Solomon Kane trailer as bad as feared

Add Michael Bassett to the long, long list of insipid mediocrities who have attempted to improve/reboot/origin story/modernize a Howard character, whether in print, in comics, or on celluloid/video. May he never be unfortunate enough to meet REH’s shade in the grim hereafter….

UPDATE: As you can see above, the SK filmmakers have gotten the trailer removed from the site. Good move — they shouldn’t screen the film for critics, either.

Fellow blogger Al reports that some of the guys posting at think I’m being overly harsh on a film I haven’t seen. Fair enough — but the trailer, which I have seen, reeked of everything I dislike about modern movies. The completely divorced-from-believability video game monsters and CGI. The reduction of poetic dialogue from well-known works of classic American literature to banal Hollywood one-liners like “Come on!” The music that sounds like it was pounded out by a synth keyboard jockey instead of someone with a knowledge and skill at symphonic composition. The heroes being portrayed by metrosexual pretty boys instead of actors with the proper gravitas for the role. These aren’t movies but live-action video games, and the entire mode is at this late date banal, predictable, groan-inducing.

I hated Peter Jackson’s blockbuster, Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings films for the exact same reasons, wincing every time Legolas did a triple Jackie Chan flip onto an Oliphant or used a shield as a surfboard as he machine-gunned arrows into video game Orcs all around him, all accompanied by the crushing bass assault from a keyboard jockey given the (mis)use of a huge symphony orchestra. I maintain that people who take millions of dollars and use it to make such dreck are insipid mediocrities. There isn’t a single thing in that Solomon Kane trailer that I wouldn’t have expected from any ten-year-old given the same budget and told to go make a Solomon Kane movie. Not one thing.

A lot of Howard fans hate Conan the Barbarian, seeing it as an unforgivable dumbing down of the character, but my admiration for the film stems from the fact that it avoided most of there errors. Sure, it didn’t have the budget to go along with its vision, the main actors were all non-actors and thus sometimes stilted, and most importantly the character of Conan lacked the feral, fierce intelligence of Howard’s primal version. But consider what it did right. James Earl Jones and Max von Sydow, two of the greatest actors of their generation. A musical score that is now commonly ranked as one of the very best of all time, one that feels ripped from ancient history. Dialogue that carries the ring and chime and tang of Homeric verse, of Norse sadness, of Mongol pride and barbaric terror. Compositions and editing that strive for a certain windswept splendor and vastness — this isn’t a video game, it’s a damn film. It’s art. Which is exactly what you get when reading Robert E. Howard: this isn’t just a mindless pulp story, there’s something deeper thrumming under the hood, something important, something mystical and timeworn.

In bringing Solomon Kane to the screen, Michael Bassett and Co. have — according to my viewing of the trailer and my interpretation of the self-satisfied comments emanating from the participants’ mouths via interviews and such — made the same film that any Wii-obsessed ten-year-old might have made. Think about what that says about their respect both for your intelligence and for Howard’s work. If you disagree, and think that the movie looks “wicked cool” or whatever, fine — I freely admit that this movie was made for you! Knock yourself out, go see it a hundred times. As for me, I’ll pass — I grew out of video games, coincidentally enough, around the same time I discovered Robert E. Howard.

Dr. Howard dies — again


In all the hoopla surrounding the more famous celebrity deaths of late, the death of Harve Presnell at 75 has gone largely unnoticed. Among many other performances during a long career, he ably played Dr. Howard in the biographical REH film The Whole Wide World, which also starring Rene Zellweger and Vincent D’Onofrio.

Presnell’s obit is here.


“Man in black”: Nick Owchar’s take on Solomon Kane

“Before Conan, there was Kane, a Puritan swordsman on a restless search for justice.”


