Robert E. Howard (REH for short) is known for his many sword and sorcery stories; particular among those being Conan the Cimmerian, a character that has inspired a great many subsequent generations of fantasy creators.
Before Howard created the barbarian that would inspire Milius and Ahnuld, he created the tough as nails puritan Solomon Kane. A character that I personally find much more appealing.
In the original REH storylines, we’re thrust into 16/17th century adventures with Kane as he globe trots with an aim to make up for his sordid past by righting wrongs wherever he sees them. Solomon is content to wander aimlessly with nothing, but his twin flintlocks, a rapier, and a dagger to keep him company.
His past is never revealed, but through a few lines here and there or chance encounters with figures from his days long spent.
It’s Solomon Kane’s history that director Michael Bassett chooses to take us to for this character’s first cinematic outing.
To Hell and Back
James Purefoy (HBO’s ROME) is cast in the titular role of Kane and plays it admirably so. Bassett’s version of Solomon isn’t quite the same as Howard’s version, but I suppose it could be argued that since the film takes place before the events of the books it’s based on, there’s room to build the character towards his current end. That said, I still found myself a little disappointed with this film characterization as part of the allure of the REH original (for me) was the very unique personality that Kane exhibited. I can’t quite put my finger on what’s off, but the magic isn’t quite there…yet.
The story plunges us into a foot battle, swords and severed scalps aplenty, and we discover Solomon Kane as a soldier — a life that’s only been hinted at previously by RE Howard. We find Kane laying siege to a non-descript fortress of a non-descript enemy, gutting his way to the center chamber where the lord of the manor is sure to be hold up. Kane is ruthless, bloodthirsty, sadistic, and all around bad guy. Not someone you’d care to befriend. He soon learns though that there are elements out there more evil and more powerful than he could ever aspire to be. It’s a pretty effective sequence and a hopeful setup for the rest of the film.
This early action scene is our first taste of the supernatural elements of the Solomon Kane mythos. In the books, Kane encounters a great many hideous and quite scary foes and at times must use not just his physical arsenal, but his wits as well. The movie does a quite good job of inventing a few of its own creatures for Kane to fight, but they’re never used quite to good enough effect. I counted 6 unique monster creations interspersed throughout the film, and all memorable in terms of design and function, but the fight sequences weren’t quite as well conceived as the designs. This results in cool beginning, but letdown finishers. Never quite piss you off bad, but never quite meeting their potential. Hopefully this will be corrected for future outings of the film.
For now, this is the tally…
C grade – for storytelling
A grade – for casting
A grade – for great creature and production design
C grade – for success at adapting the source material
Overall Score: C+/B-
Solomon Kane (DVD/Bluray)