[Blu-ray Review] ‘Solomon Kane’ Reaps Style, Lacks Substance

Solomon Kane - 9

Created in 1928 by Robert E. Howard, Solomon Kane seemingly never caught on with the mainstream like Howard’s other creation did in Conan the Barbarian. Still, the character lived on in comics and in role-playing games, and finally got the green light to have his own film adaptation in 2009, written and directed by Michael J. Bassett. Three years later, and after a pithy North American run, Solomon Kane hits North American Blu-Ray and DVD.

Solomon Kane is a 17th century mercenary who loves his treasure, and loves killing, as well. Things change when in North Africa. After helping himself to Ottoman treasure (after killing a few of the Ottomans to get it, of course), Solomon is confronted by a demon calling itself the Devil’s Reaper. The Reaper tells Solomon that his evil deeds have irrevocably damned his soul to Hell. Solomon escapes to an English monastery seeking forgiveness, and eventually undertakes a pilgrimage to his ancestral estates, turning to a path of nonviolence in an attempt to atone for his sins. Along the way, Solomon meets up with a Puritan family who are also traveling to the new world. Unfortunately, marauders in service to the evil sorcerer Malachi attack the family, killing the youngest son. Solomon is forced to take up arms and defeat the marauders, but not before they kill the rest of the family and make off with the daughter, Meredith. With his dying breath, the family’s patriarch tells Solomon that his soul will be redeemed if he rescues Meredith. Solomon agrees, and sets off on his quest.

Visually, Solomon Kane is quite beautiful. Shot in the Czech Republic, the film showcases wonderfully-crafted shots of vistas while also portraying 17th century England as dark and inhospitable. Much of the film is bathed in cold, which obviously enhances the snow-covered forests sprinkled with death and decay. It’s certainly a welcome step away from the PG-13 fantasy fare in recent years, and while films like The Lord of the Rings had it’s dark moments, they lacked the gloomy feel that the visuals had in Solomon Kane.

I’ll get this out right now: Purefory was definitely the right man for the role of Solomon Kane. While I haven’t read any of Howard’s pulp novels prior to seeing the film, I’m anxious to after Purefoy’s performance. Unlike Josh Brolin’s portrayal of Jonah Hex, Purefoy is able to look appropriately rough and tough, dealing out effective punishment when it’s needed. The rest of the cast also puts forth some great performances. And who doesn’t love seeing Max von Sydow?

Unfortunately, even Max von Sydow can’t cover up Solomon Kane‘s weak points, one of which is Von Sydow himself. It’s not that von Sydow is bad in the film (far from it), but he along with Jason Flemyng and the late Pete Postlethwaite are given next to no screentime. This might not seem a big problem, but considering that von Sydow plays Solomon’s father and is part of developing the character, it really is a problem. The same goes with Flemyng, who plays Malachi. Having him show up so briefly at the end doesn’t do anything for the character, especially when up to this it’s all been talk of who/what he is, and not actually showing who/what he is.

Then there’s the problem of Kane himself. The character (once again) wasn’t given enough development, making his transformation from bloodthirsty merc to dark protector of the innocent feel glossed over, thereby making his heroism seem kind of odd. His sudden feelings for Meredith are also underdeveloped, especially when we’re presented with a character that appears emotionally withdrawn. The pacing of the film doesn’t make any of this easier, since it moves so fast for its 104 minutes that you can’t put in any of the necessary exposition without slowing things down. Throw in a smashed-together ending that features your typical CG monster and futile hints at a sequel, and Solomon Kane limps to a conclusion.

It’s a shame that the film turned out the way it did, since there was a feeling of potential when the film started. This could’ve been a great film, with a great cast and wonderful visuals, and quite possibly a set-up for more films. Unfortunately, the lack of proper character development coupled with the breakneck pace only served to amplify the film’s shortcomings, leaving it to fall in line with the rest of the fire-and-forget fantasy films as of late. Fans of Howard’s works will find pleasure in finally seeing one of his non-Conan creations given a great-looking and likeable film. The rest of us will probably also like this film, but much like the novels, it won’t overshadow Conan the Barbarian anytime soon.

Audio/Video:
Presented in 2.35:1 widescreen with a 1080p transfer, Solomon Kane looks solid. Clean with excellent colour representation and saturation, the transfer also boasts some great fine detail. Some of the CGI effects do look a bit out of place, but overall it’s a looker.

As for the audio, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack balances the dialogue and the chaos of the 17th century nicely, with great use of ambient effects. Action scenes carry the appropriate “oomph” of sound thanks to the subwoofer, with Klaus Badelt’s excellent score rounding out the presentation.

Extras:
Unfortunately, not all of the extras from the UK Blu-Ray made it into this release. Starting things out is an audio commentary by Writer/Director Michael J. Bassett and James Purefoy. While it’s an informative track, covering all the bases with the production, it tends to be on the dull side of things.

Following that is an eleven-minute piece entitled The Making of Solomon Kane. Featuring raw footage from the film as well as brief clips of interviews from cast and crew, it comes off as more of an EPK piece than anything else.

Deleted Scene: Cave Fight is one of those scenes not integral to the overall story of the film, and as Bassett explains while introducing the scene, is the reason why it was cut.

Special FX: The Creation of the Fire Demon is self-explanatory, showing how the filmmakers went about creating the Fire Demon.

Interview with Writer/Director Michael J. Bassett has Bassett discussing his love of fantasy films and stories, as well as discussing his film, while the Interview with James Purefoy has the actor doing much the same.

Rounding things out is a collage of Original Concept Art by Greg Staples.

Extras missing from this disc that were on the UK release include a short intro to the film by director Bassett, a second commentary track by Bassett, a picture-in-picture storyboard comparison, montage clip, more interviews and the film’s trailer.