Home > Reviews > ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES – Michael Kamen

ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES – Michael Kamen

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

One of the biggest blockbusters of 1991 was Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, a big-budget historical action epic directed by Kevin Reynolds, based on the classic legends of the medieval English outlaw Robin Hood. Somewhat astonishingly, the producers cast Hollywood star Kevin Costner in the title role, and he made no attempt to do anything approaching an English accent, and in the end sounded less than he was from Sherwood Forest and more like he was from Malibu Canyon, going to “sup with his father in Notting-HAM”. Despite this, and despite some terrible lapses in geographic specificity (Robin walks from Dover to Loxley via Hadrian’s Wall in a single day, a trip of roughly 470 miles), the film is nevertheless a terrifically entertaining romp. It features some rousing action sequences, Morgan Freeman dispenses sage wisdom wherever he goes as the Moorish warrior Azeem, there’s a lovely Maid Marian in the shape of Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and – best of all – we have Alan Rickman hamming it up, chewing the scenery, and having a ball as a Sheriff of Nottingham whose tongue is as cutting as his blade.

One other aspect of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves which over-achieves is its score, written by the late great Michael Kamen. Despite all the outstanding work he produced over the years, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is by far Kamen’s most famous and popular score, and the accompanying soundtrack was his best-selling album by some considerable margin – although, to be fair, that was most likely due to the fact that it included the song “Everything I Do I Do It For You,” which Kamen wrote with uber-producer Mutt Lange for Canadian rocker Bryan Adams. That song was everywhere in the summer of 1991; it topped the charts in the UK for sixteen consecutive weeks – still a record, at the time of writing – and sold more than 15 million copies worldwide. It also won Kamen, Lange, and Adams a Grammy for Best Song Written for Visual Media, plus a Grammy nomination for Record of the Year, and was one of Kamen’s two Oscar nominations for Best Original Song.

The score, however, is one of the best and more comprehensive distillations of what made Michael Kamen’s music so superb; the expansive orchestral performances, the richly textured orchestrations featuring so many of his personal mannerisms, the unique and idiosyncratic rhythmic content, the memorable themes, and the broad emotional appeal. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was also one of the first scores which, I feel, gave some indication as to who Kamen was as a person – a man of deep feelings, a warm and adventurous spirit, and a romantic at heart. His most famous scores prior to Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves were things like Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, the Bond movie Licence to Kill, and genre efforts like The Dead Zone and Highlander, none of which really tapped into what made Kamen such a terrific composer in the final decade of his career.

The original soundtrack album for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves comprised eight reasonably long suites, each containing several cues within them. The thing opens with a bang with “Overture and A Prisoner of the Crusades (From Chains to Freedom),” which builds from one of Kamen’s famous cello ostinatos (something which Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer appropriated for Pirates of the Caribbean almost a decade later), until the brass bursts forth with a joyous performance of the score’s triumphant main theme. The theme actually carries four specific motifs within it – a warm theme for Robin heard on French horns (0:19), a noble fanfare for trumpets (0:41), a dynamic rhythmic motif (0:55), and a swashbuckling sequence full of triumphant heroism (1:09) – which, as the score develops, are often separated and played independently, to represent different aspects of Robin’s journey. Kamen surrounds his theme with period accoutrements – harpsichord, light percussion, anvils – to give it a medieval sound, and the whole thing climaxes with energy and panache. It’s one of the best things he ever wrote.

The second part of the cue is darker and grittier, and accompanies the sequence as Robin and Azeem escape from a Jerusalem dungeon and attempt to make their way home. Kamen uses eerie textures and scraping string harmonics to illustrate their plight, and the terrible conditions in the dungeon, before erupting into one of the score’s first major action sequences. Several elements of the main theme are incorporated into a stylish, but rather dark, sequence of expressive orchestral outbursts, ending on a warm and noble coda for bright horns and elegant strings.

The opening moments of “Sir Guy of Gisbourne and The Escape to Sherwood” present the two melodic ideas related to Maid Marian, Robin’s childhood friend and eventual love. The cue opens with a beautiful renaissance/medieval woodwind melody, which represents Maid Marian’s life in her convent, her innocence, and her dedication to her people; just after the 1:41 mark Kamen introduces the second idea, a tentative romantic piece for lilting woodwinds, soft strings, and harps, which establishes itself as the love theme for Robin and Marian as the score develops, and of course would famously go on to be the melodic basis for the “Everything I Do I Do It For You” song. The “Escape to Sherwood” sequence is full of energy, a series of upbeat orchestral scherzos and merry dances into which Kamen layers several statements of and variations on the main theme elements; it has such a wonderful sense of bright adventure, optimism, and panache.

