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Friday, February 12, 2010

BEYOND SHERWOOD FOREST -- DVD review by porfle

After having recently watched the third season of the British TV series "Robin Hood", I found SyFy Channel's BEYOND SHERWOOD FOREST to be woefully bland and uninspired by comparison. Even the fact that it has a big, dumb bad-CGI dragon flying around doesn't help.

In a flashback, young Robin Hood watches as the dragon kills the Sheriff of Nottingham and is felled by arrows from his father and the Sheriff's successor, Malcolm (Julian Sands). Wounded, the creature reverts to its true form, that of a naked woman named Alina (Katharine Isabelle, GINGER SNAPS, FREDDY VS. JASON, CARRIE remake) with hyper regenerative powers. Malcolm wants to capture her in hopes that he can use her blood to give himself immortality, and when Robin's dad objects, Malcolm kills him.

Jump forward a couple of decades, and it's the old story of Robin stealing from the rich and giving to the poor while Malcolm, now the evil Sheriff of Nottingham, struggles endlessly to capture him and gain the favor of the equally-evil Prince John. He orders Alina, whose still-beating heart he holds hostage in a jar, to find Robin and his merry men and kill them. Robin, meanwhile, sets off on a quest to enter the mystical Dark Woods (from which Alina was banished as a child) and find the Keepers of the Trees, who possess a plant which can neutralize her dragon powers and make her mortal.

You're probably well aware that "Robin Hood" stories don't usually feature stuff like sorcerers and flying dragons, but this is SyFy and they have to squeeze some wince-inducing CGI in there somewhere. The idea that somewhere in Sherwood Forest there's this big floating doorway into the Dark Woods which has somehow escaped the notice of the general public for several years is equally farfetched, and the thought of Robin Hood and his small and lackluster band of Merry Men wandering around in there trying to locate the "Keepers of the Trees" struck me as a pretty non-thrilling quest.

Besides Little John and Will Scarlett running into some typically bad-CGI wolves along the way, their lengthy encounter with these robed bores is about as enchanting as a Rotary Club meeting. ("It is the law of the woods," their leader informs Robin at one point, to which he responds, "Where I come from, it is the men who make the laws...not the trees.") Later, they get captured by the Sheriff's men and, after the usual clever escape from jail, have it out with the bad guys as Robin and Malcolm go at it sword-to-sword in desultory fashion. To make things worse, our hero performs rather unheroically during this battle and comes off as a decidedly smaller-than-life character.

With his fussily-trimmed beard, costume-like clothing, and less than rugged demeanor, Robin Dunne makes one of the least impressive Robin Hoods ever. Mark Gibbon is a passable Little John (although both he and Katharine Isabelle currently fail to list this film on their IMDb pages), while Richard de Klerk's Will Scarlett reminds me of a belligerent Gilligan. Erica Durance makes a nice-looking Maid Marian, but since this is a "modern" retelling she is given the fighting skills of a warrior woman and further diminishes our hero by besting him with a staff.

As Prince John, David Richmond-Peck does a fairly good job although he resembles a grown-up version of Butch from "Our Gang" and falls far short of Toby Stephens' delightful interpretation of the character in the recent TV series. Julian Sands, of course, does his best as the Sheriff but can't manage to rise above the dull script (which boasts such anachronistic lines as "I've taken out an insurance policy") and murky, unappealing production values.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Surround 5.1, with English subtitles. A "making-of" featurette and a trailer are the extras.

Okay if there's nothing else to watch but hardly worth going out of your way to see, BEYOND SHERWOOD FOREST is a lackluster effort that may leave you pining for Errol Flynn, or even Kevin Costner.

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