Great Day for Robert E Howard fans! 1st: The Rat is off Conan!!! 2nd: Harry has seen SOLOMON KANE and it is wonderful!
Published at: May 8, 2009, 7:20 p.m. CST by headgeek
Hey there, Harry here!
First - it seems pretty sure that Brett Ratner is off of the relaunch of CONAN - at least according to Empire. Now the scary thing is that producer, Joe Gatta says that everyone on their team really wanted Ratner, which has me truly afraid of who they'll end up hiring to helm the next CONAN. Will this mean a Conan by someone like Len Wiseman or Paul W.S. Anderson or someone worse. Let's hope it ends up being someone like Michael Bassett.
Well, Michael Bassett is a Junior filmmaker... he's just completed his third film, and he's on a career track that I'm always looking after. Each film has been a leap forward from his previous.
In 2002, I was in Sitges, where I saw Michael Bassett's first film, DEATHWATCH - a very atmospheric and bizarre WWI trench ghost/horror film that very nearly did it for me. It starred Jamie Bell and Andy Serkis sans mo-cap dots. It didn't really warrant cheers and high praise cuz it just didn't quite work. It very nearly did though, that's why I really was interested in checking out his second film, WILDERNESS - which I saw at some screening thanks to my friend Matt Dentler back in 2006. The premise was essentially LORD OF THE FLIES meets juvenile delinquents from hell. There's something about child endangerment in film that I'm very much a fan of. The big point is... it was a very strong film from beginning to end, that just wasn't amazing.
Now it is 2009, and a few days ago, I saw Michael Bassett's third film effort. This time - all the pieces have fallen into place for Michael Bassett. This time, he's adapted the second greatest character from the mind of Robert E Howard. This time it is SOLOMON KANE.
There have been rumors of a Solomon Kane film for ages. When Bassett first announced this film, I was thrilled and scared shitless - because while I like Michael Bassett and I hoped he'd become a filmmaker that I could get real excited about... you never can tell. And with material like SOLOMON KANE. Dear God, this could've been handled all sorts of fucking wrong.
On the drive across Austin to see the movie, I was talking to my father - and we were discussing the concept of a SOLOMON KANE film. We were talking about how the look of the character had been completely ripped off by Stephen Sommers for his VAN HELSING - that retardedly goofy cartoon of a film. And we were terrified of this going wrong. Dad talked about how when he first became a dealer of comics, pulps and movie memoribilia in the Seventies - there were constant rumors and fan rumblings of a Solomon Kane film. And we were talking and talking and talking - and finally I stated, "You know, I just hope Kane isn't just a badass. I hope they keep the religion as part of the character." And Father Geek looked at me and said with a degree of fear in his voice, "How could you do it without it?"
Thank God! We never have to worry about that.
SOLOMON KANE begins with an awesome shot of two great buccaneer style ships shelling the hell out of a strange Moorish city. We see English buccaneers and adventurers killing Moors as they make their way to find a great treasure of some kind.
The man in front is a man possessed. Cutting men down like they're nothing. He's enjoying what he's doing and it is bloody, it is brutal, it is tough. As they make their way into the heart of this great kingdom, there's a hall of black mirrors at weird angles - and as he and his men make their way through - demons begin grabbing the men into the mirrors... And as Solomon makes his way, alone, to the main chamber - something belched from Hell is waiting. Satan's Reaper. And this reaper has come for an evil man's soul. An evil man named SOLOMON KANE.
Kane begins an epic battle - trying to preserve his immortal soul and at the end of it all - he of course escapes - but upon seeing Satan's right hand man desiring his soul. What does that do to a man?
We next find Solomon Kane living the life of a monk essentially. Completely and painfully dedicated in utter repentance to GOD. So intensely so that he scares nearly everyone there. The Abbott had a vision that God wanted Solomon Kane to go forth in the world and return home.
His body is covered with sacred symbols and his back branded with a crucifix that covers his entire back. It's brutal. this isn't modern scarification. This is curdled skin. You only see it in this brief sequence, but it is the image of a man that has tormented his body as he can only imagine his soul would be tormented for eternity. He does not wish to go to hell.
NOW - something you should know - throughout everything this film is BEAUTIFULLY SHOT. Not with filters and bullshit color tones - No. This film feels dirty, feels frigidly cold, life does not look easy. The actors don't look like actors with shiny white teeth and perfect hair. They look like people that have lived lives without air-conditioning, dentistry, exact surgeons and doctors. No - this is a hard time in life. If you've ever read Robert E Howard's stories about SOLOMON KANE you get a picture of the world he inhabited.
Some would say that world was far more non-fiction than his Hyborian Age... After all, this is the 17th Century and Solomon Kane is a Puritan. And Conan's world is some age where there was no documented history of the era. Just a few ruins here and there. Clay tablets broken in half. But the 17th Century we can read about with some authority. But when we think of that period of witches and a battle between Christianity and the horrors of a Satan spawned world that the light of God was trying to force back into shadow where it belongs... we think of it in modern eyes. Where demons, the supernatural, the women tied to stakes to burn... they were innocents. It was the religion that was the problem, not the people thrown into rivers tied to rocks, not the women burned to death.
