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CANNES, France (Reuters) - The Cannes film festival opened on Wednesday with the world premiere of "Robin Hood," Ridley Scott's epic version that seeks to show how the hero of legend becomes an outlaw robbing the rich to feed the poor.
New Zealand-born Russell Crowe, who plays the courageous 13th century archer, and Australian Cate Blanchett, as Maid Marion, were on the red carpet in the French Riviera resort for the start of the 12-day movie marathon.
Joining them on the stairs leading to the Grand Theater Lumiere were Helen Mirren, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Eva Longoria Parker, Aishwarya Rai and jury president Tim Burton.
Robin Hood is one of only a handful of U.S. titles at this year's festival, an expensive if high-profile platform for movies, reflecting concerns over the state of the global economy and making the 2010 event relatively low-key in terms of stars.
"Maybe the main reason is the (financial) crisis, because cinema is an industry ... which needs a lot of money," festival director Thierry Fremaux told Reuters.
Robin Hood, which is being screened outside the all-male-directed, 19-strong competition lineup in Cannes, is an action-packed adaptation that suggests studio bosses at Universal Pictures are looking to build it into a lucrative franchise.
"There's no sort of cynicism with this, we don't have two other scripts under Ridley's hospital bed," Crowe told reporters.
"Obviously there's a figure in the studio heads' mind, if we pass a certain figure then they'll give us a call and say, 'well, tell the second part of the story', but there's no grand plan in that regard.
"It's theater on a grand scale and it's an experience second to none, and if I had the opportunity to address what happens next with Ridley and Cate, then great, let's do it."
Scott was unable to be in France due to a knee operation.
Asked why he took on an iconic role previously played by Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks and Kevin Costner, Crowe replied:
"Do I really believe in the motivations or the back story of any of the other Robin Hoods that have been done?
"When I started thinking about it from that perspective my answer was no. I wanted to find out what the essential motivations were for this man's altruism."
Blanchett, who plays a feisty, independent Marion, also said she was not inspired by earlier incarnations like Audrey Hepburn's or Olivia de Havilland's.
"I always wanted to be Robin Hood rather than Maid Marion but the part was taken," she said. "They're not the ones I remember, to be honest, which was probably convenient because Ridley wasn't at all interested in the 'maiden in distress'."
The sole U.S. entry in competition is Doug Liman's "Fair Game" starring Naomi Watts as Valerie Plame, the CIA agent whose cover was blown in 2003, and Sean Penn as her husband.
Oliver Stone and Woody Allen bring their latest films to France but not in competition, while Asian cinema features strongly in Cannes, which prides itself on championing small productions by obscure directors from around the world.
Stone's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," in which Michael Douglas reprises his 1987 role as ruthless corporate raider Gordon Gekko, will be among the most topical at the festival, focusing on corruption and greed at the world's biggest banks.
Allen's latest offering is "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger," and Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones is expected to appear for documentary "Stones in Exile," about the recording of the band's seminal album "Exile on Main Street."
Editing by Mark Trevelyan