“Little John and the Band in the Forest” continues the medieval-renaissance aspect of the score with more sparkling writing for woodwinds, harpsichord, and light percussion, a sort of instrumental madrigal. Some of the rhythmic ideas are superb, especially the florid Korngold-esque combination writing for brass and harpsichord in the cue’s middle section, which underscores the famous staff fight between Robin and John on the river, and is playful and jaunty without being comedic. I also love how Kamen was able to insert a lighter variation of Robin’s heroic fanfare into the mix here, to build on the score’s leitmotivic foundation.

Large parts of “The Sheriff and His Witch” are uncharacteristically dissonant, mysterious orchestral textures which illustrate the unhealthy relationship between Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham and the twisted old crone Mortianna, who collaborates with Nottingham in his plan to seize power from the absent King Richard the Lionheart. Kamen’s writing here tends to be low in the mix – cellos, bass flutes, even some abstract ideas which howl like the wind – and it is effective in context at establishing Nottingham’s dark heart. However, it’s also a tiny bit disappointing that Kamen didn’t give Nottingham a more memorable thematic identity; the score’s finale, in which Robin and Nottingham face off in a swashbuckling sword fight, might have benefitted even more from some back-and-forth between their two musical identities. As such, this lack of a major musical representation for Nottingham is probably the score’s one weak point.

“Maid Marian” is a gorgeous fully-orchestral rendering of her musical identity, highlighted by a delicate performance of the “Everything I Do I Do It For You” melody that swoons between harp, oboe, and strings, while retaining its beautiful renaissance textures; the sweeping rush of emotion in the cue’s second half is just superb. The subsequent “Training – Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” opens with some heartbreaking chords and tragic swells that are harmonically linked to Marian’s theme, but eventually turns into a series of stirring arrangements of Robin’s fanfare from the main theme that resound with heroic vitality and bold, brass-led bombast. “Marian at the Waterfall” returns to Marian’s theme to underscore the scene where Robin accidentally encounters Marian bathing nude in an idyllic lake, and finally falls in love. Kamen’s woodwind writing here is tender, intimate, and effortlessly romantic, and I especially love how Kamen adapts Robin’s heroic theme into this passionate vein at the 1:30 mark with a swooning string phrase.

The conclusive “The Abduction and The Final Battle” is a 10-minute action extravaganza, and is chock full of all the action stylistics for which Kamen was famous. I love the slightly odd opening, with its expressive woodwind phrases dancing and fluttering lightly on top of a bed of churning strings, building a sense of anticipation. Kamen lets loose around the 4:25 mark with a series of nimble passages for strings and harpsichord, the orchestra on its toes as the Merry Men take their positions around Nottingham Castle to free the prisoners and rescue their comrades. Throughout it all Kamen inserts rousing statements of Robin’s themes into a barrage of tumultuous percussion, volleys of horns, scintillating string runs, tolling bells and clanging anvils; some of the brass performances are ragged and imperfect, but this somehow adds to the authenticity of the sound. The cue closes with a lush final statement of Robin and Marian’s love theme, accompanying their wedding scene, and the triumphant return of King Richard to conduct the nuptials.

For almost 20 years this was the primary presentation of Kamen’s score, until 2018 when Intrada Records released a 2-CD version which greatly expanded on the original album, but was still missing several key sequences. Then, two years later, Intrada released a second album – now expanded to four CDs – remastered from the original elements, and containing almost 50 minutes of additional music (nearly doubling the length of the 1991 original, if you don’t include the songs). Much of the new music is, of course, variations on the established material, but there are still several highlights which will make the album worth purchasing for fans.

These highlights include several major action sequences, notable “Arrow,” “Village Destructo,” and especially the immense 3-part “Celt Battle” sequence in which Robin and his Merry Men face off against a band of hairy highlanders summoned from the north to do Nottingham’s bidding. This latter cue contains some of Kamen’s darkest and most brutal action music, featuring banks of guttural horns, pounding tribal percussion, howling voices, and even some more of that terrific Korngold-style swashbuckling Errol Flynn string writing. Finally, the film’s 27-minute ction conclusion is presented in its entirety, beginning with “Circle of Stones/Plans For Rescue/Will Captured” and continuing through “Mayhem In Town,” “Rescue Marian,” “Robin Fights the Sheriff ,” and the immense four-part “Finale”. I won’t go into detail describing it all, except to say that it’s all as wonderful as you would imagine it to be.

