In Contention


‘Nottingham’: How a hot script became a forgettable film

Posted by Kristopher Tapley · 1:26 pm · May 16th, 2010

Screenwriter blogs can often reward with a refreshing take on the film industry, even if they are at times flavored by the requisite misanthropy of those of us with visions of slug lines dancing in our heads.  Josh Friedman’s I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing was a good read for a time, though it hasn’t been updated in a while.  John August also has a nice outlet that can be a good resource as well.

I only happened upon William Martell’s Sex in a Submarine today, as his recent post, “Robbing From The Poor (Writer),” caught my eye.  In a nutshell, it’s a thorough look at the development of Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood” from a hot Hollywood property into a likely money-losing snooze of a film (with its champions here and there).  And if you’re a fan of smart, unique stories having a place at the table in Hollywood, it’s a bona fide horror story.

I don’t track projects like some of the other film/fan sites out there, so I wasn’t aware of the fact that Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris’s “Nottingham” was a “C.S.I.”-style look at the classic tale from the point of view of the Sheriff of Nottingham using period forensics.  Sherlock Holmes in Sherwood Forrest, if you will.  But I can’t believe an idea that fresh was squandered so absolutely, even if it is par for the Hollywood course.

You see, the script went into further development (because everyone in town creaming themselves over it wasn’t enough).  Scott apparently had an archery obsession and bent the narrative into the limp prequel that made its way to theaters this weekend.  At the time, Patrick Goldstein dutifully conveyed the studio line, quoting then-Universal chairman Marc Shmuger (since removed from his post) thusly:

This is an enduring myth that people love…It’s a story that offers a new understanding of the origins of a real folk hero. You get a real understanding of–this is how Robin Hood became an outlaw and this is how those guys became the Merry Men of Sherwood Forest. Ridley’s vision of the movie is very visceral, very physical–you’re really in the forest, pulling back a giant bow.

But what Martell is really getting at with his piece is a simple question: When is the industry going to stop allowing itself to be held hostage by top talent, especially when that talent is slowly proving itself to be a smaller piece of the profit pie than it used to be?  He writes:

…we have seen some new, young (cheap) directors who have done amazing work and everyone wants to work with them… maybe you could convince Russell Crowe that this new guy is worth sticking around to work with?

Look at Christopher Nolan – before MEMENTO he was nobody, and afterwards he was directing an Al Pacino movie… and then the new BATMAN movie. Doug Liman makes GO and gets THE BOURNE IDENTITY… and after he’s “let go” they hire Paul Greengrass, who made a couple of low budget shaky-cam art house films before that. There are always these hot new directors that everybody loves because they are creative and interesting – if Imagine had fired Ridley Scott when he removed their tentpole movie and replaced him with whoever was the hot new director 2 years ago, could they have kept Crowe? Maybe.

Problem is – producers and studios are of the mindset that the director is the power when *they* are the power…If a director becomes a problem – no matter how big they are, even Spielberg – get rid of them.

The whole thing is a shame, really.  I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with having one’s creativity spurred by an excellent script, but you had better make it better, not immensely worse.  And then there’s the funny thing about credit and how it’s perceived, as Martell reminds:

Oh, and about those bad reviews – several that I have read single out the big problem with the film as the script, and then name the writers – including Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris and in some reviews giving Oscar winning screenwriter Helgeland a break and *focusing* on them (because they do not have Oscars, so it must be their fault). I have yet to read a review that mention the original screenplay… but have read a couple that said Scott and Crowe get bogged down by this terrible script.

You know that dream come true of having your script sell and get fast tracked and star Russell Crowe and be directed by Ridley Scott?

Nightmare.

The real bummer is that a solid property is now lost to the winds while those who were involved in dismantling it walk away with their expected payday and the suits who let them dismantle it are stuck with the check.

That doesn’t click as sound business sense to me, but I’m just a lowly blogger, so what do I know?




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20 responses so far

  • 1 5-16-2010 at 2:27 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    Why is this solid property necessarily lost to the winds? Someone else could always make a proper adaptation no?

    If they can remake a good film (Let the Right one In) a few years after release then they sure as hell can remake a mediocre film.

    Here’s to Robin Hood Investigation in 2013!

  • 2 5-16-2010 at 2:55 pm

    moviefan said...

    “so I wasn’t aware of the fact that Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris’s “Nottingham” was a “C.S.I.”-style look at the classic tale from the point of view of the Sheriff of Nottingham using period forensics. Sherlock Holmes in Sherwood Forrest, if you will. But I can’t believe an idea that fresh was squandered so absolutely, even if it is par for the Hollywood course”

    Fresh? you call a Sherlock Holmsesian CSI Robin Hood in the forest fresh? Wow, Kris, we really are poles apart on this movie. Don’t we have enough CSI on TV already? Enough police procedural TV shows and movies?

    I had said before the movie came out that I think a lot of the younger folk would probably take to it better if they had made it in the style of Sherlock Holmes, all sass and silliness, but I am extremely glad they didn’t.

    I agree that the RH script as released has problems but that may be in part due to pacing of the editing, maybe with the sequel in mind. I still think the final product is very enjoyable and very good.

    I read an early version of the CSI script and it didn’t do much for me. I kept picturing an Eric Dane Robin Hood, not sure why except he seemed to be sort of a galumph. (I do not know at what stage the script I read was in but it was definitely a CSI version). That said, are there any movies released where there aren’t seen to be some problems with the script?

