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Arts and Culture

The Evolution of Robin Hood

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Posted on May 11, 2010
Russell Crowe
David Appleby / Universal Studios

As yet another retelling of the Robin Hood tale—this time a burly, violent version, courtesy of “Gladiator” director Ridley Scott and star Russell Crowe—rumbles into theaters this weekend, Salon’s Graham Fuller takes stock of the changing story arcs and styles across the many on-screen depictions of the fabled Sherwood Forest socialist.  —KA


In all, Robin Hood has featured in around 50 live-action films, 15 TV series and 15 cartoons. Five were made in the early silent period before Allan Dwan’s 1922 Douglas Fairbanks vehicle set a benchmark for flamboyance. It’s a wildly uneven film, ranging from the monotonously ceremonial to the absurd, with the acrobatic star proving giddy to the point of clownish. Inarguably the one masterpiece in the canon, Michael Curtiz’s swashbuckler “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938) starring Errol Flynn implied a comparison between Prince John’s cruelty toward the Saxon peasants with Nazi atrocities in Europe. However, with its chemically bright Technicolor palette, majestic Erich Korngold score and Flynn’s gentrified Robin in sequined Lincoln green, it is wholly artificial, a fantasy extrapolated less from the 15th-century ballads, in which Robin is often brutal, than from 16th-century plays and bucolic Victorian renderings.

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Tennessee-Socialist's avatar

By Tennessee-Socialist, May 13, 2010 at 5:48 pm Link to this comment


After reading Audrey Anton’s The Nietzschean Influence in The Incredibles and the Sidekick Revolt (found within “The Amazing Transforming Superhero! Essays on the Revision of Characters in Comic Books, Film and Television”), it has become incredibly clear that being super in a Hollywood blockbuster certainly does not entail possessing super powers. Rather, as Friedrich Nietzsche would argue, being super is the byproduct of class stratification—the inherent relation between those who are superior and those who are not. Nietzsche entitled these superior people the noblemen and the non-superior peoples the commoners, or the slaves. Nietzsche claimed that the noblemen possessed significant abilities and talents that the commoners did not, and that they were ordained with a relatively strong “will to power,” which Nietzsche believed was what partitioned the two classes. Without this partition, he argued, society would descend into widespread mediocrity. I aim to apply these views in the context of Brad Bird’s 2004 The Incredibles (and, I will then urge you to do the same to your own favorite superhero film): In The Incredibles, the superior humans—or the “supers”—are those who possess the ability to do fantastic, unnatural things—such as infinitely stretching their bodies, lifting up cars high in the air, and running fast enough to glide above water. Meanwhile, the commoners appear to be those who do not possess such super powers.

In The Incredibles, the supers are in an interesting predicament. In “the old days,” they were revered by all and were an active part of society—performing good deeds and helping those in need. Soon after, however, the commoners turned and labeled the supers as unwanted showoffs. The supers became the embodiments of the commoners’ own shortcomings. As Anton points out, “originally, superheroes provided ideals to live up to…now [the commoners] resent such greatness.” In effect, the commoners’ ceasing to celebrate the “superheroic nobility” of the superiors is what forced the supers to cease celebrating it as well. This “slave revolt,” according to Nietzsche, was absolutely inevitable. Once publicly using super powers was outlawed by the (The Incredibles’) government, the supers were forced to blend seamlessly into society. This blending forced these noblemen to descend down to the commoners’ level, and behave and think in a similar, slavish manner; Elastigirl’s (Mr. Incredible’s super-stretchy wife) suppression of her desire to do heroic things is paralleled in her conversation with her disenchanted son, Dash: “the world just wants us to fit in.” In contrast to the Nietzschean ideal of embracing all that makes one noble, these supers—in light of the revolt—decide to forgo what makes them superior in order to avoid distinction. Mr. and Mrs. Incredible, for example, refuse to let Dash (who can achieve super-human speeds) run track at school for fear of him being too much better than his competitors. This dumbing down of the noblemen is what Nietzsche argued would be the one and only path to mediocrity—since, conversely, the slaves would never be able to rise up to the level of the noblemen.


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Tennessee-Socialist's avatar

By Tennessee-Socialist, May 13, 2010 at 5:33 pm Link to this comment

Hugo Chavez is a modern Robin Hood.  The thing with many americans who are into movies like these, and who love legends and heroes, that many americans do not adopt into their own lives the heroic tragical attitude of rebels of doing what’s right to save society.  Americans are very legalists, moralists, rational and conservative.  Even though people in USA love hero movies, they are not real heroes in their own lives.

Thats because 90% of the people’s lives in the USA evolve around working, cooking and chores

you can’t be a hero if u gotta spend all your energies working, driving, cooking and mowing lawns



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By Mike, May 13, 2010 at 8:20 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m a big fan of Ridley Scott but this looks like a rehash of Gladiator. Hope I’m wrong.

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By hidflect, May 12, 2010 at 6:25 am Link to this comment

Crowe has proven his hard-hitting communication skills with the common peon via multiple media formats such as; screaming-infused inchoate rages, thrown telephones, fisticuffs, and of course… the character withering, dead-eye stare accompanied by long unpleasant silence. That’s why he’s still popular. So playing Robin Hood could be a clever piece of casting…

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By kerryrose, May 12, 2010 at 3:26 am Link to this comment

Good idea, gerard!  That is a movie (reality) I would like to see.

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By gerard, May 11, 2010 at 9:26 pm Link to this comment

Who will write the updated screen play in which modern Robin Hoods and their Merrie Men and Women figure out ways to pry open the coffers of our modern-day corporate thieves and pull out billions to give back to the poor struggling hordes in need of food, clothing, shelter and decent health care? 

It will make a great story—maybe even a box-office hit—maybe even a workable paradigm for political reform and re-democratization.

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