Thirty years after its initial release, and almost 20 years after the death of its composer, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves remains one of Michael Kamen’s most beloved works, and it’s not difficult to see why. It’s a delicious combination of unashamed heroism, thematic density, sweeping romance, and rousing swashbuckling action, augmented with instrumental flavors that give it an appropriate medieval-renaissance tone in some of its quieter moments. It’s awash with Kamen’s personal stylistics and compositional flourishes, and is capped off by one of the most popular movie songs of all time. The original album is still likely available in used CD stores around the world, and for some people that might be enough. I still like that album immensely, but anyone who truly wants to appreciate the scope and scale of Kamen’s work would do well to invest in one of the Intrada expansions. Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood might have had a bad accent and a terrible sense of geography, but with Michael Kamen’s music by his side, his noble quest to steal from the rich and give to the poor is irresistible.

Buy the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • ORIGINAL 1991 RELEASE
  • Overture and A Prisoner of the Crusades (From Chains to Freedom) (8:28)
  • Sir Guy of Gisbourne and The Escape to Sherwood (7:28)
  • Little John and the Band in the Forest (4:52)
  • The Sheriff and His Witch (6:04)
  • Maid Marian (2:58)
  • Training – Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (5:15)
  • Marian at the Waterfall (5:35)
  • The Abduction and The Final Battle (9:54)
  • Everything I Do I Do It For You (written by Michael Kamen, Bryan Adams, and Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange, performed by Bryan Adams) (6:38)
  • Wild Times (written by Michael Kamen and Jeff Lynne, performed by Jeff Lynne) (3:13)
  • EXPANDED 2018 RELEASE
  • Main Title – Prince of Thieves (2:45)
  • From Chains to Freedom (6:22)
  • Robin Foils Gisborne (6:14)
  • I Will Not Rest (2:34)
  • Meet Marian (1:10)
  • Escape to Sherwood (7:43)
  • The River (0:51)
  • Little John Fight (4:51)
  • Camp Oak (1:43)
  • Robin Escapes (4:37)
  • Stitch (0:46)
  • Village Destructo (Alternate #2) (1:58)
  • Training Sequence (5:08)
  • The Merry Men Continue Raids (1:55)
  • The Merry Men Ambush Gisborne (4:51)
  • Marian at the Waterfall/Camp (9:13)
  • Medieval Dance Source (0:58)
  • Baby (3:58)
  • The Plot Thickens (Maid Marian) (7:17)
  • Warning Arrow (1:12)
  • Celt Battle (5:02)
  • Duncan’s Death (5:17)
  • Plans for Rescue (6:50)
  • Mayhem in Town (0:47)
  • Rescue Marian (13:25)
  • Reunited and Finale (2:28)
  • I Will Not Rest (Alternate Mix) (2:35) BONUS
  • Robin Gives Marian Ring (Alternate Mix) (2:57) BONUS
  • The Band in the Forest (Alternate) (1:31) BONUS
  • Village Destructo (Original Without Brass) (0:46) BONUS
  • Village Destructo (Alternate #1) (0:46) BONUS
  • Training Sequence (Alternate #1) (2:06) BONUS
  • Training Sequence (Alternate #2) (2:07) BONUS
  • Marian at the Waterfall/Camp (Alternate Mix) (5:31) BONUS
  • Mayhem in Town (Alternate) (0:47) BONUS
  • Join Robin (Alternate) (1:38) BONUS
  • Maid Marian (Album Version) (2:55) BONUS
  • COMPLETE 2020 RELEASE
  • Main Title – Prince of Thieves (2:46)
  • The Letter/Robin’s Hand/And His Merry Men/Home (11:21)
  • Robin Foils Gisborne/Arrow (3:54)
  • The Boy in the Tree (0:31)
  • Gisborne Brings Bad News/Father (3:56)
  • I Will Not Rest (2:35)
  • Meet Marian (1:10)
  • Robin Gives Marian Ring/Escape to Sherwood (6:49)
  • Eyes of the Forest/Little John (The River) (1:48)