    You, and others, may not appreciate Ridley Scott’s style of immersing you into gladiatorial Rome or 12th century villages and greenwood, or Peter Weir’s way of pressing you directly into the King’s service on board ship but I, for one, love a film that puts me right there. I realize the mantle has been passed from Robin Hood to robots and from human men to iron men but I hope that we can still get one of these throwback movies at least every few years.

  • 3 5-16-2010 at 3:03 pm

    moviefan said...

    Having said all that I should clarify that I know the original script centered on the Sheriff of Nottingham, Robin was a more minor character and was a suspect in a murder case being investigated by the Sheriff. The whole thing sounded like it could have been done in an hour long TV show, say CSI:Nottingham?

  • 4 5-16-2010 at 3:17 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Matthew: The property being the original Nottingham script, which was purchased by Imagine and will never see the light of day at this point. Speaking of which…

    moviefan: Seriously? Your rebuttal is “don’t we have enough C.S.I. on TV already?” It’s an easy way of explaining the thrust of the script, not a catch-all description of what happens within. Come on.

    Otherwise, I think you have blinders on to the realities of this situation. Whatever problems the script has, it’s not in the “pacing of the editing with a sequel in mind.” It’s, plainly and simply, a lackluster thematic thrust and no real sense of passion from anyone involved, just weird obsession and general habit.

    Also, don’t presume to know what I think of the director’s other films. And the Peter Weir crack? What does that even mean? I loved Gladiator. Master and Commander is a four-star film in my opinion. Why bring it up? Oh, right, because as your comments suggest, you’d rather boil the arguments of detractors to a dishonest essence.

    And there’s nothing wrong with a “throwback movie” when it works. This one doesn’t work. Critics had their say. Word of mouth will keep the box office low. And you’ll them all fools who don’t like Peter Weir.

    Bizarre.

  • 5 5-16-2010 at 3:59 pm

    moviefan said...

    I’d love for someone to send you an early version of the script as I’d like to hear your impression of it. Alas, I no longer have it, it was two computers ago and a changeover from PC to Mac.

    Not a Peter Weir crack, Kris. I was merely using Master and Commander as another example of a director who immerses you right into the movie, a ‘you are there’ sort of thing. Master and Commander is a four star movie, that’s one thing we can agree on . And I love Peter Weir, that’s two. :)

  • 6 5-16-2010 at 4:22 pm

    bryan said...

    The original script could have sucked just as much even if the original idea sounds a whole lot better.

    Without actually reading the final version along with the first version we all have no place to judge.

    But I like the fact that someone is at least acknowledging that there is a disconnect there.

  • 7 5-16-2010 at 4:57 pm

    Bobmcbob said...

    I don’t understand this sentence:

    “if Imagine had fired Ridley Scott when he removed their tentpole movie”

    can someone correct this grammar?

  • 8 5-16-2010 at 5:29 pm

    Alex said...

    Come on it wasn’t that bad. David Stratton calls it ‘magnificent’.

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/arts/rockin-robin/story-e6frg8pf-1225865118090

    It really depends what you were expecting. I (to paraphrase Empire) enjoyed it because it was a summer blockbuster that didn’t treat me like a 13 year old boy. Not brilliant but very watchable.

  • 9 5-16-2010 at 6:14 pm

    The Z said...

    Here’s a link to the original “Nottingham” script:

    http://www.raindance.co.uk/site/picture/upload/image/books/Nottingham.pdf

  • 10 5-16-2010 at 6:32 pm

    snowballa said...

    I just read Nottingham and have the script. It was well written and with a couple of rewrites, it definitely would’ve been more interesting than another Robin Hood movie. The potential of a love triangle between the sheriff/Marian/Robin in the midst of a murder investigation sounds twenty times more interesting than Gladiator Redux.

  • 11 5-16-2010 at 6:38 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Bobmcbob: I think the point he’s making is that Scott, in all his dubious tinkering, caused delays that kept a tent pole film from releasing when planned.

  • 12 5-16-2010 at 6:39 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    And “Imagine,” obviously, means the production company, if that’s what confused you? I can’t say for sure what confused you, though, because it makes perfect sense to me…

  • 13 5-16-2010 at 9:50 pm

    Bobmcbob said...

    Kris, I know what Imagine Entertainment is; it just would have made more sense if he used the word “delayed” instead of “removed”

  • 14 5-17-2010 at 10:22 am

    Alfredo said...

    I think I saw another movie. I had a great time, it wasn’t boring at all. It was a great film.

  • 15 5-17-2010 at 7:38 pm

    Mike P. said...

    Man, has anyone talking this thing up actually READ the Nottingham script? I read it a couple years ago, it was godawful then and is godawful now. The ancillary characters are all ripped straight out of Screenwriting 101, and a four-year-old child could have guessed who the killer was halfway through the script.

  • 16 5-17-2010 at 8:31 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Well, that’s a unique perspective.

  • 17 5-17-2010 at 10:49 pm

    moviefan said...

    Sorry, I didn’t see that someone posted the link above. So, Kris, did you read the script? What did you think?

  • 18 5-18-2010 at 3:14 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I have not read it, but I will.

  • 19 8-09-2011 at 12:13 pm

    Lissy said...

    Has anyone actually READ this “amazing” script whose praises you’re singing? Well, try READING it, then. See if you still think it’s so wonderful after reading dialogue like this:

    “HOOD
    And what about you, Robert of Tornham, master of law and order? Where shall you go and what shall you do?”

    No, it’s not something out World of Warcraft fan-fiction. That’s is a genuine line from that marvelous script. And it’s meant seriously.

    (And no, Scott’s garbage isn’t better, either.)

    Read it and see. Better yet, just watch “Robin of Sherwood” again, for a real Robin adaptation.