The longer cut of Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves surfaced on DVD a while back – but it doesn’t quite go in the way you may be expecting.
Light spoilers for Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves lie ahead.
Last week, I ended up in a conversation on social media about the 1991 movie Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. I don’t hide my love of Kevin Costner films, and this was one I watched repeatedly growing up (and once I was grown up). It was recommended too on last week’s Kermode & Mayo Film Review programme, where Doctor Kermode talked about the story of a very different cut of the film.
You may know the tale. The legend goes that an early cut of the movie had a lot more of the late, great Alan Rickman in the film, as the Sheriff Of Nottingham. But that it became clear Rickman was dominating and stealing the film, and thus it went back into the editing suite to reduce his screen time, and pop a bit more Costner back in. Nobody, to my record, has confirmed this who was involved in the film, but it’s one of those stories that’s also not been denied, and feels really rather plausible. The fact that director Kevin Reynolds was basically shut out of the editing room contributes to the legend, too. I talked about that in a Film Stories podcast episode, here.
Thing is, though, what really gives the story credence is the subsequent emergence of a second cut of the film. And it turned out from my social media chats at the end of last week that there’s a good number of people who aren’t aware of it.
Basically, in the early 2000s, the DVD market was in its prime. It was the proverbial licence to print money for movie studios, and the cash made by a DVD release comfortably offset a box office failure. It’s one reason why studios were able to make more ambitious films, because the DVD release offered the kind of commercial buffer that’s not there anymore.
One by-product is that studios also looked at ways to release popular catalogue titles more than once. There’s, for instance, a very slightly extended version of Con Air that came out, adding some stuff that in truth didn’t really add an iota to the movie.
But in the case of Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, Warner Bros duly revisited the movie for a two-disc special edition DVD release. And on it came the much-rumoured extended cut of the film. Thing is, whilst it confirmed the rumours of a version of the film with a lot more Rickman in it, he wasn’t the only addition.
Running to 155 minutes, the alternative cut added 12 minutes to the film, and instantly got it upgraded to a 12 certificate in the UK as a consequence. Although – given the number of complaints the BBFC received around the time of the film’s original release – even the original version is now a 12 as well. The problematic final act, involved a ‘comedy’ sequence of basically attempted sexual assault, certainly looks very different through modern eyes.
The extra 12 minutes don’t just bring in more Rickman, they add a darker tone to the film. It’d be fair to say it’s not material that plays for comedy.
The most substantive additions are three new scenes with the Sheriff and the Witch, where we learn more of the nature of their relationship. This isn’t the rollicking Rickman we get in the theatrical cut, either. As much as people tend to want a version of Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves with more of Rickman in full scene-gobbling villain mode, you don’t get that in the new footage really. You get stuff that darkens his character.
I’m trying to go spoiler-light, but the main new material actually adds a pretty overt satanic edge that perhaps was wisely trimmed from what was supposed to be a family blockbuster. For instance, there’s a ritual sequence – and it’s not the only one – around the half way point, that involves a cross, a skull and a dagger that’d take a bit of explaining to the anklebiters.
We also learn in the new scenes that the witch is in fact the Sheriff’s mother, and also we see her spying on what he’s up to around the castle. Some scenes in the movie are extended slightly as well,
If you really want the spoiler-y version of this, the best detailed breakdown of the differences that I’ve found is this one.
It should be noted too that the film was cut to get a PG rating in the first place in the UK. At the start of the film, some 14 seconds were chopped out, and the F-bomb uttered by Christian Slater removed (the story was that the F-bomb was only in there to make sure the film got at least a PG in the US). The opening sequence got cut further for the subsequent video release, and more seconds were taken out for a video reissue in 1995. In fact, it wasn’t until 2009 when the Blu-ray was released that the full theatrical cut could finally be seen on home formats in the UK.
As interesting as the new material is in the film, every time I watch the extended Robin Hood, I can’t help feeling that it jars, and turns it into a slightly different, tonally uneven movie. And that’s accepting the tone of the theatrical cut is not without a problem or two. That as much as people – me included – wanted a version with a lot more of Alan Rickman in it, what was actually put together certainly offers more of the great man, but in sequences that go off in a different direction.
In short, this is one of those instances where – for reasons of length and tone – I can understand why the trims were made. But that doesn’t make it any the less fascinating seeing how close Warner Bros came to releasing a big family blockbuster with a dollop of satanism around the edges of it.
The extended version isn’t tricky to get hold of if you’ve not had the pleasure, and you can find it right here. Best check it out first before showing it to the kids, though…
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