channel willing to take a chance on a risky, original series. Which is what happened in the 1980s when the show was made. Unlike many, many other shows out there, it’s still easy to enjoy thirty years later.
The scenery is beautiful. While not coming across as crisp as most high definition programming seen today, for a series nearly three decades old, it’s amazing it looks as good as it does. Individual leaves can be picked out in the lush, green forest, and the stonework looks incredibly raw and real. Clearly, much work has gone into restoring a picture to the best ability of current technology, and it pays off. Watching Robin of Sherwood is a delightful experience, rarely plagued with the grainy images seen on old shows, and therefor, easier to lose oneself in than most. In fact, while the film does somewhat show its age, the colors are crisp and clear. There is no fading or washed out looks. The only time the visual gets a bit outdated is during the magical scenes where reds, whites, or blues may overtake everything else. But this is done for effect, not because the quality is bad.
The sound is even better. Each bird chirping comes through like a bell, and the surround sound capabilities, matched with the setting, make the viewer feel like they are actually in Sherwood Forest. It’s only Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, but honestly, it feels like more, and it really pulls you in in a way few films I have watched do. I could not say if the effects are newly recorded or somehow restored, but sound perfect.
Musically, the soundtrack leaves something to be desired. This is personal opinion, as it won a BAFTA and sold tons of soundtracks in its day. It is entirely recorded by the Irish band Clannad. To my ears, it sounds dated and retro, and would never work as is if Robin of Sherwood were made today. That being said, the melodies, while performed on instruments that sometimes sound like they are from the 1980’s, do match the medieval time period in which the show is set.
If you are looking for special features, there are many, and they are varied. Production stills from both series have been remastered in HD. There are commentaries by Richard Carpenter, Ian Sharp, and Paul Knight, the creator, a oft-used director, and a producer, respectively, on five of the episodes. There are outtakes from both series, and documentaries about making them, nearly an hour long a piece. Shorter featurettes are included for those not wanting to spend so much time, and have some of the cast heaping praise on their co-stars. There is an expanded episode of The Electric Theatre Show as it goes on the set.
And that’s not all. Besides those things to look at on the discs, a forty page booklet telling the story behind Robin of Sherwood is also included. Pop the Bonus Disc into your computer, and you can look at Carpenter’s original story treatment, some scripts, and PR materials. All in all, it’s hard to be disappointed with so much. One is left feeling they really get to know the show, not just watch the episodes. It is an immersive experience, if you want it to be.
A third series of thirteen episodes was made, and hopefully will be released as Set 2. Go out and buy Robin of Sherwood Set 1 today on Blu-ray.