In Hollywood as elsewhere, success has many fathers while failure is an orphan, and the latest proof of that creaky adage can be seen in the paternity claims being made upon Kevin Costner's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Scheduled for a June 14 release, the Warner Bros./Morgan Creek film notched up an ''unbelievable'' score in an April preview screening the highest, in fact, in the history of the Warner Bros. studio, according to distribution chief Barry Reardon. But while Warner hypes Robin Hood as the front-runner for summer box-office stakes, behind-the-scenes players have been grappling for control of the film's final cut. Why would anyone mess with a movie that has obviously wowed audiences?
The answer, say Hollywood sources, is simple: Power. Costner, Morgan Creek, and Warner Bros. all want a piece of the credit when the picture winds up among the summer's highest grossers. All have plenty to gain. Which means that someone has to lose and the victim, in this case, seems to be director Kevin Reynolds. There's irony here. While directing his first feature, 1984's Fandango, it was Reynolds who gave Costner his first starring role. Reynolds also worked four weeks shooting second-unit footage on Dances With Wolves, including the famous buffalo stampede.
But if Reynolds commanded enough respect to land Robin Hood, he lacks the clout to win arguments with the power brokers, even when one of them is his buddy Costner. The actor insisted on restoring several key lines and close-ups that Reynolds wanted out of Robin Hood. Still hot from his multi-Oscar win (and despite being dissed by Madonna in her rockumentary, Truth or Dare), Costner is currently shooting Oliver Stone's JFK for Warner and, naturally, the studio is trying to land him in an overall deal. So guess who won the argument?
Three weeks ago, Morgan Creek replaced Reynolds' editor, Peter Boyle; Warner editing consultant Stuart Baird (Die Hard 2) is ''coordinating all the editing,'' says one Warner source. Although Morgan Creek will give Boyle screen credit, sources say that the editors have added about five minutes to Reynolds' cut of 2:06 without the director's input.
Morgan Creek chairman Jim Robinson, who admits that he has the final say, thinks the movie will come in at less than 2:10. A Baltimore money man whose former partner, Joe Roth, got so much credit for such hits as Major League and Young Guns that he was rewarded with the chairmanship of Twentieth Century Fox Robinson seems to be angling for a higher profile as a hands-on filmmaker than in the past. Indeed, Robinson ''has been very involved (on Robin Hood),'' says Warner Bros. spokesperson Charlotte Gee. ''Robinson is trying to establish himself,'' says one producer with close ties to Morgan Creek. When asked if he liked Reynolds' directing job, Robinson paused and replied, ''We are very happy with the movie.''
So why fix what's not broken? ''Different people wanted different things, that's all,'' says Warner's Reardon. ''Very little had to be done out of the research screening. Robin Hood's got action and romance. And a big surprise at the end. It's got it all.''