Well, Robert Howard's world postulates that Evil was real. Not only that, but it was an aggressive mutherfucker. This world has something rotten and perverted embedded. And Solomon Kane... he's the awesome right hand of God that bitchslaps evil back where it goes. And it isn't easy. He doesn't have a cute bag of tricks. No magical swords, no amulets of protection. He believes in God. But God doesn't really care about Solomon Kane or this world. Other than somehow allowing Kane to find his way through it.
You've never seen so many dead and decaying hanging corpses being feasted upon by crows and other critters. When you see this film, you won't be watching an ultra modern film. These are characters of few words, they speak about the evil in the world around them and the hope that religion gives them. But like I said... EVIL is aggressive here.
After Solomon's time dedicated to God. He no longer carries weapons. He is a man walking the savage road back home. Haunted by his memories from there. When he's set upon by bandits - he refuses to fight them, instead he endures. He's the meanest most brutal badass on the planet, but he doesn't want to be the man he was that Satan wants. So he suffers, endures and takes it.
Then a family comes and rescues him. A good family. Headed by Pete Postlethwaite. And you just know something bad is going to happen to these people in this land. They are heading to leave for the New World. Make a new start in a pure land that Satan doesn't have his claws entrenched into. He considers going with them, but as they get further on their journey - the evil grows darker and soon - it demonstrates just how far and how real true evil can be - and Solomon is given a quest with a promise of winning his soul from Satan if he accomplishes it.
This film is an origin and an introduction to SOLOMON KANE. When Solomon's violence is unleashed, it is brutal and doesn't feel choreographed so much as it is what is required in the given situation. He uses the weapons of the period, musket style hand guns and swords. He throws himself into battle without regard for his safety or those he fights. And make no doubts about it, the evil in this world is true evil.
My favorite demonstration of this is a little village they come across. There's a stake in the middle of the village - and surrounding it are all these dead bodies. They all had their eyes burnt out from the inside out. Holy hell, this is evil looking. They surmise that they were attempting to burn a witch at the stake and she killed all that were attempting to watch her die. This ain't the fucking CRUCIBLE - this is the world of SOLOMON KANE!
Evil is real and thank god we have Solomon Kane out there in it.
Now - about the performances - they're all dead on. James Purefoy is a movie star. His Solomon Kane is the animal we wish Wolverine was in fights. He's fantastic as Kane. He sells everything about the character - this isn't a film about one liners and unbelievable action. This is the purest film introduction to a new screen star since I saw George Clooney in FROM DUSK TIL DAWN. I had the exact same feeling watching Purefoy here.
I'll tell you how good he was. Before the film, I told Dad - "I have always wanted Daniel Day Lewis to play SOLOMON KANE" - but by the end of the film, I was completely ecstatic that Purefoy had the role. He's seriously great here.
And so is everyone else... Pete Postlethwaite, Alice Krige, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Max von Sydow (wow), Jason Flemyng, Mackenzie Crook... everyone. They all sell this story so well.
By the end of the film - I'm ready for Kane to go to Africa, to go to the New World. This is a wonderful character and this is a wonderful start - like how we got introduced to Vin Diesel in PITCH BLACK - where we just wanted to see more of Riddick. Right now, give me more Solomon Kane and more of Purefoy and more from Bassett.
This if an old school finely crafted film that genuinely creates the world of SOLOMON KANE. The beheadings, the arms being whacked off... it's done old school style - not clean happy CG cuts, but more brutal.
Now this film isn't a huge movie, but it is much better than most huge movies. Better because they're characters you can be invested in. Doing things that are genuinely heroic against genuine horrors with real detailed atmosphere and a sense of foreboding.
One of the heroes of this film that I've yet to mention is Dan Laustsen... the DP for the film. You know his work from SILENT HILL, LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN - but mainly his best work has been in foreign films like the wonderful THE SUBSTITUTE which blew audiences away at FANTASTIC FEST last year. Well in SOLOMON KANE - he does his best, most painterly work, as well as his most naturalistic. The film is beautiful to look at. Love the way this world is!
I also love Composer Klaus Badelt's work here. He's had an interesting career thus far - probably best known for his work on the first PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN film - SOLOMON KANE is the new high water mark for him.
When you go to see this film - and you definitely should (when a distributor smart enough picks it up) - go in knowing this is the first film. This is the film they made before any American studio was smart enough to buy into Bassett's vision for Howard's world. Before they knew James Purefoy could carry a film like fucking Atlas. And at the end, you'll hope for the next adventure - hoping for a straight adaptation - where perhaps he'll finally get his Staff of Solomon. This is the adventure that hypes us up for more and that's the best I could have hoped for the first SOLOMON KANE adaptation. A desire to see more from this same team!