I was not to be thwarted by it being sold out, and was first in the standby line to get into Solomon Kane. Solomon Kane, the Puritan adventurer, is one of Robert E. Howard’s fictional creations (along with Conan, Kull, and Bran Mak Morn). Writer and director Michael J. Bassett (Wilderness, Deathwatch) was in attendance.
The movie was very good – I would sum it up as “Van Helsing, but without the suck.” James Purefoy (Mark Antony from HBO’s Rome) stars as Kane. Bassett decided to make an origin story for Kane instead of directly adapting an existing story. Kane is a tortured soul; he starts the movie as a piratical badass but upon discovering that the Devil is eagerly awaiting his soul, forsakes his life of violence and embeds himself in a hermitage. There’s pathos in his being forced back into a life of violence by Devil-insipired armies besetting the land – the movie doesn’t bear this as well as, say Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider, but then again who does.
Bassett makes great use of snow and rain and atmospherics, making the overall film feel much like a Howard story tells – dark, gritty, full of blood and steel and violence. The movie’s cinematographer, Dan Laustsen, also worked on Brotherhood of the Wolf (also an excellent movie), and you can see the visual similarities. One of my favorite shots is where Kane beheads an opponent, but it takes three brutal strokes to do it; more “chopping meat” and much less the light, airy pseudoviolence of many recent fantasy movies and TV shows. (After the film, Bassett told a story about how they got a pig cadaver and had at it with various weapons to try and get a feel for what real weapon brutality would be like.) Pete Postlethwaite, Max Von Sydow, and other notables fill out the cast. CGI makes an appearance but is kept to a minimum (except with the too-balrogey demon in the end battle) – Bassett’s preference, as well as a budgetary limitation – the movie was not studio backed, but funded by its producers.
I’m sure there’s some deviant somewhere who will complain that this story isn’t a “pure Howard” Kane story, but it sure gets the tone right, and if successful Bassett wants to go on to make more Kane movies to tell some of Howard’s stories more directly. I found it to be very enjoyable, similar in tone to The Thirteenth Warrior or Brotherhood of the Wolf.
“I’m sure there’s some deviant somewhere who will complain that this story isn’t a “pure Howard” Kane story”
Well, it isn’t a pure Howard Kane story. None of the stuff that happens in the film is described or even alluded to in the Howard stories, and much of it is directly contradictory to Howard’s character and themes. You don’t have to be a deviant to spot that. I mean, I enjoyed the film as a Sword-and-Sorcery film in the vein of Howard’s dark fantasy, but it’s about as close to Howard as Starship Troopers was to Heinlein.
Movies don’t have to be pure adaptations of one short story or another; that’s a ridiculous goal. I’ve read all the Kane stories and didn’t find the movie to be out of line with their tone; much the contrary – what did you find so? “New” because it’s from an unwritten origin story does not count of course – at the end of the movie, is he the Kane we know and love? Yes, IMO.