That’s the lead-in from Nick Owchar’s, “Man in black: Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane,” published this May 24th in his monthly column for the Los Angeles Times. Owchar, deputy book editor for the LA Times, turns in a quite respectable piece on the Man From Devonshire (and his creator). His column, “The Siren’s Call” (a title I truly dig), was a joy and revelation once I (very recently) discovered it. Dear readers, brethren, kindred and fellow travellers, Ol’ Nick is one of us. Peruse his previous columns (future blog-fodder, for me) and tell me it ain’t so. (Continue reading this post)

New Lord of the Rings fan film set to debut


It’s called The Hunt for Gollum, and there’s some trailers up for it right now at their website. The entire forty-minute film is set to debut on May 3.

This is the kind of thing I’m intrigued by on many levels, as a guy who has often harbored dreams of doing something similar. Think about it: they used a couple of HD prosumer video cameras in the $3000-$5000 range, some extra equipment to achieve a cinematic look (SGPro depth of field adapter, SteadiCams, computer color correction and visual effects), and a lot of donated acting, prop, and makeup help. Putting aside for a moment my loathing of the Lord of the Rings films and watching the trailer, it seems they did a good job of pressing up against true feature quality, with the usual exceptions common to fan films: somewhat subpar acting, like kids playing dress-up, along with poor choices of lenses and angles in the action scenes (too many wide lenses and not enough telephoto, odd bird’s-eye and worm’s-eye views, and camera skews with no motivation or coherence) which seem to give away that it was shot on a video camera. But the long shots and general quality of the images are quite stunning, the British locations magnificent, and even the Orcs seem to mirror those in the Hollywood version, at least in the little clips I saw of them in the trailers.

The main thing I am always struck by when seeing these sorts of films (there are a lot of good Star Wars ones out there, too), is that people would spend so much time and effort aping a copyrighted world, when with a few small adjustments and a good script they could make a similarly inspired and magnificent film based in a world of their own making, which would allow them to make money off of their effort, use it as a demo reel to get a job making a more expensive feature set in the same fictional universe, or any number of other options. But I suppose that a lot of people helped solely because it wasn’t just any fantasy story but one that aped Jackson’s LotR vision. I personally can’t stand that vision — that grey and drab world of misty forests peopled by unshowered Rangers and hippie elves accompanied by a soundtrack of ghostly Enya-esque wails. I think it’s beyond silly for the orchestra to boom and the camera to swoop around every time there’s a nice view or a mountain. But these guys have clearly made a great effort, achieving enough to prove yet again that independent films of this nature can and will become as cool as Hollywood fare someday soon. Amazing new cameras and computers are coming down the pike, stuff that is going to make a good homemade video every bit as stunning as most Hollywood films, even effects-laden ones. When that happens, I wonder how many Howard stories are going to get filmed? That little Solomon Kane one that made the rounds a few years back might only be the humble beginning of a big low-budget push to get Howard’s work on screen.

His Like Will Not Be Here Again

This has been an incredibly hard post to compose for a myriad of reasons. Steve Tompkins was nonpareil. His wit, his style, his awe-inspiring intelligence, his impact on Howard studies (and weird literature studies in general), his sheer output; there simply has not been any commentator on our beloved genre(s) quite like Mr. Tompkins. Many writers have pontificated about this or that aspect of weird/fantastic literature. Not one did so in quite the way that he did, nor did they do it quite so well, in this blogger’s opinion.

I never met Steve Tompkins (though we had a near miss at WFC ’06). I corresponded with him for about right on four weeks. Many others who knew him much better have already weighed in with praise for the man and his work. I can only give my perspective as a fan and as someone who hoped to call Steve Tompkins a friend someday.

