Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Secret Origin Of Solomon Kane!

Finally I got to see Solomon Kane. This movie was released in 2009, but not in any theater on the North American continent. Now finally we have access to this robust Robert E. Howard adaptation by means of a much belated dvd release just this week. Mine came to my door yesterday and I promptly ripped it open and gave it a few viewings.

James Purefoy is ideally cast as Howard's dour Puritan reaver. His face, his demeanor, his physical skills all communicate effectively the somber power of one of REH's most ferocious creations. Preceding Conan, Solomon Kane has always been a favorite of mine, mostly because his adventures are set in the "real" world. Admittedly it's a world filled with all manner of dark magic, but it's also a world in which God and Satan and all between are very much a palpable part of the landscape. 

Purefoy says he was convinced to play the part when he saw the production artwork above showing the relentless Solomon Kane battling a bevy of flesh-rending ghouls. It's a wild scene, which is realized in somewhat less blood and thunder fashion in the actual movie.

This movie doesn't adapt any particular Kane story, so don't view expecting to see parts of "Red Shadows", "The Hills of the Dead", or any other lusty Howard story. The director Michael Bassett said his brief from the producers was to create an origin story for Kane which would then lead into a few more movies adapting the actual Howard material. Howard speaks little of Kane's back story, other than to suggest he has lived a most adventurous life across the expanse of the whole world.

This movie shows us Kane as a boy, shows us Kane's father and family, shows us his life before he commits himself to God and becomes the devout red-handed slayer of the Howard stories. Kane was in his own words "an evil evil man" and we see that in the early stages of the story. But the movie then shows us how this man strives for redemption and the tale takes us through his awkward stages to an awakening of his destiny in the world, which is to battle evil, the very evil he once embraced so joyously.

The movie offers up monsters galore in a world bristling with white and black magic. We get a sword-wielding demon from Satan, a haggard witch, a mysterious and mighty rider, blood-thirsty ghouls, a wicked sorcerer, and even a full-blown giant monster. Not all the threats seem as natural to Kane's worlds as they ought, but most do. If the movie has any significant weakness it is the finale which is paced well, but seems somewhat different in tone than what had preceded it.

The late Pete Postlethwaite is typically effective in his brief but significant role, likewise a somber Max Von Sydow. Alice Krige and Jason Fleming are also on hand in a movie which is exceedingly well cast. James Purefoy leads this cast and shows us the misery of Solomon Kane right down to his scarred and battered skin. His voice rolls out in a compelling baritone which demands attention and his ability to glare is most impressive. The movie is very very well acted, the true strength of the effort.

The snow flies and the rain falls almost throughout the movie giving the whole affair a bleak texture which reinforces the themes of general despair which lurks around every corner. But finding that small light of hope in this unusually scarred landscape is what the journey of this movie is all about.

Without spoiling a really good ride, all I can say is that if the Kane we know is not with us at the beginning he most certainly is by the end.

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  1. I enjoyed the Solomon Kane film, too. I bought the Region 2 DVD a year or two ago, and I have the U.S. Blu-ray now.

    I got into so many arguments with Howard fans who refused to accept the movie on its own terms, and condemned it (sometimes sight unseen) for not being "faithful" to Howard's stories or having the gall to presume to create an origin for Howard's character that I came, once again, to find myself remembering why I often hate talking to "fellow" fans about such things.

    In any case, I'm glad to see someone else "gets" it, and appreciates it for what it is - which is a much better than average fantasy film.

    1. I've always been of the mind that a character must be reinvented when translated to a new medium. No TV show is exactly like its source, nor is a movie. Some get closer than others, but that depends on the source material. For example Conan of the comic is different than Conan of the Howard stories, heck Conan of the novels of other folks is different from Conan of the Howard stories. But is the character's essence recognizable, that's the key. And Solomon Kane is very much in evidence. The creators here seemed really interested in making it true, and despite the changes I thought they did well.

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    2. I got into so many arguments with Howard fans who refused to accept the movie on its own terms, and condemned it (sometimes sight unseen) for not being "faithful" to Howard's stories or having the gall to presume to create an origin for Howard's character that I came, once again, to find myself remembering why I often hate talking to "fellow" fans about such things.

      Oh, my ears are burning!

      My issue with the film not being "faithful" is that Bassett et al would not stop talking about how faithful the film was to Howard despite the fact that the film is literally incompatible with several of the stories and poems. "The One Black Stain" could not have happened, since the film's placement at 1600 with a (presumably) 40-year-old Kane means he would've had to have been a teenager during that poem. Likewise, "The Return of Sir Richard Grenville" makes no sense in the context of the film. As for the stories, "Red Shadows" is rendered rather ridiculous when Kane nearly loses his mind after seeing a corpse start to walk, if you imagine this takes place after a film where he faces a literal Demon from Hell in addition to zombies and ghouls and Devil's Reapers.

      (Darn, isn't this the sort of conversation you were trying to avoid? Sorry, Chris!) In any case, if they said this was a pure reinvention or reboot that'd be one thing, but they didn't, they were consistently adamant about their fidelity to the source material. And it ended up being somewhat looser.

      I enjoyed the film, but like the 1982 Conan, it's Solomon Kane in-name-only for me. We could argue about whether either film retained the "essence" of Conan, Howard's or otherwise, but that's part of the fandom, I guess.

    3. Your points are valid. You know your stuff.

      But the fidelity I kept hearing them discuss (and perhaps you know more on this point) was in relation to the character of Solomon Kane. My feeling was he was, if anything, a bit too chatty at times, but aside from that I thought they nailed the core of what made him tick.

      Like most movies, he came off a bit too modern in some ways, but that's almost unavoidable if the creators want the character to connect with even a smattering of a broader audience.

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