Pulp author Robert E. Howard’s best known creation is, most likely, Conan the Barbarian. Despite this, it is his another of his major recurring characters, Solomon Kane, that remains my personal favorite. Surely it has something to do with the fact that the character is a religious 1600’s era Puritanical “Dirty Harry” that most intrigues me. He hunts evil…and deals with it mercilessly.
A few years back, when word came that a Solomon Kane film was in the works with James Purefoy in the lead role, I was eager to see it. The film was made and there was word of a coming release and then…nothing.
The movie, a European production, was eventually released to theaters in Europe but, as far as I can tell, didn’t make it to United States theaters. If it did, it was very a very limited release. More time passed. Eventually, I found the movie was released to the video market, again in Europe, but it remained left out of the U.S. markets.
Until, that is, last month.
Now, four years later, I finally had a chance to get my hands on Solomon Kane and give it a shot. Would it live up to my expectations? More importantly, would it live up to Robert E. Howard’s original stories?
In a word…kinda.
Solomon Kane is a low budget movie and, like many low budget features, suffers at times from a lack of spectacle. While this can hurt movies that strive for “big” stories, it doesn’t hurt the film all that much…at least until the end (I’ll get to that in a second). Where the film may bother Solomon Kane fans is in the story it tells. Solomon Kane is, essentially, an “origin” story for the character and this winds up being the worst -and most unnecessary- part of the film. Worst because the character’s story arc from bad to good feels way too compressed and -given what we see- unlikely. Unnecessary because the movie’s makers could have eliminated almost all that back story and still given us almost everything presented…only without that clutter.
Robert E. Howard never bothered to give Solomon Kane much of an origin, though one of his best Kane stories -in this case a poem- involves Solomon Kane’s return to his home town. It was this poem, I suspect, that was the primary inspiration for this movie.
Unfortunately, while the poem was wistful and grand, the movie is decidedly smaller. We start with Solomon Kane as a berserk killer, a privateer lusting for gold and mayhem and willing to kill anyone that gets in his way. On his latest adventure his pirate crew invades a castle in search of gold. As they climb the castle, however, evidence of dark magics appear. Eventually, Solomon Kane’s entire crew is butchered while the bloodthirsty man is confronted by one of the Devil’s own…a demon who wants to drag evil Solomon Kane to Hell.
Solomon barely escapes with his life and, years later, we find that the encounter with the Devil’s minion has made Kane renounce his evil ways. He now lives in a monastery, alone and non-violent, and is trying his best to repent. Alas, and as I said before, this is the part of the movie that just doesn’t work for me. Why? Because rather than the Robert E. Howard vengeful zealot, we have a man that, for lack of a better word, was scared shitless into becoming “good”.
Anyway, the monastery decides its time for Solomon to leave their grounds. They can’t keep him anymore and he ventures off, only to run into foul deeds performed by a rumored sorcerer.
Once again, I was bothered by this whole introductory segment. Not only is Solomon presented as a bloodthirsty murderer who was “scared straight”, but he’s also forced to leave the Monastery when they don’t want him anymore. Had this not happened, would the fearful Solomon Kane remain hidden for the rest of his life?
An instant fix that might have worked better: Eliminate the whole privateer thing and introduce audiences to Solomon as a mysterious figure in the monastery, a man who knows the devil has chased after him all his life and decides, on his own, that the time has come for him to leave the safety of the monastery and confront his nemesis. The monks beg him to stay, but he refuses. He will not live in fear anymore. On his way out the door, he tells the head monk regarding his eventual, inevitable confrontation with the Devil: “We’ll see who’s left standing”. After saying this, he walks out the monastery gates. No more “scared” Solomon, no more silliness.
Anyway, back to the real movie…
So Solomon Kane is out and about and, because he has renounced all violence, suffers from this, especially when a family he falls in with are for the most part butchered by the sorcerer’s soldiers. This wakens the grim Solomon and he vows to save a kidnapped maiden and rid the terrorized lands of the sorcerer and his army. The climax, if you haven’t guessed it already, leads Solomon Kane back to familiar ground and the poem I referenced above. Unfortunately, the final battle features some CGI effects that may work better in a DOOM type game rather than Solomon Kane. Ah well.
Even with the faults I mentioned above regarding the character’s origin, Solomon Kane is a reasonably entertaining film, but one that could -and should- have been much better. Even ignoring the unnecessary origin aspects for a second, the film, at least to me, never really catches fire. Mind you, it moves along well enough and doesn’t bore…but neither does it draw you in with bated breath like a good action film should. The bottom line is that while you may be entertained, you’re likely not to be terribly impressed.
On the plus side, and despite the silly origin aspects, the filmmakers clearly were familiar with the Solomon Kane stories and tried hard to make a film that honored them. A bigger budget, a rethinking of the origin aspects, and a more exciting pace would have surely helped make for a better film.
Despite this, I would cautiously recommend Solomon Kane to fans of the stories. Others may want to stay away.