Friday, July 9, 2010

Solomon Kane (Blu-Ray)

The book to movie adaptation is a risky project for any director or screenwrite to take on, especially one with such a cult following as the late Robert E Howard. Legendary characters litter the landscape of Howard's worlds, larger than life and epic on their own scale are the types such as Conan, or Kull, or the pict Bran Mak Morn. Characters that came after my favorite of his, Solomon Kane. A flawed being, relentlessly serious and nigh superhuman, if only driven by his puritan zealotry.

Robert E Howard never gifted Solomon much of a background in his short stories; pulpy masterpieces of flawed humanity, fighting through hordes of ridiculously fiendish opponents. In this case, that's where director Michael Bassett (Wilderness, Deathwatch) stepped in, not only penning the origin story of Solomon Kane, but helming the feature as well with all his gusto.

That's also where many of the fans began decrying the film, before it even hit festivals or played auditoriums in Europe. "How dare this hack presume to know the origins of our beloved Solomon Kane!" Though most people would forever cry foul at the adaptation with barely an understanding of the character themselves. Did Bassett succeed in weaving a rip roaring yarn to pay homage to the weird tales of Howard's hero? Damn right.

Starting out of the gates with a bloodthirsty Solomon (James Purefoy) sacking an anonymous African city, he is shown to be savage and barbaric and utterly lacking mercy. He cuts throats and rends flesh, hacking limbs and freeing guts of their abdominal prison. He's shown to be heartless, and as a result nearly pays with his soul.

Bassett then gives us a reformed Solomon a year later, having taken a vow of peace, renouncing violence and its ilk. Commanded to go on a pilgrimage to find where his true purpose lies, he encounters pilgrims who are brutally attacked, and whose child is taken by soldiers in a demonic army that razes the 17th century English countryside. Vowing to stop the evil and return the child, in hopes for redeeming his own soul, Solomon deals with more evil and savagery in this one film than most fantasy heroes do in a trilogy.

The landscape itself is as much a character as the primary cast. Bleak and dismal and espousing the gloom that plagues its dwellers lives, one would think that England in the 1600's was the most depressing place on the planet. The way in which its captured, though, is epic in scope and never loses the attention of the audience. It's actually all shot gorgeously and given just the right amount of life to make it engaging, but never more than the titular Solomon Kane himself.

The action as well, functions almost as a secondary character. It's likely the reason no US distributors sought to bring it to American theaters was due to the insane amount of carnage on the screen. Make no mistake that Bassett's Solomon Kane gives Milius' Conan a run for his money in the bloodletting department, at times even more graphically, with lead-shot pistols, blunderbuses, swords and daggers making pulp of the foes onscreen. Not a film for the little ones, I mean, and all the better for it as Solomon Kane was always Howard's most mature and complex character, flawed and vicious but goodhearted in his quest for redemption. There's a whole lot to like here, aided in its absence of Hollywood politics and PG-13 safeness. Unfortunately, while the scope is always admirable, its lack of a large budget is never fully hidden.

As for the blu-ray disc itself... it looks great. Not amazing or reference quality, but details are generally very evident, especially during close-ups where we get to marvel at Solomon's garb, or the grime on the faces of the horde he fights, or the landscap itself, grim yet still showing immense clarity when it comes to seeing everything crammed into each shot. Blacks are excellent, with no flaring or pixelations, and I'm hard pressed to spot any edge enhancement or digital noise reduction. Not the best in PQ on my shelf but definitely up there.

The audio quality is good, though the balance at times seems a bit off, with the score generally running louder than the dialog, also quieted by the din of swords clashing and the background sounds of things like the weather or horse hooves hitting the dirt. Don't get me wrong, everything sounds as it's meant to and very good at that, just not completely balanced comfortably.

As for what I've seen of the supplements, there's the mandatory making of (starting in predictable fashion with a trailer) that is more of a long commercial for the movie than a true documentary of what went into making the film. There are some cut scenes and a montage, two commentary tracks (one with just director Bassett, the other with both Bassett and Purefoy), as well as several interviews. In particular, the interview with Michael Bassett is excellent, as he goes into detail why he wanted to adapt Solomon Kane and what went into the process from conception to casting. He shows a huge respect for the source material, and a devout fan of Howard's work.

No doubt, I cannot help but recommend this film. I've been reading Howard's stories since before my teenage years, and I'll continue to go back through them at times likely as long as I can still read on my own. Solomon Kane the movie is an origin story for one of the most flawed and complex characters ever made famous since Robert E Howard's death, a character that's never before had a proper origin to explain his puritanism and zealotry. That story here is delivered brilliantly by great writing and great acting (at least by the main cast), in a world that's all the better since it's real, or at least based on the real world at the time. With very good picture quality and audio that is good though at times overwhelming, and not to forget a decent supplemental package that at least goes to show the film came from the hands of a true fan with huge respect for the source material. Definitely see it if you get the chance!

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