The day has come, folks!
I've already spoken about the cover, but with the box in my hands, I notice something interesting: the plastic isn't the typical black, but white. This struck me as a very unusual choice given the subject matter: of all the films that would benefit from a sombre black box, it would be Solomon Kane.
Ah, the blurb.
Solomon Kane is a brutally efficient 16th Century killing machine. Armed with his signature pistols, cutlass and rapier he and his men unleash bloodlust as they fight for England in war after war across all continents. Things change when Kane is visited by the Devil's reaper, dispatched from the depths of hell to lay claim on his corrupt soul. Solomon has to redeem himself by renouncing violence and devoting himself to a life of peace. As Kane embarks on his newfound spirituality he has to face the ultimate test when he begins his journey across an England ravaged by diabolical human Raiders. Will he jeopardise his own soul by re-embracing his murderous talents for a higher cause?
A couple of things bother me about the blurb.
- The movie starts in the 17th Century. OK, so technically Kane was a Brutal 16th Century Killing Machine too (given that he's probably spent about 20 years being a B16CKM) but still, it kinda jarred a smidgen.
- The first two sentences amount to a substantial portion of the blurb, thus giving the impression that it might take up a longer portion of the film than it ended up being. Thus, people might be disappointed that the "fight for England" that ranged "war after war across all continents" only amounted to a five-minute prologue, with the actual fighting only taking about two of those five.
- The final part seems needlessly vague, as if part of the story is about Kane falling prey to his old murderous instincts, as opposed to kicking arse for the Lord ("higher cause" notwithstanding).
Ah well. It could've been worse: it could've spoiled the big revelation, like Pontypool's did.
Into the Player
Unlike a great many films, the DVD doesn't have a horrible, unskippable opening sequence (like Universal's ungodly prologue), though it does have the usual copyright stuff. Thankfully, though, they omit that offensive and insulting anti-piracy advert in favour of a simple white-text-on-black screen.
The menu is pretty cool. Central in the screen are some clips of the film, surrounded by flames, with the options in a line along the bottom. It's uncomplicated and easy to navigate. It does its job.
Commentary by Michael J. Bassett and James Purefoy
Commentary by Michael J. Bassett
Commentary by Michael J. Bassett
Now, I'm going to leave this for a later review, since I haven't gotten around to listening to both, and I'd rather be in-depth. This has slowed down this review, so I eventually decided to address it in a future one. To be continued...
Video introduction by Michael J. Bassett
Bassett is very enthusiastic, and gives Howard props by noting how long it had taken Kane to make his way to the silver screen. He noted that Howard was a teenager when he created Kane: "Red Shadows" first came out when Howard was 22 (written at least 1927, when he was 21), but I'll have to check Savage Tales to find out if that's correct.
The making of Solomon Kane
This was a ten-twenty minute featurette, but it was fairly brusque, mostly just telling the story for the first five minutes. There are snippets with the cast (Purefoy of course, Pete Postlethwaite, Rachel Hurd-Wood, and Ian Whyte), sword master, costume designer,SFX organizers. "Solomon Kane's Greatest Hits," more or less, though sadly without an interview with my girl Alice Krige, Max von Sydow, creature designer Patrick Tatapolous, or Stewart Kenneth Moore's magnificent beard. Mostly it's spent upping the effects, sword fights, and Purefoy's performance, playing to its strengths.
Howard is mentioned, though. Here's what Bassett had to say about his screenplay:
What I like so much about Kane is that he is a determined, committed, powerful character... It's an original story by me, hopefully in the style of Howard, with due respect to Howard, and his character. I mean I don't want to create somebody new, I want to create the best version of Kane that could possibly go on the screen. We know who he is, we know what a bad, bad man he was, we know the punishment he's got in store, and the fact that he's doing anything to redeem himself seems to make the perfect character arc for me.
