CD Review: Robin Hood

With this prequel to the legend of ROBIN HOOD, director Ridley Scott brings along Marc Streitenfeld to clash musical swords among the leaves (and what appears to be a lot of mud) of Sherwood Forest. Streitenfeld’s music steals the sound of his mentor, Hans Zimmer, making film music fans none the richer.

I wasn’t enamored of Streitenfeld’s earlier scores for Ridley Scott. But I thought the period locale and mythic quality of the Robin Hood tale would inspire something more epic in tone, at the very least something listenable.

Instead, the score, at least as it comes across on CD, contains track after track of “Zimmer lite.” Yes, Streitenfeld came up through the Zimmer ranks and that influence shows in every bar of music. Thankfully, Streitenfeld keeps the expected Celtic harmonies and rhythms to a minimum. But oddly enough, those are some of the best cues, though they too represent a wasted opportunity to create something more original.

Anchoring the score is the heavy “Destiny” theme. The melody, with its mystic feel and wordless female chorus, rambles on with no shape or direction, as do most of the themes in the score.

Robin Hood soundtrack

Tracks like “Godfrey” and “John Is King” contain monotonous pulsating rhythms that start at one level and stay that way with little deviation. Streitenfeld seems to be afraid of crescendos, instead keeping the decibel level of the music in one place for minutes at a time. Cues are quiet, loud, or merely “there,” occupying listening space and not much more.

The music becomes slightly more exciting towards the end of the film during the final battle scene, with the percussive sounds of clashing swords slashing through the air. It’s still not particularly original or memorable, but finally the score begins to show some signs of life. In “The Legend Begins,” we finally get some sense of the mythological element that has been missing from the score.

The score lacks complexity, while the themes are bloodless and unmemorable. The action cues are more noticeable for their monotonous rhythmic landscape than for any sense of excitement generated. Perhaps the score works better in the context of the film. I don’t plan to find out.

Until Streitenfeld finds a compositional voice of his own, his music will continue to sound like a Zimmer clone. And aren’t there enough of those pockmarking the face of film music already?

Ready. Aim. Miss.

  1. Well there we go… disagreeing again. Finally things are back to normal! :)

    Robin Hood is certainly a lot better than his previous efforts with Scott. If you want lifeless and boring, then you should listen to Body of Lies and American Gangster. At least this one has some listenable themes and some excitement.

    Before this score he was certainly no Zimmer-clone, but he is one now, but I see potential in him becoming one of the better clones out there and if there needs to be clones, then they better be good. He steals a lot, particularly from Steve Jablonsky’s Transformers which you can hear in the cue ‘Fate Has Smiled Upon Us’ which is practically a medieval copy of it.

    If originality is a must for you, then I can see where you are coming from. I think Robin Hood comes across as unoriginal but exciting. This music gets me going while Zimmer is out experimenting (Still waiting for a return to his King Arthur/The Last Samurai days).

    ‘Godfrey’ was awful though ;)
    .-= Jørn´s last blog ..The One That Got You Into Scores =-.

    1. I knew I heard something familiar in “Fate Has Smiled Upon Us,” but I wasn’t familiar enough with TRANSFORMERS to pick it out.

      I don’t necessarily need originality (who was it that said there’s no such thing as an original thought…can’t remember). I do need film music that is not music to vacuum by. I found the whole thing to be a total bore. Hence why we disagree. :)

  2. I just saw the film two days in a row. It really was that good. If “Gladiator” and “Kingdom of Heaven” weren’t your thing, then stay away from “Robin Hood”, but the film was a solid epic and very, very entertaining in every respect, including, for me, the score.

    The score worked well in the film, and I ordered the CD as a souvenir – “Robin Hood” is probably my favourite film of 2010 so far, so a lot of my enthusiasm for the film is just spilling over into the music, but despite its simplicity I found it memorable in context and was humming it as I walked out of the theater. It’s not what it could or should have been, but I surprised myself by enjoying it for what it is – a simple and undemanding score for a fantastic movie, and the first Marc Streitenfeld score I have actually noticed while watching a film.

    1. I actually did enjoy GLADIATOR so maybe I would enjoy the film. But, boy, the score really turned me off. Good to know that you enjoyed it in the context of the film though. Maybe I’ll give it a try…

  3. I just listened to the two tracks which accompany your review, and all I can add is I agree with everything you say about this score and the endless plague of interchangeable identikit ‘epic’ scores which pollute modern formula epics with their utter lack of personality. But then I expected nothing else. Ridley Scott hasn’t made a really outstanding film since Thelma and Louise, and in terms of music he long ago lost the plot. One can only conclude that the genius who made The Duellists, Alien, Blade Runner, Legend and 1492: Conquest of Paradise was replaced by a technically accomplished but otherwise uninspired clone sometime around 1997.

    1. I’d like to think Scott still had some inspiration left in him, but I’m wary. Then again, I can’t really speak to it unless I see the film. We’ll see…

  4. I have to agree totally with you on these contempo epic scores – especially by Zimmer and composers like Horner. Talk about pastiches of each other – not to mention all that wailing that seems to be de riguer for large-scale costume movies in the computer age.
    I will just continue to worship my recordings of Korngold’s glorius ROBIN HOOD, Tiomkin’s groundbreaking FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE and Steiner’s romantic HELEN OF TROY, and leave the CGI epic scores to the IPOD crowd.
    I found a serious ROBIN HOOD for 2010 a little too overbearing after all the light-weight swashbucklers that were out there beforehand, but Scott and Crowe are always generally rewarding to watch.

