I have to admit a the outset of this column that I have something of a grudge against all modern retellings of the Robin Hood legend. It’s not that I hold some sort of feelings that the Errol Flynn version is simply untouchable (though it’s *that* close), it’s that the 1991 Kevin Costner version is forever hold in a place of singular loathing in my mind, largely because of a day that summer spent at Great America where the video for the Bryan Adams theme song was played on a screen in all the ride queues, meaning I saw and heard it about 5,486 times in a single day. While it’s an alright movie when viewed outside of this vendetta, it does indeed pale in comparison to Flynn’s more swashbuckling film. Heck it pales in comparison to the Daffy Duck/Porky Pig retelling of the story, one of the all-time classic Looney Tunes shorts.
But now there’s a new retelling in the form of Robin Hood. Starring Russell Crowe in the title role and teaming him with his Gladiator director Ridley Scott, this current adaptation seeks to recast the legend with less of an emphasis on the “rob from the rich, give to the poor” theme and more on Robin being a patriot who believes the people have a right to have a say in how they’re governed. Adding to that is Robin’s motives to uphold the promise of his lineage and fulfill the promise of his father’s role as a champion of the people. So basically what we’re getting is a hero still seeking the approval of his dead father and the friends of his dead father, daddy issues that are supposed to give him depth but which are a far cry from the triumphant heroic model that has dominated much of history. This is supposed to, I guess, make him more relatable to modern audiences. Let’s see how the studio is selling this to the masses.
The only poster does what it needs to do and does it efficiently. The sole image – taken almost directly from the first trailer we’ll discuss shortly – is that of Robin Hood staring intently down the arrow he has nocked and ready to fly from the bow, his face grimy and bloody. In the upper left hand corner it’s shown that the movie is coming from director Scott and by invoking Gladiator below his name the audience is shown clearly that this is a reteaming of two of the creators of that blockbuster a decade ago. Kiddy-korner from that, in the lower right corner, is Crowe’s name as well as Blanchett’s, both of whom are labeled as Oscar Winners just above the credit block. I really like how it’s not an over-crowded image but instead stark and simple and all the more striking for it, where something more cluttered would have detracted from the impact in those viewing it.
The first trailer that was released unfortunately does little to actually establish this as a Robin Hood story. We’re treated to lots of shots of soldiers running through the woods or across a beach and a woman hiding in her room and lots of shots of Crowe looking solemn or vengeful. But the images of him with a bow and arrow are really the only thing, aside from the title treatment, that even hint at this being related to the character of Robin Hood. A bit disappointing considering the level of talent involved since this footage could be for any medieval action/romance flick.
The second trailer went more into the story, which has Robin leading a revolt of sorts against the despotic King John, a revolt the king obviously is none too thrilled about. He’s branded an outlaw and hunted down. Part of leading that revolt comes as a part of Robin seeking to embrace the destiny that’s before him, something that’s expected of him as the son of a man who dared suggest the common people have as much to expect from their ruler as the ruler does from the people. There’s a little bit about his meeting Marion, though not much outside of a crude joke about her severing his manhood should he try anything while they’re forced to share a bedroom. While action sequences abound in this spot the final shot, which makes it look like there’s some sort of medieval invasion of Normandy going complete with troop transports, comes off as a little silly.
That second trailer was then turned interactive about a week before release, with little factoids popping up at set points in the spot that give background on the Robin Hood legend, details on what Scott was envisioning for the movie and more. I completely get what they’re going for with these sorts of trailers but don’t think they’re as effective as they could be at accomplishing that.
A third trailer was released just four days before the movie was scheduled to be released that upped the action quotient while jettisoning anything relating to a more emotional plot. That’s somewhat expected when you realize it runs just 1:18, meaning it doesn’t have a ton of time within which to include a lot of story nuance.
The official website opens with the biggest prompt being to watch the interactive trailer that contains all the little factoids. There’s also a link to the Lionhearts page, a charity effort that allows people to enter for a chance to win some cash for themselves as well as some for the charity of their choice. On the other side of the page there’s a sweepstakes to enter to win a trip to England.
Upon entering the site you’re greeted with a content menu is displayed as a panorama of some of the movie’s key locations.
First there is “About the Film,” where there’s a Synopsis and a five-part series of Production Notes that detail the major milestones of the film’s production.
“Cast and Crew” is next and there are the same sort of biographies and filmographies we’ve all come to expect from such sections.
“Video” has all three trailers, a handful of TV spots and some extended clips from the movie as well as at least one behind-the-scenes vignette featuring director Scott. The “Photo Gallery” has, if I counted right, 28 stills from the film including a couple of shots with Scott.
You’ll find Desktop Wallpapers and Buddy Icons under “Downloads.”
There are also sections for the Lionhearts program as well as one for the Interactive Trailer again, meaning the studio is putting a lot of eggs in that interactive basket.
At the bottom of the page are buttons to share the site on various social networks and bookmarking sites as well as links to the Universal Twitter profile and the movie’s Facebook page, which has updates on the movie’s advertising and promotional campaign.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
A decent advertising campaign was run consisting of TV spots, online ads and outdoor banners. The TV campaign mimicked largely the trailers, only paired down for the running time of commercial television. Likewise the outdoor and online advertising more or less solely used the same key art from the poster campaign, re-purposing the image of Robin staring down his arrow shaft
Media and Publicity
A major publicity coup was scored when it was announced the movie would screen at the Cannes Film Festival, even if it was out of competition, on opening night. That added to the buzz around the movie at a time the idea of star-driven films were being questioned as a whole. After that screening there was a bit of talk about the movie, including how the hero had gone through so many iterations over the years (Hollywood Reporter, 5/11/10).
As the movie neared release the studio aimed to get people talking with the release of a ton of extended clips from the film that showed off various parts of the movie it hoped would connect with audiences.
Later stories such as this one (Los Angeles Times, 5/7/10) would focus on Scott and Crowe and their reimagining of the character as someone not so much interested in financial parity among the citizenry but instead in making the king pay attention to the needs of the governed. That’s a pretty dramatic shift in the way the character is portrayed and one that may have an impact on how audiences perceive it.
From what I saw – or didn’t see – it was a fairly subdued effort and certainly not a full court press for a movie like this. That seemed a little odd but perhaps the studio was saving its powder for one of their movies later in the summer.
Did Universal just occasionally forget they had this movie coming out? With so much of the movie industry press focusing on how studios were counting on established brands with built-in audiences to take some of the marketing pressure off and pre-sell films, this effort seems like it takes that idea too far. Instead of a campaign that works to build awareness and then lets the audience take it from there, this seems to be a campaign that’s just not even trying.
One poster? A new trailer the week or release, when most people have already made up their minds? That seems like barely even trying, especially when you couple it with a publicity campaign that doesn’t seem to have generated much press.
Perhaps the studio is simply realizing that they’re going to caught up in Iron Man’s jet-wash and so are just trying to get the action audience that saw Iron Man 2 last weekend and is looking for something different this time around. Whatever the case this seems like a lackluster effort for a movie that one might assume would be among the studio’s biggest early summer releases.