Notice how the last sentence completely contradicts the rest of the paragraph? Bassett didn't want to create someone new: he wanted to create the original Solomon Kane, who he believes was an evil man before he became a good man. It's kind of crazy to think that Bassett could possibly think that. But, as with Milius & Stone, it's what he believes.
Paul Berrow weighs in:
He's a very particular character that Howard created there, unlike any of the other characters in his ouvre, we know the muscle-bound characters, the Conans and the Kulls, and et cetera. But Kane was one of his very early characters, and we always felt, his most powerful character, and most complex character.
This is a neat little extra, more like one of those music video tributes that pops up on Youtube all the time. It features clips from the film as well as behind-the-scenes shots, though frankly, I don't know why they bothered with it.
Interview with producers Samuel Hadida and Paul Berrow
Now the meaty Howard-related extras can begin. The following three interviews could really have been combined with the "Making of" to form a pretty strong 45 minute documentary, and I can't fathom why they didn't do that. Ah well. The first is a look at the long backstory regarding the film, including how Christophe Ganz was the early choice for director. It's good for those who are interested in how the film came to be.
Paul Berrow: We were attracted to Solomon Kane having grown up during those sort of iconic heroes of the late 60s and 70s, the spaghetti westerns, Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood, the early Bond movies, and of course Witchfinder General, who was an interesting character. And Kane resonated for us as being one of these powerful, very masculine, lean characters, and the combination of that plus the fantastical dimension, and Howard being sort of the Grand Daddy of the action fantasy adventure genre, you know, that's some extraordinary alchemy there.
Hadida explains how Bassett came aboard:
Samuel Hadida: We met with a couple of writers, and Paul has worked for maybe ten years, different stories, different ideas, about how we would have Solomon Kane brought to screen. And at this time, Christophe went to do for me, Silent Hill, so he became available. And we continued to say ok, so now that Christophe is not available, we have to find another maybe director that as a vision, with another writer, and we were fortunate to come across Michael J. Bassett.
Initially Bassett was only hired to do the script, but we all know how that ended up. It's here that Hadida confirms Bassett is the one who came up with the origin story for Kane:
Hadida: Paul called me and told me "Samuel, I think I met a young director called Michael Bassett, I believe you haven't seen his movie yet, but I think he's very interesting. He's very passionate about the world of heroic fantasy that he knew perfectly, I think he's very passionate because he likes horror, he likes adventure, he likes action, and I think it's worthwhile to meet him..." I said "No, no," you know, "Christophe is going to finish Silent Hill, we'll meet again," and he told me "Let's see, maybe he will work and write a story for Christophe, so let's meet him..."
I said "Ok, if you want to do Solomon Kane, how are you going to take this character, and how do you want to see him going?" And he told me "Look, I thought a lot about Solomon Kane. I think it's a mistake to bring Solomon Kane today for an audience that doesn't know who Solomon Kane is. Who is this character, from where is he coming from?" So he begins to give me some questions, that I was wondering "Yes, he's right!" And at the end of the lunch, we decided that he should go and write a treatment that would lead to a script that would tell us the origin of Solomon Kane.
Obviously, I disagree.
Berrow: We were looking for a fairly simple story with a lot of underlying complexity. Which is what we achieved. The idea was that we spoke about the analogy of the Vietnam vet returning home who finds himself disconnected with society, a loner, who's simply seen too much. It's a very very dynamic arc, in fact it's not so much an arc as a rollercoaster within an arc.
Why didn't we get that movie, dammit?
The rest is about post-script concerns. Jim lad is the only actor ever mentioned (aside from Clint Eastwood), hopefully putting to rest those silly ideas that the filmmakers pursued Hugh Jackman and Viggo Mortensen and "settled" for Purefoy - then again, those are probably the same people who thought this was a Van Helsing/Lord of the Rings ripoff.