    1. Gary, sorry I missed your comment earlier.

      I prefer my Robin Hoods to be lighter and more fleet of foot as opposed to the dark version on display in the Ridley Scott film. I actually ended up seeing it last week quite by accident and I will say that Streitenfeld’s score works better in the film. If you can hear it under the clashing of swords and horses, it does its job for the most part. But it’s still not very interesting. The shame is that it could have been so much more.

      As for the iPod crowd, don’t be bashing my favorite toy of all time. :) I can still enjoy my Korngold, Tiomkin and Steiner on it.

  5. The sample tracks are sonlically and rhythmically okay, and I can imagine them supporting the screen action (likely a tv scteen for me on this one). And at least its a wordless chorus instead of the solo female Middle-eastern keening a la GLADIATOR. et al – I hope that trend has run its course. But I’m sure with you on the meander factor, Jim, and I have a theory about why there’s so much of that going around.

    I think that many of the newer practitioners of the art came up in an environment that increasingly devalues melodic structure and development. Composers of concert works avoid melody as passe and old-fashioned. On the pop scene it often plays third fiddle at best behind beat and production – sometimes a distant fourth after the “lyrics.” It’s not surprising that the all-important “hook” of a few repeated notes has spawned a generation of writers unable or unwilling to conceive a melodic arc of much complexity or duration. I think the news media is not the only field inflicted with sound bites.

    Now Jerry Goldsmith could employ melody, rhythm, and sonics in interplay all in a single track, let alone score – so beautifully demonstrated by the PATCH OF BLUE sample from your 10 Composers 1 Score article. Ah, well, I’m glad he was so prolific.

    1. Interesting take on the state of modern film scoring, Dave. I say blame academia. :) They certainly have thumbed their noses at melody for decades. Of course, that’s a gross generalization. But I saw more than a little evidence of it in my nine long years of “higher” education. Whether or not that has changed any, I couldn’t say.

      As for the Middle Eastern keening, I fear it has not run its course. If it has, that was a damn impressive (and I use the word loosely) decade-long run.

      Goldsmith? Well, he was in a class all his own.

      1. So, some of your professors were obvious in their disdain for melody? Was it ever acknowledged music department policy that tunes should be discouraged? I wasn’t a music major, so my experience of that academic atmosphere was limited.

        And my own comments re melody probably seemed like gross generalization. Depending on the film, I think sometimes a melodic theme is unnecessary or counterproductive. I recently watched a modestly effective honeymoon camping trip thriller called THE CANYON, sparingly scored with country-flavored motifs of encroaching menace, and it struck me as just right. Anything more would have been overreach.

        On the other hand, I finally got around to seeing THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, and felt that Desplat’s hazy score could have benefitted from a more prominemt theme to focus the nebulous fable emotionally (and maybe lend a little extra color to the bland lead actor?) Then again, maybe nebulous was what they were aiming for.

        Won’t be seeing this ROBIN HOOD anytime soon. but your reaction to the score as a stand-alone makes me think it’s probably an instance where more and different would have been better.

        1. Dave, I agree that an out-and-out melody is not always the right choice for a film. While I may prefer it for stand-alone listening purposes, that doesn’t mean it would have been the right choice.

          I enjoyed BENJAMIN BUTTON quite a bit, but I agree that the score was missing something. I wanted to love it and instead I merely appreciated it. Maybe “nebulous” is the right word for it. I actually thought Brad Pitt was perfect for the role in that it didn’t require him to “act”. Though BB is the focus of the film, to me the character was more on the sidelines watching life happen around him. Perhaps a more substantial theme would have ruined that. Either way, I kind of feel sacrilegious even slightly bashing a Desplat score. :)

  6. Didn’t mean to put a guilt trip on you about Alexandre Desplat:( I haven’t seen many of the films he’s scored, but it’s obvious from BENJAMIN BUTTON and samples you’ve cited in other threads that he’s an accomplished and effective composer. And I did get the sense that everybody on the film accomplished the effect they were going for, including the central character’s acceptance of what was for him a fact of his life (and it was set in the South after all). It’s just that ALL the characters’ fairly laid-back reaction to a pretty unusual central concept rendered it a bit detached. I sensed that something, possibly the score, might have heightened the wistful aspect of a life even more isolated than most. Tricky to do without making it maudlin, but it could have been less diffuse, more visceral.

    I’ll have to check out some more of Desplat’s movies:)

    1. No, Dave, not a guilt trip at all. :) I totally understand what you mean about the BENJAMIN BUTTON score. And perhaps that’s why I wasn’t as totally gung ho about it as I wanted to be. Though there are some absolutely lovely moments in there.

      Definitely check out more of Desplat’s work. THE GHOST WRITER, TWILIGHT: NEW MOON, THE QUEEN and especially THE PAINTED VEIL are some of my favorites. And those are the titles I came up with off the top of my head. In some cases, it’s the score that mattered more than the film. But that’s nothing new.

    1. Hi Sabith. Thanks for commenting. It makes sense that it sounded like Zimmer. Marc Streitenfeld is an alumni of Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions.

  7. I miss a piece of music of this omst !! And well for me the second best from this movie beautiful music appears when Robin rides out with Marian over the Loxley estate !
    Do you know how i can get ahold of this piece ??

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