Saturday, October 16, 2010
Okay, I just finished watching Solomon Kane. Let me say right off that I really really liked it. It's exactly what a sword & sorcery movie should be and that is a historical (or pseudo-historical) adventure combined with horror. I've gone on and on here before about how I feel the best S&S stories have a horror story at their heart. Think of Conan in the darkness with the things under the Scarlet Citadel or almost going down the well with the Lovecraftian creature from Xuthal of the Dusk or fighting cannibals in Shadows in Zamboula.
Horror figures even more prominently, I think, in the tales of Solomon Kane, as the dour Puritan pits steel and courage against vampires, ghosts, dark sorcery, and pre-human races.
Michael J. Bassett's film Solomon Kane finally gets that on screen. There are demons and monsters aplenty in this film and also rousing sword battles against more human opponents, and yes there is actually a sorcerer. This is a dark, scary, fun movie. A really good sword and sorcery film. Maybe the best one to date, though I have to think about that for a bit.
I do have a couple of problems. As some of my fellow Robert E. Howard enthusiasts have pointed out (most of who agreed this was a great S&S film) the character of Kane, as presented in the movie, isn't REH's Kane. There's a bit of an issue with Kane's motivation, especially early on, when he seems to only be doing the right thing in order to save his own soul from damnation.
That is addressed to some degree when Kane basically says, okay if I have to go to hell to save some folks, then I'm going to hell. I could see Howard's Kane saying that, though I don't think Howard's Kane would have ever ended up in that situation. He's always been presented as a man who's unshakable faith drives him to confront evil. He isn't making up for past sins, but is instead something of a fanatic from the get go. Still, by the end of the movie he's homing in more on REH's Kane.
I was also a little put off by the fact that this was an origin film when REH never gave us an origin for Kane, and really, who needs one? It's not like series character James Bond has an origin, and he gets along fine. But common wisdom since the first Superman and Batman movies seems to be that we have to have an origin story. That said, I get the feeling that writer/director Bassett's theme for this film was one of redemption and in order to do that he needed something for the hero to be redeemed from. On that level it works. In some ways it reminds me of my favorite Michael Moorcock novel, The Warhound and the World's Pain. I'm not the first to make the comparison, and having now seen the film I can see why the movie brought that book to mind to others.
Visually this is a great looking movie. Most of the special effects are very good. The overall look of the film is dark and brooding and weather effects are put to good use. Snow falls fitfully through many scenes adding the sort of texture that Ridley Scott is fond of. There are a couple of shots of Solomon Kane in full Puritan garb that should make any REH fan grin, at least briefly. Actor James Purefoy even manages to look good in a slouch hat, not something everyone can pull off. Ask Hugh Jackman.
Speaking of Purefoy, I was impressed with his performance. He could look ruthless or utterly anguished, depending on what was called for. I've liked Purefoy since he played Mark Anthony in HBO's Rome and I thought he did a great job here. He also looked good in the action scenes. I am definitely looking forward to his next action film, Ironclad.
Anyway, I literally just turned the film off so I'm tired and I'm going to bed. Have to watch the extras tomorrow. For some reason, this movie still hasn't had a release here in the US, but it's been out in the UK long enough for DVDS and Blue Rays to be available. I got tired of waiting and ordered my DVD from the UK. I have a non-regional player so it was no problem. And I'm very glad I did.
SPOILER ALERT: There's one scene I really thought REH would have liked but it's a bit of a surprise in the movie, so I wanted to warn potential viewers. You've been warned.
Kane enters a church and a priest (Or someone pretending to be a priest.) who's gone a bit crazy ends up pitching Kane into a cellar full of mutated creatures with glowing eyes that I think very much resemble the vampires from the Solomon Kane story Hills of the Dead. Kane's running battle with these things in the darkness is nightmare inducing material and I think REH would have liked it. That moment feels very much like a Howard story.