Samuel Hadida mentions that he wants the second film to be set in Africa, with the third in the Americas. I've heard rumours that N'Longa would be turned into a handsome young man, and something about Kane fighting flaming lions on a rope bridge. Some say that with the origin story, that would leave the way open for a real Howard adaptation, like "The Moon of Skulls" or "The Hills of the Dead." Yeah... fool me once, shame on you and all that.
Interview with director Michael J. Bassett
This is another very insightful extra, as we see into the mind of the Basssett. Here's an interesting excerpt:
I'm a fantasy fan, I have been since I was a kid, right, I read fantasy books, I read the comics, I love fantasy movies, and that's before I ever wanted to become a filmmaker. So, then becoming a film director, writing horror movies, making horror movies, right loving genre pictures, and always wanting to be able to make a fantasy movie, and a sci-fi movie and those kind of cool genre pictures.
The films I grew up with, as fantasy, are also a little bit silly. They didn't treat the genre seriously, you know: science fiction was always treated very seriously. You could do comedy science fiction, or you could do profoundly important intellectual science fiction, and there's all the things in between. Fantasy, up until The Lord of the Rings, always was a little bit silly, people seemed embarrassed about doing it. Now me, I think it's a great world to play in: you could tell human stories, you could have all the action and adventure you want, monsters and demons and swordfights and horse chases, and yet you could have a character who has a profound journey of redemption, be interesting, and challenge the audience and challenge the audience a little bit in their perceptions.
While I definitely think there's a perception of fantasy films being "a bit silly," tongue-in-cheek, ironic or whatnot, I don't think that's necessarily true in practice. King Kong, Jason and The Argonauts, even Conan the Barbarian had a degree of sobriety about them. Still, it's good to know that Bassett had no intention of making this one of those films. You know the ones I mean. It's just a shame too many people seem to think the film was cheesy, or worse, that it needed to be cheesier.
Interview with actor James Purefoy
My respect for Jim Lad grows and grows the more I learn. During the shoot in the castle for the final battle, there was a lot of rain. It was also very cold: so cold, that Purefoy actually froze in place when he was moving too slowly. That's awesome, yet also rather terrifying.
The soundtrack: An interview with composer Klaus Badelt
The music for Solomon Kane was serviceable, if a bit Zimmer at times, but it's nice to see some discussion of it on the film. Klaus seems a swell guy, and it'd be nice to hear his take on infusing African elements in the sequel, should it come to pass.
Deleted scene: Cave fight
This scene should've been in the film. It is glorious.
Solomon Kane walks into a cave, silhouetted against a roaring campfire. As he enters, a half-dozen or so of Malachi's men rise up. He demands to know where the girl is. They immediately charge. The next minute is nothing but Solomon Kane utterly annihilating the entire party. More come from the recesses of the cave, but Kane cuts them down like corn. Before long, a score of men lie dead around Kane. Only one remains: he asks again, where is the girl. Silence is the only response, and Kane shuts him up forever. Kane looks around at the bloody harvest he has reaped, before leaving the cave, again silhouetted against the fire.
Bassett said he loved this scene, and it's easy to see why: unfortunately, he couldn't think of a way to include it. He couldn't think of a way to explain to the audience why Kane was going to the cave: he tried voiceovers and whatnot, but nothing fit. Personally, I think it would've fit perfectly fine in the film during the search for Meredith sequence: the audience would've understood that Kane came to the cave in search for a lead to the girl even if there wasn't some explanatory dialogue. This is kind of a fault with Bassett's film in general: redundant explanations for things. It's a shame the scene wasn't included, as it's one of the best scenes in the film: fantastic swordplay, brilliant atmosphere, and it really sells Kane as the sort of man who'd take on the armies of Satan himself, more than any other part of the film.
Special effects: The making of The Fire Demon
I wasn't a fan of Megatron on Fire, but it's a nice - if oblique and enigmatic - little extra nonetheless. We see that to get the effect of firelight, the FX crew used what amounted to a gigantic radial floodlight with orange tints: it works pretty well in the finished film, though it's a shame the demon just didn't quite cut it.
