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Posted by herodotus on May 30, 2010

Buy it... if you heard specific pieces of music in the context of the film that made you quiver in delight, because otherwise you're likely to be underwhelmed by this score's bland, passionless personality on album.

Avoid it... if for you the concept demands true charisma, romance, and enthusiasm, none of which is evident in this work of derivative, repetitive, and basic thematic constructs, lifeless performances, and no defining narrative structure.

Several scores for Robin Hood films have captured imaginations through the years, though the pop culture favorite continues to be the Michael Kamen and Bryan Adams collaboration for the 1991 Kevin Costner version. Despite their popularity, the score and song for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves were flawed, the score especially suffering from poor performances and a shoddy recording. But what Kamen's score had clearly going in its favor were a sense of adventure, strong thematic identity, and a basic narrative flow. Unfortunately, Streitenfeld's Robin Hood in 2010, while technically proficient and basically sufficient for the screen, enjoys none of these necessary characteristics. The ability of former Zimmer collaborators, those who adhere to his basic formulas of operation, to churn out lifeless, uninteresting variants of music that was once considered the mould for blockbuster success continues to amaze and bewilder. The ensemble for Robin Hood is what you'd expect to be the key to success: a sizeable orchestral ensemble, a varied choir with solo accents, and regional instrumental elements like lutes, fiddles, uillean pipes, hurdy gurdy, whistles, and ethnic percussion. No synthetic tones and no electric guitars are to be heard. What exactly could go wrong with this equation? Well, simply enough, a poorly written composition. The structures employed by Streitenfeld are underdeveloped and tiresome. He emulates Zimmer clones by relying too heavily on creating force of emphasis by rooting too many notes on either the key or in the minor third. Sometimes, you get both at once, courtesy the usual ostinatos on strings. Simple percussive rhythms are beefed up by having one or more sections of the orchestra simply blurt out each note in the rhythm on key. The themes are not particularly memorable due to their poorly applied infrequency, a primary idea of militaristic majesty heard in "Fate Has Smiled Upon Us," "Landing of the French," "Charge," and "Merry Men" (among others) tasked with anchoring the score's noble overtones. The fatal problem with this theme is the fact that it sounds like a direct transplant from Steve Jablonsky's Transformers scores, even adhering to the Zimmer clone rule of beginning and ending its primary progressions on key to pound home the point. There is nothing lyrical about this theme, or any other in Robin Hood. Even a lighter idea opening "Destiny" and "Pact Sworn in Blood" repeats so many times that it comes across as purely mechanical. Why can't these people learn how to write compelling interludes based on the study of Jerry Goldsmith's body of work?

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As is, Streitenfeld's thematic ideas for Robin Hood play like juvenile attempts to boost testosterone without the benefit of droning bass electronics, which not surprisingly makes the endeavor sound all too frail in the majority. On top of that, you have a lack of depth in the composition that yields several painfully sparse sequences, especially when the composer attempts to address royal environments with the dainty percussive rhythms. Counterpoint is almost nonexistent, dissonance is not intelligently incorporated, the ensemble is never really taxed with multiple lines of intrigue to be performed at once. It's no wonder, therefore, that the orchestral performances completely lack passion in their playing. These people sound as though they earned their paycheck and went home without a second thought given to their recording for the day. Adding insult to injury, some of the specialty performances were not overlayed in synch with the others, so the otherwise alluring female vocals in "Merry Men" don't mesh with the underlying background material (and don't try the "trying to be stylish" argument here... it just doesn't work in this context). Aside from the boring, badly underdeveloped themes and mechanical repetitions of phrases in lifeless performances, Robin Hood also suffers from an absence of narrative flow. There is no real beginning, middle, or end to this score. No fanfares, no crescendos, and no victory can be heard. In that manner, it matches Crowe's scruffy, unlikeably manly persona quite well. There is no convincing joy or romance anywhere in this score (the love story was seemingly completely missed by Streitenfeld). More passion has been heard in the music of programs on the History Channel. All of this said, given the rather dirty, gloomy take on the legend by Scott, perhaps it should come as no surprise that the score is equally devoid of even a hint of the swashbuckling spirit otherwise associated with the legend. The score is therefore functional in the most basic sense as a bland, conservative musical backdrop for the picture. But with so much potential in the concept, the ensemble, and the ethnic elements, it's difficult to figure how the end result could have been so boringly underwhelming. There are a few cues to appreciate for their harmonious simplicity, led by the deep vocal layers of "Landing of the French," the woodwind and choral redemption in "The Legend Begins," and the fiddle and solo vocal tones in "Merry Men." Otherwise, however, Streitenfeld has given us a Robin Hood that slaps you across the face over and over again with the same rhythmic and thematic fragments in every cue. That might have worked if there had been something interesting in the composition to begin with. But, alas, no. Rest in peace, Michael Kamen.

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