  • The Band in the Forest (1:32)
  • Little John Fight, Part 1 & Part 2 (3:28)
  • Camp Oak (1:43)
  • Robin Sees the Bishop/Robin Talks to Bishop/Robin Escapes (4:41)
  • Stitch (0:46)
  • Village Destructo (Alternate #2)/Village Destroyed, Part 2 (2:01)
  • Courage/Training Sequence, Part 1 & Part 2/Troops (5:08)
  • The Merry Men Continue Raids (1:06)
  • Sheriff Calls Off Christmas (0:52)
  • Merry Men Plot the Ambush/The Merry Men Ambush Gisborne (4:53)
  • Humility/Buffoons Ambush Marian (3:46)
  • Marian at the Waterfall/Camp (5:31)
  • Medieval Dance – Source #2 (0:58)
  • Marian at the Waterfall/Camp Reprise/Baby (3:59)
  • Medieval Dance Source #3 (Slow Version) (1:20)
  • The Plot Thickens (Maid Marian) (7:22)
  • Warning Arrow (1:13)
  • Celt Battle, Part 1, Part 2 & Part 2A (5:14)
  • Celt Battle, Part 3 (1:09)
  • Robin Hood’s Fall (Village Destructo Alternate #1) (1:12)
  • Duncan’s Death (5:18)
  • Generic Witch Ambience, Part 1 & Part 2 (2:37)
  • Circle of Stones/Plans for Rescue/Will Captured (10:26)
  • Mayhem in Town (0:47)
  • Rescue Marian/Robin Fights the Sheriff/Finale, Part 1 & Part 2 (14:16)
  • Finale, Part 3 & Part 4 (2:29)
  • End Credits (3:37)
  • Home (Alternate) (2:34) BONUS
  • Gisborne Brings Bad News (1:34) BONUS
  • I Will Not Rest (Alternate Mix) (2:35) BONUS
  • Robin Gives Marian Ring (Alternate Mix) (2:56) BONUS
  • Escape to Sherwood (Film Mix) (3:55) BONUS
  • The Band in the Forest (Alternate) (1:32) BONUS
  • Village Destructo (Alternate #3) (0:47) BONUS
  • Training Sequence (Take 3) (2:06) BONUS
  • Training Sequence (Take 4) (2:11) BONUS
  • Marian at the Waterfall/Camp (Take 8) (5:22) BONUS
  • Marian at the Waterfall/Camp Reprise (Alternate) (1:16) BONUS
  • Medieval Dance Source #3 (Fast Version) (1:00) BONUS
  • Medieval Dance Source #3 (Fast Version Alternate) (1:00) BONUS
  • Medieval Dance Source #3 (Slow Version Alternate) (1:21) BONUS
  • Hangman’s Drums (3:20) BONUS
  • Mayhem in Town (Take 5) (0:47) BONUS
  • Join Robin [Alternate] (1:39) BONUS
  • Finale Part 4A [Bridge to Song] (1:00) BONUS
  • Morgan Creek Fanfare (0:16) BONUS
  • Overture and A Prisoner of the Crusades (From Chains to Freedom) (8:25) – Original Album Presentation
  • Sir Guy of Gisborne and The Escape to Sherwood (7:23) – Original Album Presentation
  • Little John and The Band in the Forest (4:49) – Original Album Presentation
  • The Sheriff and His Witch (6:01) – Original Album Presentation
  • Maid Marian (2:55) – Original Album Presentation
  • Training – Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves (5:12) – Original Album Presentation
  • Marian at the Waterfall (5:30) – Original Album Presentation
  • The Abduction and The Final Battle at the Gallows (9:54) – Original Album Presentation

Running Time: 60 minutes 25 seconds – Original
Running Time: 133 minutes 34 seconds – Expanded
Running Time: 219 minutes 34 seconds – Complete

Morgan Creek 511-050-2 (1991) – Original
Intrada IFC-395 (1991/2018) – Expanded
Intrada IFC-458 (1991/2020) – Complete

Music composed and conducted by Michael Kamen. Orchestrations by Michael Kamen, Jack Hayes, William Ross, Don Davis, Bruce Babcock, Albert Olson, Pat Russ, Brad Warnaar, Lolita Ritmanis, Mark Watters, Elliot Kaplan, Jonathan Sacks, Richard Davis, Harvey Cohen, Beth Lee and Chris Boardman. Recorded and mixed by Bobby Fernandez and Steve McLaughlin. Edited by Christopher Brooks and Eric Reasoner. Original album produced by Michael Kamen, Christopher Brooks and Steve McLaughlin. Expanded albums produced by Douglass Fake and Roger Feigelson.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.