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Soundtrack review: Robin Hood – Prince of thieves (expanded) (Michael Kamen – 1991)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Robin Hood – Prince of thieves (expanded) (Michael Kamen – 1991)

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“Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” is a 1991 American romantic action adventure film. The film, an iteration of the legendary English folk tale, was directed by Kevin Reynolds. The film’s principal cast includes Kevin Costner as Robin Hood, Morgan Freeman as Azeem, Christian Slater as Will Scarlet, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Maid Marian, and Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham. After being captured by Turks during the Crusades, Robin of Locksley and a Moor, Azeem, escape back to England, where Azeem vows to remain until he repays Robin for saving his life. Meanwhile, Robin’s father, a nobleman loyal to King Richard the Lionhearted, has been murdered by the brutal Sheriff of Nottingham, who helped install Richard’s treacherous brother, Prince John, as king while Richard is overseas fighting the Crusades. When Robin returns home, he vows to avenge his father’s death and restore Richard to the throne. Even though Maid Marian, his childhood friend, cannot help him, he escapes to the Forest of Sherwood where he joins a band of exiled villagers and becomes their leader. With their help he attempts to cleanse the land of the evil that the Sheriff has spread. Michael Kamen wrote the score.

This movie was from that period where Kevin Costner could do no wrong and he was the best actor in the world and from my teenage years when heroes were all that matters. Of course I too was caught in the craze of this movie and that infectious Brian Adams song is forever stuck in my head. Michael Kamen on the other hand I appreciate the most for conducting the San Francisco orchestra in the famous Metallica “S&M” concert from 1999. He is the one composer, alright, the one famous and popular composer with whom I could never establish a proper emotional connection. He’s the one, my kryptonite and believe me I have tried since he scored some of my favourite franchises ever, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, X-men and even James Bond; with all this I cannot name a single score of his that I like. But then there’s this movie and my memories of it are so fond that I have postponed until now listening to the score in its entirety. Intrada just released an expanded version and it’s time to break the spell.

My problems with Kamen’s music usually came from what I perceived as lack of warmth, a warmth I need to feel in the music; the main title of “Prince of thieves” doesn’t make me think at all about what I don’t like in a cue but about what I like most in a epic, heroic film score, especially one coming from the cusp of the 80s and 90s. The soaring rhythm, the brass section, all inviting and inspirational. It’s almost at the level of the obvious other two Kevin Costner epic movie scores from those years, John Barry’s “Dances with wolves” and James Newton Howard’s “Wyatt Earp”. I can’t help but compare the sound of this score to those two because that’s the emotional warmth and intensity I am looking for in an album like this.

Michael Kamen has always been more particular to sharp edges to his music rather than round corners and this strikes me once again from the way “Robin Hood” develops. I remember I had the same feeling when I listened to Maurice Jarre’s “Shogun”: the music is harsh even in its tenderest of moments as if everything caries scars that cannot be hidden; this is why I appreciate even more a cue like “Escape to Sherwood” with the gentle flute and harp that place the story in time and the sensation that there is nothing bad in the world. This is the most emotional I’ve heard Kamen. I am growing quite fond of this score with every cue that comes my way especially since I truly get a feeling of a musical story that I am invested in. The composer lays a solid foundation on which the epic thread to grow and builds his score from there.

An expanded score like this gives a better idea of how the composer approached the story; Michael Kamen kept he music a bit abrasive even in the moments when it was supposed to be sweeping; there’s a 9 minute cue “Marian At The Waterfall / Camp” that I thought was going to be romantic and beautiful and instead there’s only a small, albeit magnificent romantic motif in it while the rest of the cue is mostly tense with occasional melodic inserts. This sound is what keeps “Robin Hood – prince of thieves” from joining my pantheon of epic heroic scores. I rarely feel riled up during this score and the sprouts of emotional warmth, while enough to make this my favourite Michael Kamen score by far, don’t leave me emotionally drained and a mess at the end, the way scores like “Braveheart” or “Dances with wolves” do.

I love a score where the famous, beloved main vocal theme recurs instrumental, as “My heart will go on” did in “Titanic”; here, “Everything I do / I do it for you” comes to charm me in “The Plot Thickens (Maid Marian)”, a majestic, emotional cue that makes me doubt all I’ve said above. In the end “Robin Hood” is an uneven but spectacular score that is unlike anything else Michael Kamen wrote. I am happy that I got to discover it because I finally found some points of connection with Michael Kamen and this will also enhance by viewing pleasure of the movie.

Cue rating: 88 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 49 / 110

Album excellence: 44%

Highlights:
Main Title – Prince Of Thieves
Robin Foils Gisborne
Meet Marian
Escape To Sherwood
Village Destructo (Alternate #2)
Marian At The Waterfall / Camp
Baby
The Plot Thickens (Maid Marian)
Duncan’s Death
Mayhem In Town
Reunited And Finale

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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