Solomon Kane (2009) The Pilgrim's Kickass
Only nine stories about Kane were published during Howard’s life, and if it wasn't for the thread being kept alive by the Marvel Comic’s 1970s character of the same name, there’s a chance the character could have slipped into total obscurity. Now there’s a film that seeks to change that. I say now, but Solomon Kane was actually made back in 2009 with a theatrical release in the UK in 2010 and a limited release in American theaters delayed until 2012. Even then, like most folks, I had no idea that Kane came and went, and there’s a good possibility it never came even near to my town. Since then, Solomon Kane has been crying for an American distributor and Stars/Anchor Bay is finally coming to the rescue with a DVD release stateside. The question remains, was it worth the wait? After all, I waited almost thirty years for another Conan movie, and the less said about that the better. So, folks, buckle your seatbelts as well as your Pilgrim hats and shoes as we take a journey into this cinematic realization of Howard‘s work.
Under the guidance of writer/director Michael J. Bassett, whose first feature, Deathwatch, was critically favored, Solomon Kane the film bears only passing resemblance to Robert E. Howard’s tales. While the character, as portrayed by Purefoy, feels like an accurate representation of the character, the origin story and quest involved seem pulled out of thin air. While they ring true, that was one of my reservations about the film. With only a handful of episodic stories, how much of Howard’s writing would actually make it on the screen? The answer sadly seems to be very little. That’s not to say that what Bassett came up with isn't good. It has an epic quality that has drawn comparisons to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, but the story is muddled and hard to follow at times. Thankfully, the movie is buoyed throughout by solid performances from veteran actors such as Max von Sydow, Pete Postlethwaite, Alice Krige, and Jason Flemyng, who keep the story going even when it’s not clear where it is going. The real strength is in the style of the production. The special effects are quite stunning at times, especially the execution of the mirror demons, and there is a richness to the set design that makes Solomon Kane very visually interesting. However, sometimes the effects come up short, looking hasty or unfinished, and Kane’s final confrontation appeared too much like a Balrog for my comfort, a line that none shall (or should) pass.
Robert E. Howard, like the characters he penned, was a force of nature. Sadly, he ended his own life at the age of thirty after becoming despondent following a deathbed vigil for his mother. Thankfully, his characters live on, and with films like Solomon Kane, even with its flaws and missteps, there is a chance for another generation to be introduced to the work he created. The hope is that some will investigate what is behind the character and read stories such as “Red Shadows”. “Hills of the Dead” or “The Footfalls Within” (the only story with a passing resemblance to the film), but if not, perhaps at least the image of a buckle hatted, pistol packing Puritan will remain in the cultural tapestry. So while Solomon Kane wasn't the best movie, keeping alive the work of Robert E. Howard is still one of the best things in life. Oh, and driving your enemies before you. Who doesn't love that?