Artworks by Greg Staples
This is a nice little extra, basically a slideshow of Staples' work that we've all seen. I would've preferred it to be done in a format that allows the viewer to flick through the images rather than watch them fade in and out, but it's good enough.
The trailer that started it all, but in glorious high definition on a TV screen.
So, Should You Get It?
Totally. Not just for the film itself, but for the myriad extras and features provided. Many are illuminating, others are just great feasts for the eyes and ears, and the film itself has a great transition to the medium. Were my screen any bigger, it was just like experiencing it at a cinema at home. The only reservations I have is that... well, I would've liked to have seen more. More deleted scenes, more interviews, more info on the design of the film. What we got was great, but having read the official souvenir magazine, I hoped for a little more. (Special edition DVD? Doubtful, but I can always hope!)
Currently, the only way to get Solomon Kane in English is as a Region 2 DVD/Blu-Ray. I don't want to incur the wrath of Gudrun Giddings, so I'll say that if you do plan on importing the Region 2 DVD or Region B Blu-ray, with the intent of watching it on a region unlocked DVD player such as one of the many listed here, do so in the knowledge that Gudrun will be very disappointed.
I'm just saying.
Let's forget that Solomon Kane is meant to be an adaptation of Howard's creation - being reminded of that can only drive a man to distraction. What are we left with? One of the best films I've seen all year. Only Toy Story 3 surpasses it. That said, I haven't seen many films this year, so take that as you will: however, I will also say it's one of the best fantasy films I've seen in a long time, and definitely one of the best Sword-and-Sorcery films ever made.
As I said in my "Accept No Imitations: Solomon Kane" review, I have little stock for nostalgia. Beastmaster? Don't even talk to me about it, even if I do think the wee ferrets were brilliant (they're like Mother Nature's slinkies). Ladyhawke? Rutger Hauer is always great, and the idea at the core of the film was interesting, but otherwise, it was just Ferris Bueller's Medieval Adventure with the ungodly soundtrack to match. Dragonslayer? Aside from Phil Tippet's fantastic dragon and Derek Vanlint's atmospheric cinematography, a bumbling mess of awkward exposition and embarrassing slapstick. Hawk the Slayer? I'll never forgive it for wasting Jack Palance. Deathstalker? God almighty. My list of Top Twenty Sword-and-Sorcery Films would end up being The Twenty Sword-and-Sorcery Films That Don't Suck Eggs.
I ain't talking yer reggeler eggs, or even yer average Ostrich eggs: Imma talkin' Aepyornis maximus. Hard-boiled, at that.
Solomon Kane has moved up the ranks to join those few films that actually do credit to the Sword-and-Sorcery genre. More among the company of The Princess Bride and Excalibur, than silly fluff like Krull and Willow. Heck, I might even put it in my top five Sword-and-Sorcery films: at least top ten. For an analogy, this is more Conan the Barbarian than Kull the Conqueror - and it gives Howard a much better presentation than the garbage in "Conan Unchained."
Taran of One Last Sketch described the film over at the Robert E. Howard Forums as "Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane as written by Michael Moorcock":
I enjoyed it immensely, but it felt like the sort of origin story Moorcock would've made. This was Kane as the eternal champion. Bassett understands sword & sorcery well enough (better than any other director so far), he just needs to get Von Bek off his mind if he's hired on as director for the next film. If there will be a next film.
That describes it pretty succinctly to me: like Stan Lee's Batman. What I love is that Bassett really likes Michael Moorcock, and even got to meet him once, so I'm positive he'd take that as a compliment. Though I've had my problems with Bassett's interpretation, his love for the fantasy genre, and the desire to treat it with respect, is very worthy indeed. Frankly, I hope the rumours of a Bassett-helmed Moorcock project are true: I'd much rather he took on, say, Elric, than do a Solomon Kane sequel. Let's see how Christophe Gans handles Kane: I want to see Bassett's Stormbringer.