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Blu-ray Reviews

Robin of Sherwood: Set One Blu-ray

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#1 of 1 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

Richard Gallagher

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Posted June 05 2011 - 02:15 PM

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Robin of Sherwood: Set One

Studio: Acorn Media
Year: 1984-1985
Rated: Not Rated
Program Length: 700 minutes (approximate)               Aspect Ratio: 1.33.1 1080p
Languages: English, Polish Dolby Digital 2.0; English Mono
Subtitles: English, Polish

The Program

Robin of Sherwood is an ambitious, lavishly produced British television series which aired on the ITV network from 1984-1986 (in the United States it was re-titled Robin Hood and was shown on Showtime and PBS). In several respects it is highly original and even audacious. As many people know, the legend of Robin Hood - in film, television programs, and books - has taken different forms. Depending upon the source material, Robin Hood either is a peasant turned outlaw or the son of a wronged aristocrat. The most unique characteristic of Robin of Sherwood it that it embraces both legends.

Although the series ran for three seasons, the dichotomy of the two legends has led Acorn Media to split the series into two parts, each comprised of thirteen episodes. Season One, which debuted in the spring of 1984, consists of one double episode and four single episodes. Season Two, which debuted in December, 1984, consists of one double episode and five single episodes. All of the episodes from the first two seasons are included in this Blu-ray set. The thirteen episodes from Season Three are scheduled to be released in the future as Set Two.

The Robin Hood who appears in Set One is Robin of Locksley (Michael Praed). As the young son of a peasant Saxon farmer, Robin saw his father killed and his village burned in an effort by the Norman lords to both quell a rebellion and annex desirable land. Robin's father also possessed a mysterious silver arrow which purportedly has supernatural powers. As the years pass and Robin grows into a self-assured young man, he and the son of his adoptive father are arrested and imprisoned for poaching after they are discovered in possession of a slain deer on the crown's property. While incarcerated Robin leads several other prisoners in a daring escape, and they flee to the safety of Sherwood Forest. Along the way Robin meets many of the characters who are well-known who those who are familiar with his Merry Men - Little John (Clive Mantle), Will Scarlet (Ray Winstone), Friar Tuck (Phil Rose) and Robin's female interest, Marion (Judi Trott). Robin's deadly adversaries include the Sheriff of Nottingham (nicely played by Nickolas Grace).

The series incorporates several new wrinkles to the saga, not all of which I am enamored with. The most troubling to me is the show's emphasis on sorcery, mysticism and supernatural powers. Robin is encouraged to take up arms by Herne the Hunter, a ghostly apparition who lives in the forest and wears antlers on his head. The character of Herne first appeared in Shakespeare's "The Merry Wives of Windsor" as the keeper of Windsor Forest, and to my knowledge Robin of Sherwood is the first time he has been associated with Sherwood Forest. It seems to me that the saga of oppressed people rebelling against despotic rulers is sufficiently compelling that it does not need the introduction of the supernatural, which plays as more a gimmick than an integral plot device.

That said, there is much to like about Robin of Sherwood. The series was filmed on location in the castles, forests and countryside of England, and those locations are gorgeous and stunning. The combat scenes are well-choreographed and mostly devoid of gore. The acting is uniformly excellent, although Michael Praed (who is best-known in the United Kingdom for his television work) is adequate but will not make anyone forget about Errol Flynn. Set Two promises a very different look at the legend, as Robin of Locksley is replaced by the nobleman Robert of Huntingdon (Jason Connery). Anyone who is a fan of the Robin Hood character is sure to enjoy this series. Over the years we have seen numerous incarnations of the Sherwood Forest outlaw, portrayed by (among others) the likes of Errol Flynn, Richard Todd, Richard Greene, Sean Connery, Kevin Costner, and Russell Crowe. I have seen all of them, and I still find myself coming back for more.

The Video

This Blu-ray transfer of Robin of Sherwood preserves the show's original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The picture is generally very sharp and detailed, and overall looks extremely good for a television series which was filmed more than 25 years ago. The color palette favors the lush greens of the English countryside and is both vivid and accurate. Contrasts are generally strong and shadow detail is very good in the interior scenes, which appear to have been filmed under low lighting conditions. I observed no evidence of excessive DNR or digital enhancement. I did not see this series on television back in the eighties, but I am certain that it has never looked better than this Blu-ray presentation.

The Audio

The audio is surprisingly strong and effective. Purists may wish to stay with the original mono soundtrack, although to my ears the stereo mix provides more punch and some nice directionality. The music score by the Irish band Clannad is highly regarded and this set includes music-only soundtracks for four episodes. American viewers may find it helpful to engage the English subtitles to decipher some of the heavier British accents.

The Supplements

This Blu-ray edition contains a vast array of extras, most of which are found on a "bonus" DVD. Five of the episodes include commentary tracks by series creator Richard Carpenter, producer Paul Knight, and director Ian Sharp. There is a 37-minute behind the scenes documentary and a photo gallery of almost 500 still images in high definition.

The DVD contains the rest of the extras, some of which apparently have been ported over from the prior DVD release. Included are two documentaries about the making of both Series One and Series Two, with a running time of 102 minutes (I did not preview the Series Two documentary on the assumption that it probably contains spoilers). Featurettes about three episodes are labeled as new. There also is a collection of outtakes which runs for 16 minutes, and a series of textless and foreign credit sequences.

The DVD can be popped into a PC to access PDF files which contain promotional materials, several scripts, and Richard Carpenter's original story treatment.

Also included is a 40-page booklet by Simon Wells which exhaustively covers the history and production of the series.

The Packaging

The three Blu-ray discs and the DVD disc of extras, as well as the booklet, are packaged in a flipper Blu-ray case which is of standard height and is slightly wider than a regular Blu-ray keep case.

The Final Analysis

Robin of Sherwood is a highly original and welcome addition to the pantheon of Robin Hood adventures. While the show's emphasis on sorcery does not particularly appeal to me, others may well find that aspect of it to be highly enjoyable. In any event, I am looking forward to Part Two with anticipation.

Equipment used for this review:

Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specification by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable

Release Date: June 7, 2011


Rich Gallagher