Posted: 06/07/2011

 

Robin of Sherwood: Set 1 on Blu-ray

(1984-85)

by Jef Burnham




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This 3 Blu-ray plus bonus DVD set, now available from Acorn Media, collects all 13 episodes of the first two series of this classic retelling of the Robin Hood tale and more than 8 hours of special features. Marked by meticulously varied pacing and some of the highest production values of any program at that point to date, Robin of Sherwood brought a cinematic approach to serial television programming that is impressive even by today’s standards. And although this review marks my second viewing of this series, I find that subsequent viewings only further justify my high esteem for Robin of Sherwood.

The brilliance of this retelling of Robin Hood (considered by many to be the definitive retelling, and rightfully so) is that, in addition to its comprehensive utilization of the two primary variations of the tale, the series incorporates a religious element that transforms Robin’s quest into a holy one. In the series’ opening two-parter, Robin becomes the vassal of Herne the Hunter, a Pagan forest god; and his merry men become the cult followers of Robin as demi-god. This does not, however, take away from the story of Robin Hood in any way, and serves instead to flesh the story out into something worthy of serialization. Indeed often the relationship between Robin and Herne is represented by little more than a passing mention, while other times Robin is aided in his protection of the English people with visions from Herne.

In the overall scope of the series, this sets Robin and his men in spiritual, as well as ideological, contrast with the church-sanctioned government oppressing the common man. To represent said government, series creator Richard Carpenter provides Robin with something of the ideal unholy triumvirate of foes in the form of the detestable Sheriff of Nottingham, his equally corrupt brother Abbot Hugo, and his lieutenant, Sir Guy of Gisbourne— representing the law, the church, and military might. If I have any one complaint about the series, I suppose it would be that, while there is indeed a loose throughline, the series is mostly episodic in nature with the individual episodes doing little to advance the story arc. Instead the majority of the story’s major advancements are represented by a small handful of episodes. But this shortcoming is far out-weighed by the series’ virtues.

Now, if any television program is worthy of a Blu-ray transfer, this classic series is surely it. And Acorn’s HD transfer of the 16mm film stock on which Robin of Sherwood was shot proves that 35mm isn’t the only format deserving of the HD treatment. Honestly, the only noticeable difference between the two formats in their transfer to HD is that 16mm is necessarily characterized by more prominent film grain, which is a significant plus for those who appreciate film. Furthermore, the film stock of Robin of Sherwood has held up phenomenally over the years with only the occasional scratch, making for a stunning HD image— one that is most striking when the action takes us to the exteriors of the forests and fields of England. As such, I’m sorry to report to those of you who already shelled out the $80 for Acorn’s previous standard definition releases of Robin of Sherwood that, to me, this is an absolutely necessary upgrade.

In addition to the 8 hours of special features, this set includes an impressive 40-page booklet, containing a single absorbing essay with extensive production notes by writer/researcher Simon Wells. Special features on the Blu-ray discs include:
-5 episode commentaries by series creator Richard Carpenter, director Ian Sharp, and producer Paul Knight;
-Behind-the-scenes documentary, The Electric Theatre Show, upgraded and expanded from the original series (36 min.);
-HD photo galleries with nearly 500 images (24 min.);
and
-Music-only tracks for four episodes.

The bonus, special features DVD prominently features the remastered two-part documentary Nothing’s Forgotten: The Making of Robin of Sherwood (102 min.), but also includes
-Series 1 and 2 Outtakes (15 min.);
-Textless and foreign credit sequences (10 min.);
-Featurettes— exclusive to this release— highlighting three episodes (23 min.);
and
-PDF materials including PR, Richard Carpenter’s original story treatment, and several scripts.

Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.



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