ONE LOOK AT FOX'S "Robin Hood" and you know this is an extraordinary TV movie. There's a simple reason for that -- it cost $15 million, about five times the amount usually spent on films for the small screen.
And a lot of that money is visible, not in salaries paid to big stars, but in sumptuous location filming and impeccable attention to period detail. This "Robin Hood' has a look that makes you wish you were watching it on a big screen.
Which is exactly the way the rest of the world will see it. And that's why Fox could spend so much money on it. It can get a big splash for its network in the United States and make the bucks back in theater ticket sales around the world.
And without the complications of a promotional campaign to support a domestic theatrical release, it allows Fox to win the race with the Kevin Costner Robin Hood film, "Prince of Thieves," due out June 14.
Actually, despite the age of this traditional story, this "Robin Hood" was made for that Fox target audience -- the young viewers -- because they are the type who are most likely to have a big-screen TV with its stereo sound hooked up to their hi-fi
speakers, exactly what you need to appreciate this film.
"Robin Hood" will be on Channel 45 (WBFF) tonight at 8 o'clock, though if you just can't wait, Washington's Channel 5 (WTTG) is starting it a half hour earlier. Running time is 2 1/2 hours.
Appropriately, the film begins in the forest as a poacher kills a deer and then, carrying the buck on his back, flees the approaching hunters of the local royalty. Joining him in flight are all the animals of the woods.
Thus the lines are drawn between the simple folk who would co-exist with nature and harvest its bounty and those who would seek to claim ownership of it.
Under John Irvin's skilled direction, the camera takes you through the mist and wilderness as a stirring score supports the action. Inevitably, the chase culminates in a confrontation between the would-be master of the land and the about-to-become Robin Hood, who saves the poacher from a brutal death.
Patrick Bergin, an Irish actor who was the bad-guy husband in "Sleeping with the Enemy," is Robin. He plays this legendary character not with the melodramatic, --ing flair of an Errol Flynn, but with a nonchalant, unconscious charisma.
This Robin's high birth gave him a natural nobility, but he never developed the oft-accompanying arrogance. He's a born leader who realizes that position means no additional authority, just more responsibility, and comes complete with an earthy, accessible side that makes him a perfect populist.
One of the main thrusts of this "Robin Hood" is to root the legend, as much as possible, in history. Not surprisingly, the character did not arise strictly from the class warfare that has usually accompanied 20th century re-tellings of his tales, but from the fertile ground of tribal
Those clashes were between the Saxons, who claimed England as their native soil, and the conquering Normans from Europe. So this Robin Hood does not fight the Sheriff of Nottingham. His enemies are a couple of guys with French-sounding last names.
At the beginning, Sir Robin of Hode is seen as a good friend with the Normanho now claims his land, a man named Daguerre. But when his guest, Miles Folcanet, crosses Robin, Daguerre, forced to choose sides, takes up for his Norman brother and declares Robin outside the law, an outlaw. It has been arranged, by the way, for Folcanet to marry one Marian, niece of Daguerre.
Jeroen Krabbe is Daguerre and Jurgen Prochnow is Folcanet. Uma Thulin, so beguiling in "Dangerous Liaisons," plays Maid Marian.
The 20th century conceit that is projected onto this story is that Robin is not warring for the Saxons against the Normans, he is espousing peace and harmony, declaring that both peoples can live together on this land. The Robin-Marian relationship is a "Romeo and Juliet" style romance designed to prove that very point.
But, while all this is playing out in a picaresque sort of story, you get to see Robin fight Little John on a log across a bridge, #F demonstrate his skill with a bow, gather together his band of merry men who live in the caves of Sherwood Forest, take on Friar Tuck, who is a caricature of a corrupt church, and, yes, steal from the rich and give to the poor.
Along the way, there's a great deal of sword play -- including a an improbable but entertaining fight at a wedding that is the way "The Graduate" would have ended had it been a medieval morality tale -- but just as many battles are cleverly fought with wordplay.
From misty start to melodramatic finish, it's a feast for the eyes, spiced with a -- of history, that, most importantly, is a whole lot of fun.
"Robin Hood" *** An authentic-feeling re-telling of this ancient myth that has our hero and his band of merry men battling the oppressive Norman invaders on behalf of his Saxon brethren.
CAST: Patrick Bergin, Uma Thulin
TIME: Tonight at 8 p.m.
.` CHANNEL: Fox Channel 45 (WBFF)