Gather around kiddies, and I'll tell you the long and sad tale of 'Solomon Kane.' The character is a creation of Robert E. Howard (who also created Conan), whose stories of Solomon Kane were first published in the 'Weird Tales' pulp magazine back in the late 1920s. The movie rights to Howard's hero were obtained in the late 1990s, but nothing was done until early 2008, when shooting finally began on this origin story of the character (never detailed in Howard's own works) under the direction of Michael J. Bassett and starring James Purefoy (best known to television audiences as the serial killer in FOX's The Following, or from his role as Mark Antony in HBO's Rome).
'Solomon Kane' had a global theatrical run in late 2009/early 2010, but was not released in the United States until 2012. It didn't play in many theaters, but it was offered as a "same day as theaters" video on demand release online and on most cable systems. Now it has finally made its way to Blu-ray in Region A, over three years after making its home video debut in other regions. Surely a movie that has had this much trouble getting in front of the eyes of American audiences must be a real turkey of a film, right? Wrong.
Beautifully shot (although with an intentionally dark and dreary look) and solidly acted, 'Solomon Kane' has all the pieces to indicate the film should have been far more successful than it turned out to be. The visuals and pacing are exactly what one would expect from a mainstream "origin" story, and the entertainment value – while by no means great – shows a kind of clarity and attention to storytelling that far too many big studio films lack today. "Sword and sorcery" flicks have never been my cup of tea, so I went into 'Solomon Kane' expecting to be bored, and ended up enjoying it far more than I would have guessed.
The movie opens in North Africa in 1600, where a group of Brits led by Solomon Kane is ransacking a castle. But Solomon is no hero here – he's a vicious pirate-type, who places no value on life, killing his enemy without a second thought. As he discovers the treasure he has been looking for, he also encounters the "Devil's Reaper", who tells Kane that his soul now belongs to Satan. Kane barely escapes with his life. The movie then jumps ahead in time one year, where a reformed Kane is living with monks and has renounced his evil ways. But one of the monks has a vision about Solomon, and the decision is made to expel him – believing it is a step necessary for him to complete his redemption.
Traveling alone, Kane is ambushed and – refusing to fight back – knocked unconscious. He is nursed back to health by a Puritan couple (played by Pete Postlethwaite and Alice Krige) and their children whom, among other things, give Solomon the Puritan hat that will become his trademark. The Puritans are also ambushed, and once again Solomon won't fight back until a tragedy befalls the family and their daughter (Rachel Hurd-Wood) is taken into captivity. No longer refusing to fight, Kane now believes the only way to save his soul is to save the young girl.
There's a great deal of religious imagery in 'Solomon Kane', and the filmmakers aren't subtle about turning their hero into a Christ-like figure (at one point, even putting him up on a cross). Even though it's labeled a fantasy film, 'Solomon Kane' is better compared to classic Westerns like Pale Rider, where the mysterious stranger on horseback comes in and vanquishes all the evil. Perhaps that's what I liked the best about the movie – when it does pay homage to other films, it chooses to borrow from some of the great movies of the past, rather than trying to follow the cookie-cutter routines of some of today's blockbuster titles.
The result is a film that has an "epic" feel to it, but never gets so carried away with its visuals or action sequences that it forgets to give us characterizations. It's truly amazing to me that 'Solomon Kane' didn't turn out to be at least a moderate box office success, and it will be interesting to see if the film obtains somewhat of a cult status in the years to come (it already has, to some degree, thanks to the huge delay to American audiences). Don't misunderstand my praise – 'Solomon Kane' is far from a great movie or a groundbreaking one. It is, however, a good story, well told – and that's more than many films bother to give us these days.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Solomon Kane' comes to Blu-ray on a single-layer 25GB disc housed in an eco-friendly keepcase. One of the notable aspects of Anchor Bay's keepcase is that the recycle symbol isn't cut out like most eco-friendly cases I've seen, but completely intact – making for a sturdier product. The disc is front-loaded with trailers for Pusher and Erased. The main menu consists of a video montage from the movie, with selections running across the bottom of the screen.
The cinematography of Dan Laustsen is dark and often drained of color. That means that the black levels here are of vital importance to one's enjoyment of the movie, and thankfully they're well-done in this transfer. Shadows and objects in darker scenes are highly discernible. 'Solomon Kane' was shot in 35mm (and presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio) and retains the look of film on Blu-ray. Grain is evident throughout, but never obtrusive. Skin tones are also consistent, and details throughout are sharp. I could detect no issues with banding, aliasing, or other frequent problems that often occur with a HD transfer.
While 'Solomon Kane' has an intentionally drab look to its cinematographic palette, which results in an image that may never quite "pop" the way other high-def transfers do, the transfer here is above-average and on par with what we get with most major studio releases on Blu-ray.
From a directionality and activity viewpoint, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is one of the best I've heard on a Blu-ray. Depending on the scene, sounds naturally flow from one speaker to the next, and the rear speakers are almost always active, giving that immersive feel that is the key to any great audio track. The dynamic range here is solid as well, with booming lows or blaring highs never causing feedback or other glitches. No evidence of hissing, popping, or dropouts either.
Where the audio fails viewers, however, is in that all-too-often seen area of balancing. The track is impressive in enhancing the film's large battle sequences, explosions, and memorable musical score (by Klaus Badelt). It does this so well, it forgets that the dialogue from the actors should also be properly mixed with everything else. Yes, sadly, this is another one of those releases where all the other sound effects are not properly mixed with the spoken word. Therefore, in quieter scenes, you'll either have to listen carefully to discern what is being said, or you can just crank up the volume and hope when the big action sequences kick in that the sound coming from your speakers doesn't result in your neighbors calling the police.
Subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.
No one is more surprised than I am to discover that 'Solomon Kane' turns out to be a pretty good movie. With so many films being released that don't meet expectations, here's one that actually lives up to the rumors and rumblings about the movie that you've heard over the years. While it may never get the sequel it deserves, there's a good chance this one will maintain its cult status for many years to come. It comes both recommended and worth a spot in your collection, particularly for fans of fantasy, superhero origin films, sword and sorcery titles, or even those who love old-fashioned Westerns.