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 Conan.com 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.