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Wheel of Pain, Tree of Woe, Throne of Tinfoil, Or, The Daze of Highly Insulting Adventure


Here at TC Central a schism wider than the Hyrkanian steppes has long separated me from site-founder Leo Grin and Silver-Keywielder Brian Murphy. Is John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian Li’ Abner versus the Moonies, as Karl Edward Wagner discerned so many years ago, or the most stirring sword-and-sorcery epic ever filmed? Well now [redacted], who posts as “Taranaich” at the REH Forum, has graciously given us permission to run El Ingenioso Bàrbaro Rey Konahn de Simaria, an attempt at reconciling the Howard and Milius Conans that far surpasses the L. Sprague and Catherine Crook de Camp CtB novelization. Mr. [redacted] is clearly the greatest Scotsman since Sean Connery, and Gordon Brown should knight him forthwith:

The film starts in the northern mountains of Brythunia. There, a tiny backwards village lies, far away from the rest of the world. The Simarians are a comfy folk living on the northern border, originally founded by a small community of luddites shunning the civilized wonders of Brythunia for a more “honest” rural life. Using distorted and piecemeal information gathered from drunk adventurers and senile folklorists, they model themselves after the Cimmerians, though their society leaves a lot to be desired in terms of accuracy. They worship Krumm, a mashup of Cimmerian and Nordic mythology whitewashed into a benevolent deity to suit their drippy ideals. Not actually knowing how to make proper swords, they use simple casting techniques to create attractive but impractical replicas: since they rarely meet other people, they never actually test their weapons in combat. This is the tribe of Konahn. Young Konahn has a happy childhood with his nice dad and hot mother, with no bandits or dangerous beasts to contend with, and no feudal lords to oppress them.

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What a Mummer Wild, What an Insane Child

Mark’s post about the new Batman film from a Howardist’s perspective was one of the better contributions to the long Dark Knight of the soul that’s fallen on the blogosphere, arguably a wee bit more plausible than the following Andrew Klavan assertion in The Wall Street Journal: “There seems to me no question that the Batman film The Dark Knight, currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand.” Artist Drew Friedman begs to differ. And Cheney, the No. 2 who tries harder? Is he maybe Harvey Dent? Or remember the online debates when 300 was released? Was Bush Leonidas, or was he Xerxes? And who was Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith? Back when Viggo Mortensen was capturing so many imaginations in 2002 and 2003, a REHupan proudly reprinted a letter he’d sent to his local newspaper that anointed Bush the American Aragorn, the hero-king who was defending the West against the Evil gathering in the East.

Was there ever a time when popular culture did not lend itself to this sort of game, one that the left-handed and the right-handed both line up to play? The concept of a Manchurian candidate long ago escaped the control of Richard Condon or John Frankenheimer. High Noon, Rio Bravo, and High Plains Drifter have been arguing among themselves for decades (in his Playboy interview John Wayne labeled High Noon “the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen in my life”. Richard Slotkin’s Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth Century America is a book I dote on (and may well have quoted from more than from Howard’s own works during my REHupa years), and yet once in a great while a mulish part of me wonders, can every single Western between 1962 and 1976 really have been about Vietnam?

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Milius Mentions Howard

Via Dirty Harry’s Place, which is far and away my favorite film blog, you can read a nice interview with Conan the Barbarian director John Milius. Deep into the discussion Milius mentions Conan and REH, an exchange which may be of interest to readers of The Cimmerian:

TG: At one point, there was going to be Conan sequel, “King Conan,” with Arnold returning and you writing the script.

MILIUS: Yeah, I did a script and the Wachowski Brothers were the producers. But they decided they were too cool for this world. That was a terrific script. We stole a lot of stuff out of it and put it in “Rome.”


TG: So what’s the project you’re going to make in China?

MILIUS: The movie I’m doing now is “Genghis Khan,” and I look back at how much Genghis Khan influenced me in doing the original “Conan.” There’s even quotes of Genghis Khan in there, “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women.”

TG: There’s also a great scene in “Conan” where his father hands the sword down to him as a young boy and tells him that man will betray you, woman will betray you, but the steel will not betray you.

