Monday, September 16, 2013

The Pilgrim's Progress

Even a bad medieval-set action fantasy movie is probably going to more interesting than just ANY old bad action movie. 


Quick Plot: Meet Solomon Kane (the poor man's Hugh Jackman, James Purefoy), a saucy 17th century pirate who quickly changes his ways after an encounter with a demon that wants to steal his soul. Resolved to live a life of peace, Kane donates his plundered fortune, removes his hoop earring, and joins a monastery for one year until a spooked priest evicts him.

On the road, Solomon meets a friendly family of Pilgrims led by Kobayashi himself, Pete Postlehwaite  Together they pray and wax nostalgic about wartime life, but their Walton-esque future is threatened by a gang of demonically possessed black-eyed warriors who kidnap the prettiest Pilgrim (Peter Pan's Rachel Hurd-Wood) and slaughter most of the rest. Most importantly, they finally awaken the bloodthirst inside Kane, prompting him to slice and behead his way through forests in search of the Big Bad.

I first heard about Solomon Kane via a 2009 review by the great Gentleman's Guide to Midnite Cinema podcast following its North American debut at TIFF. For whatever reason, the film never received never received a theatrical release stateside. My interest in the material was based not on author Robert E. Howard's famous character, but for the fact that Michael J. Bassett was writing and directing.

Bassett has quickly become the kind of filmmaker I love. His prior efforts include the trench warfare-set ghost story Deathwatch, the survivalist action thriller Wilderness, and the 3D sequel Silent Hill: Revelation. The first two were made with little money but never showed financial strain in the final product. Personally, I found all three films to be flawed but far more enjoyable/effective than most of their competition.

Solomon Kane was, according to IMDB, made for $45 million, and though the final product is something of a mess, it also looks outstanding. Sure, we get the occasional pixels of CGI blood, but the landscape and set design never betray its budget. We're also treated to plenty of weird gore stuff, including crucifixion, mirror demons, wraith thingies, and head possession (makes sense when you see it). There's also plenty of hokey slow motion missteps, but I think that's automatically included in a fantasy action movie.

I guess what I'm saying is that I enjoyed Solomon Kane, even if I feel like I shouldn't have. It doesn't have the all-out bite of the far more fun and trashy Conan remake, but Pete Postlehwaite wore a Pilgrim hat, the villain looked like a chunkier version of Street Fighter 2's Vega.

Also, every time our hero touched his sword, something went "whoosh!"

Call me simple, but these things entertain me.

High Points
I love me a score that works overtime when needed

Low Points
Poor Solomon Kane. He might have been living with the guilt of his past sins, but his real problem in life was the fact that he had such awful ears in a world before hearing aide technology. As far as I can tell, that's the only way to explain why hordes of enemies could sneak up on him time and time again (and time and time, since I think I counted at least four) 

Lessons Learned
In the 17th century, nobody stood up to evil. Also in the 17th century, Christians used teeth whiteners while heathens brushed theirs with dirt and acid

If a creepy isolated preacher is eager to show you something, it’s probably not a stamp collection

The benefit of being evicted from a monastery is that the parting gifts include a pretty kickass Gandalf staff

Is Solomon Kane a good movie? Goodness no. The symbolism is heavy handed, the character relationships rushed, self-importance quite glaring, and dentistry, inconsistent. But does it involve a few beheadings, sword battles, and scenic cliffs? These things are all true, which is why I had some fun with a movie that you should probably wait to see on Instant Watch. The DVD does come loaded with special features for the more dedicated, with a commentary track, deleted scenes, making-of, and interviews with Hugh Ja--er, James Purefoy and the positively charming Bassett.


  1. Have you ever seen the James Puref...Hugh Jackman Van Helsing? That's a major guilty pleasure for me!

  2. Thanks for the heads up, especially about the inconsistent dentistry. One bicuspid bent sideways in a smile is enough to sour me on cinema forever... and CGI glow in the dark blood droplets are an automatic no deal. I appreciate your sacrifice, your crucifixion at the crossroads of tepid and trepidatious.

  3. Chris, the trailer for Van Helsing showed up with EVERY movie I saw in a theater or rented for what felt like ten years. I feel like it has already taken enough of my time, but maybe it deserves an actual chance?

    And not a problem Erich. We must watch out for dental hygiene above all else.

  4. Maybe. It does have an insanely hammy Dracula, after all! And a hilarius misunderstanding of how sunlight works!

  5. It runs on battery, right? Earth battery...?

  6. According to Van Helsing's logic, sunlight kills vampires instantly, unless it's a mildly cloudy day! Also, there's a scene where a horse-drawn wooden carriage filled with nothing but wooden stakes falls off a cliff and explodes! haha!

  7. Okay, now I want to actually see this movie.

  8. My big disappointment with Solomon Kane was that Kane spent so much of the movie whining. I would much rather have had a movie where he started off saying, "Behold! I am Solomon Kane, Puritan and Demon Hunter!" and just got on with it rather than having to sit through endless scenes of his Origin Story as he learned to stop whining. Superhero movies have a lot to answer for.

  9. True. They open with him as a pirate, which is pretty groovy, but within five minutes, he's all emo and such. Definitely a missed opportunity.