- 22 September 2009
- By Gerard Wood
Early reviews of Michael J. Bassett's Solomon Kane, which had its first public screening at the Toronto International Film Festival last week (and reportedly one of the largest midnight turnouts ever), have generally been positive. Fans, as you might expect, are considerably more enthusiastic than some in the "official" press, but that is only to be expected.
Based on Robert E. Howard's pulp fiction about a sombre and no-nonsense 16th Century Puritan Soldier, both Howard's stories and I suspect Bassett's movie are an acquired taste: a seriously grim and grimly serious tale about one man's blood soaked and gore-splattered quest for redemption. Better known perhaps as the creator of Conan, Robert E. Howard wrote the Solomon Kane stories for Weird Tales in the late 1920s and early 1930s, setting them in a brutal and violent period in which the ascent of reason was in conflict with superstition (not unlike today when you come to think about it).
Bassett's movie, the first in a planned trilogy, traces the origin of Solomon Kane, a ruthlessly efficient killing machine in the service of the Crown (and the coin) who comes to the realisation that with each bloody act he has damned himself in the service of the Devil. Turning his back on this brutal life he strives to be a man of peace but Fate, the Devil and his own violent nature have other plans, and circumstances inevitably draw Kane back to the field of battle. Even though his unrivalled skill to kill is now in the service of Righteousness, uncertainty continues to haunt him: does each kill redeem him or is he deluded, and really still in the service of the Devil?
Not yet having seen the movie, it's unclear how much of Kane's internal conflict and spiritual angst make the transition from the page to the screen, although the signs are promising. Bassett, who also wrote the screenplay, describes the character of Kane as "a dark hero who has faced terrible things and turned to God for redemption and guidance. He sees himself as a righter-of-wrongs but is conflicted by a growing realization that he might be both a force for evil as well as good." This complex duality could well be lost without a talented actor in the lead role, so it's reassuring to read Bassett's assessment that James Purfoy, the distinguished Shakespearean actor who landed the role, understands this duality: "I know he'll bring a really powerful and intense heroism to the screen. He's perfect for the role - and the fact that he's devilishly handsome doesn't hurt either." The movie's Producer, Sammuel Hadida (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Brotherhood of the Wolf, True Romance) believes that Purfoy's "ability to embody Kane's complex heroism, struggles and failings as he wages a mortal battle made him the perfect modern hero in this epic fantasy."
If there is any lingering doubt about the transition of this complex duality to the screen, there is no doubt that the bloodiness of the source material made it all the way and with gusto, and the skilfully choreographed fight scenes have been singled out for special praise. A criticism from some sources however has been with the monster effects (particularly in the closing scenes) which apparently betray signs of the movie's reportedly small budget (US$40 million has been quoted). While it's hard to be sure judging by the official trailer, it doesn't look as if there's much to be concerned about, and the Balrog-like Devil in the closing scenes is suitably impressive. But we'll have to wait and see as there is an art to creating trailers that often conceals an ugly truth.
When all is said and done however the trailer has a certain grim and dramatic intensity to it that has me siding with the fans. This movie has me excited.
A distributor has yet to be finalised for the US (although the movie gets a 24 September showing at the Austin Fantastic Fest) and the only other release dates indicated so far are for Russia (31 December) and the Netherlands (14 January 2010). Given the generally positive reaction to the movie to date, it's looking likely that we'll see an announcement soon about international distribution. We'll keep you posted.
If you haven't seen the trailer yet, check it out below. Let us know what you think, especially if you're one of the fortunate few who saw Solomon Kane in Toronto.
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