Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Solomon Kane: Yay or Nay?

The Cimmerian's Al Harron weighs in on Michael J. Bassett's Solomon Kane, concluding:
There are two types of Howard adaptations: those that can, through contrast and comparison, make you look at the source material in a new way, or at least appreciate it even more; and those that don’t, because they are so trite and shallow they don’t even warrant further discussion. Conan the Barbarian, with its Nietzsche allusions and philosophical metaphors, is of the former: even if you despise it, you can look at the original stories in a way that you might not normally due to the differences of the two creations. Conan the Destroyer, Red Sonja and Kull the Conqueror? Meaningless, bereft of depth, no more worthy of discussion than a satirical newspaper cartoon. In my opinion, despite its considerable faults, Solomon Kane is of the first variety.

Bassett’s interpretation of Kane’s origin is wholly alien to just about every Howard fan’s I know, but it’s at least derived from the source material. He made Kane into the character he is not because of some arbitrary factor like a star that needed a vehicle or cashing in on a current fad, but because it was part of the story he wanted to tell. It’s an intellectual decision on his part, one that you can disagree with, and one that you could accuse of being hackneyed and cliche, but it’s one that can be respected as an artistic choice. The same simply can’t be said for the other films, which function purely as mindless action flicks, vehicles for their respective stars, with no thought to any sort of dimension. Conan the Barbarian and Solomon Kane are films that can be argued against: the other three are films that can just be ignored.

That's rather a more positive review than I was expecting. I'm actually fond of James Purefoy as an actor, though he wouldn't be my first choice to play Kane. So, it gladdens me a little that the film might not be wholly irredeemable, even if it's about as far from its Howardian origins as Milius's Conan the Barbarian. That means it might be worth seeing if only as a conversation piece (assuming it's ever released in North America) -- which is higher praise than most films get these days, especially ones based on writers of whom I am fond.

More food for thought.


  1. Off to see it this evening.

    I'm of the opinion that, as with LOTR, if a decent film-of-the-book brings a few people to the books themselves, then it's a good thing.

    Also, I'm a huge James Purefoy fanboi. ;)

  2. I'll buy what he said. Milius' CtB might not reflect it's Howardian origins, but I firmly believe that a considerable amount of thought went into the the creation of the work. Yes, it's got a deep "Nietzsche-ian" theme running through it, but at least some thought was put into that theme and how to express it.

    CtD, RS, and Kull were about as thought provoking as Ator the Flying Eagle, Deathstalker, or Hawk the Slayer. They're the 80's equivalent of the "Sci-Fi Original Pictures" like Dragonquest or Transmorphers.

    Even if the new SK movie isn't Howardian, if there's at least some thought put into it, chances are you can at least fool yourself into forgetting the character's literary origins and enjoy the film for what it is rather than what it could have been.

  3. How much Howardian is this flick is not a relevant matter. The movie is just awfully utterly un-directed. Unfortunately sleepy Purefoy can't help either.
    I even prefer the funky goth nonsense realised through Van Helsing movie!
    There's more SK to, let's say, Dirty Harry 70's flicks.

  4. The mentioning of LOTR by Chris made me think how that movie (movies?) would fit into the categories presented by The Cimmerian...

    I think as the movie trilogy progresses, it falls more and more into the latter category, with the Return of the King's final battle being a complete failure, both in terms of movie making and interpreting the text.

  5. Heh, the review was more positive than *I* was expecting, too. Perhaps it's because I went in there bracing myself for Kull the Conqueror, when was I got was more akin to The 13th Warrior. Which, considering my purist standpoint, is pretty high praise.

    Badelaire: I agree, that the reasoning behind changes is very important in such matters. Bassett's SK is a murderous bastard because Bassett felt that Kane simply couldn't have been a good guy all his life, and drew from the texts to support that hypothesis. Wrongly, IMO, but at least it's something. The same for Milius: he made the changes because it's the story he wanted to tell.

    In contrast, the changes made for Kull and the like were purely commercial-driven: make the dialogue more like Hercules because Hercules was popular, put in Tia Carerre because she's hot and inexpensive enough for the role, put in Litefoot because we need cultural diversity, have Joel Goldsmith stick in guitar riffs because they're "kewl", etc.

    Squidman: well, that depends. Some of the changes - mostly by Boyens and Walsh - are a result of displeasure with Tolkien's characterisation (Faramir, Denethor, Theoden etc). Others are a result of Jackson's just wanting to put some cool stuff in (fight on the stairs, warg attack, whatever). Then you have the studio mandates like Arwen's expanded role.

    Generally, I'd say it's a bit like your setup: starting off roughly in the former category, before going off the deep end.

  6. Does the film show any awareness that Kane is a Protestant (Puritan), not a Catholic?

    I think that's critical in REH's concept of the character - in Protestantism the relationship with God is direct and individual, in Catholicism it's mediated through the clergy.

    When I saw that Kane in the movie 'takes refuge in a monastery' and 'scourges himself' I decided not to go see it, because it sounded like the Director was an idiot. Was I wrong?

  7. Does the film show any awareness that Kane is a Protestant (Puritan), not a Catholic?

    I haven't seen the film myself, so I can't say for certain, but, from what I have seen, the film does the typical Hollywood thing and doesn't care much about such niceties, seeing them as irrelevant. A Christian's a Christian, after all, so why confuse the audience with historical or dramatic details like that?

  8. Have no fear, S'Mon, Al is here!

    The film, sad to say, doesn't seem to make any sort of distinction that I'm aware of between Catholic & Protestant. Nothing is said about the presence of a Monastery in an England where monasteries were illegal, not to mention the weird confused spirituality the film's Puritan family espouses. That said, the way the film's done, there's a possibility of reconciling it in the novelisation.

    Kane doesn't "scourge himself": he just covers himself in various warding tattoos. Crucifixes, Latin scrawlings, demonology symbols, stuff like that. Really silly, but not "Opus Dei according to Dan Brown" silly.

    So in all likelihood Bassett was being an idiot, but hopefully Ramsey Campbell addresses these problems in the novelisation.