MILIUS: That was sort of my interpretation of (Conan author) Robert E. Howard I guess. He talked all the time about trusting your sword or something, but I liked the idea of trusting steel. The steel itself was an enigma and a mystery; I always had that thing about the blade, and that comes from my other Samurai life. My wife is convinced I was a Kamikaze pilot.

TG: Maybe you were a Samurai in another life.

MILIUS: She was also convinced that I rode with Cortez!

Interesting that Milius shares REH’s more-than-superficial fascination with the possibility of reincarnation. The film Patton (which Milius touches on in the interview and admires) also delved into this subject. I read Milius’ Conan the King script a few years ago and did a (negative) review of it for REHupa, so now I’ll have to check out the now-defunct HBO series Rome to see what was cribbed for use in that series.

Even though Milius’ “Robert E. Howard the Shotgun-wielding nut” mythologizing bothered me a great deal on the Conan the Barbarian DVD documentary, I still respect the man enormously as a writer and filmmaker, and have always defended Conan the Barbarian as a fine film (albiet not a faithfully Howardian one). I’ve even had the honor of loaning my video camera and light kit to Ethan Nahté for his John Milius interview a few years back, when Ethan was in LA doing REH-related pickups for his as-yet-uncompleted documentary on the Texan. As I recall he also used my equipment to record the late, great composer Basil Poledouris, who remains one of my all-time faves.

Slay Cat Blues


Great and terrible flesh-eating beasts have always shared landscape with humans. They were part of the ecological matrix within which Homo sapiens evolved. They were part of the psychological context in which our sense of destiny as a species arose. They were part of the spiritual systems that we invented for coping. The teeth of big predators, their claws, their ferocity and their hunger, were grim realities that could be eluded but not forgotten. Every once in a while, a monstrous carnivore emerged like doom from a forest or river to kill someone and feed on the body. It was a familiar sort of disaster–like auto fatalities today–that must have seemed freshly, shockingly gruesome each time, despite the familiarity. and it conveyed a certain message. Among the earliest forms of human self-awareness was the awareness of being meat.

That’s from David Quammen’s memorable-if-not-haunting 2003 Monster of God: The Man-Eating Predator in the Jungles of History and the Mind, a meditation on how “the alpha predators, and the responses they evoke, have transcended the physical dimension of sheer mortal struggle, finding their way also into mythology, art, epic literature, and religion.” One of the alpha-est predators, arguably the iconic carnivore of the Cenozoic Era, is figuring very prominently indeed in the trailers and promos for the March 7 release 10,000 B.C., directed by Roland Emmerich: Smilodon, the sabre-tooth tiger. Aficionados of Nature red in tooth and claw hope the film’s CGI and editing create charismatic killer cats that surpass Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion sabre-tooth in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger and reclothe the animal in the dignity that was shed with the Denis Leary-voiced Diego in Ice Age and Ice Age 2. In honor of the occasion, I’d like to pay tribute to the two foremost mega-felines in all of modern fantasy, the gliding, pouncing juggernauts of Robert E. Howard’s “Beyond the Black River” and Karl Edward Wagner’s “Two Suns Setting.”

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The Whole Wide World finally comes to the UK


British Cimmerian reader Chris Green offers up the following news tidbit for REH completists on this side of the pond:

Just thought I would let you know that the first ever U.K. DVD release of The Whole Wide World just went on sale today, Feb 18. It’s available from Amazon U.K. The movie never received a theatrical release over here and Howard fans simply had to make do with taped versions from the handful of TV showings which turned up at (very) odd times. Maybe REH completists might like to know of this potential acquisition. It’s a shame there’s no extras or commentary, though, especially as the case depicts what appears to be a deleted scene.

So this release at 107 minutes is comparable to the US release currently in general circulation at 106 minutes, albeit without the commentary and extras. Someday we’ll get a deluxe edition with the deleted scenes (of which there are more than have ever been seen on any format — Michael Scott Myers once told me that the long scene filmed with REH and Novalyne arguing about racism is a real highlight).