Wednesday, August 7, 2013

SOLOMON KANE (Blu-ray)

"He was . . . a strange blending of Puritan and Cavalier, with a touch of the ancient philosopher, and more than a touch of the pagan. . . . A hunger in his soul drove him on and on, an urge to right all wrongs, protect all weaker things. . . . Wayward and restless as the wind, he was consistent in only one respect—he was true to his ideals of justice and right. Such was Solomon Kane.”

Created in the late 1920s by pulp magazine scribe Robert E. Howard (a talented, if troubled, author best known for another of his sword-wielding protagonists, Conan The Barbarian), the dour Puritan monster hunter SOLOMON KANE finally made his way to the motion picture screen in 2009... in Europe, anyway. Unfortunately, Michael J. Bassett's dark fantasy failed to garner a U.S. theatrical distribution deal, finally getting a belated Region 1 DVD and Blu-ray release from Anchor Bay Entertainment only about a month ago.

The film is an "origin story," that chronicles events that took place before those related in Howard's original pulp tales. Solomon Kane (James Purefoy, ROME, JOHN CARTER) is a savage mercenary and pirate who renounces his life of violence after discovering that his eternal soul is forfeit and he is doomed to eternity in Hell. When a young Puritan girl is kidnapped and her family murdered by the followers of the sorcerer Malachi (Jason Flemyng, PRIMEVAL), he once again takes up arms and seeks redemption by battling evil.

Although not strictly faithful to the Word, SOLOMON KANE nonetheless captures the spirit of the Bob Howard pulp adventures in a way that no other REH adaptation has yet approached. The screenplay is a bit too Hollywood boilerplate - and, thus, predictable - but the film as a whole rises above its script's over-familiar conventions and is, ultimately, a superior entertainment. Production design, casting, photography and musical score are well above par.

James Purefoy is note-perfect as the grim swordsman, and writer/director Michael Bassett keeps the film moving at a fair clip while still allowing the characters time to earn the audience's sympathy/empathy. Also notable is the terrific musical score by Klaus Badelt and the gorgeous cinematography by Dan Lausten.

As for the special effects, yeah, there are a few dodgy CGI bits in the beginning and some cartoon demons in the mix, but it is a sword & sorcery saga, after all. I've heard more than a few complaints about the end of the film, too, but it mostly worked for me. Compared to every big budget Hollywood fantasy film I've seen in the last 5+ years, the climactic scene of SOLOMON KANE was positively restrained in its use of CGI; it was hardly the sort of pixelated overkill/cartoon orgy that's become de rigueur these days.

Anchor Bay's Blu-ray presentation is technically excellent, with a stunning 2.35:1 1080p HD widescreen transfer. SOLOMON KANE is a very dark film visually, as well as in tone, and Anchor Bay's high-definition transfer handles the copious blacks and subdued color palette with aplomb, and still provides remarkable detail and texture. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is equally excellent; clear and rich. Extras include an audio commentary by Bassett and Purefoy, a "Making Of" featurette, a special effects featurette, seperate interviews with Bassett and Purefoy, original concept art, and a deleted action scene.

In the end, though SOLOMON KANE is not a perfect film, nor a literal adaptation of Howard's prose, I loved the movie. It is the best sword & sorcery flick I've seen in ages, and far better than the most recent CONAN film. And though some fans would disagree, I suspect that Kane's creator, the two-fisted pulp author from Cross Plains, Texas, would have gotten a kick out of it, too. Recommended.

BUYSolomon Kane [Blu-ray]