Pockets of the Internet have been drooling over Solomon Kane since it was released across the globe in 2009. The American theatrical release didn't materialize until last year for this violent fantasy film, which is directed by Michael J. Bassett and based on Robert E. Howard's fictional warrior. James Purefoy is the titular hero, a man in debt with the devil and seeking redemption for past wrongs. Despite some solid effects and the trappings of a better genre picture, Solomon Kane is less entertaining than it should be. The film moves at a breakneck pace, veering frequently into action territory, but little in Solomon Kane is truly exciting. Purefoy makes a fine warrior in looks alone, but his character is underwritten and distant, leaving the film a disappointingly forgettable effort.
English mercenary Solomon Kane tears across North Africa in the early seventeenth century, fighting Ottoman Empire soldiers and vanquishing evil wherever he finds it. An encounter with demons leads Solomon into battle with the devil's reaper, who informs Kane that his soul is already irrevocably damned to hell for his previous deeds. Kane returns to an English monastery seeking forgiveness from God, and eventually begins a pilgrimage of sorts to cleanse his tarnished soul. Along the trail he meets a Puritan family travelling to greener pastures. When a sorcerer's henchmen attack the family, they plead with Kane to break his vow of peace and save them. Kane falters and the marauders kill the family's youngest son. When he finally relents, Kane dispatches most of the attackers but not before they kidnap beautiful Meredith (Rachel Hurd-Wood). The stricken patriarch tells Kane he will be redeemed if he saves his daughter, so Kane sheaths his sword and begins tracking the stolen woman.
Howard's creation appeared in stories starting in 1928, but the author is perhaps best known for birthing Conan the Barbarian. Often considered the father of "sword and sorcery" fantasy, Howard took his own life in 1936 at age 30 after a long struggle with physical and mental illness. Kane often appeared in pulp magazine Weird Tales, and his adventures took him across Europe and Africa. Bassett wrote and directed Solomon Kane and has described himself as a lifelong fan of the character. Despite Bassett's devotion to the source material, Solomon Kane's silver-screen debut fails to rise above the pack of similarly unremarkable fantasy films released in the past few decades. The 17th century setting and spiritual infusion add a bit of intrigue, but the film ultimately falls into genre traps like dull storytelling and uninteresting characters.
Kane's transformation from brutal warrior to chaste crusader is underwritten, and his relationship with Meredith is nonexistent. Kane finds sorcerer Malachi and battles his men across the countryside in search of Meredith before uncovering his family's startling connection to the evil. Solomon Kane is compared to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings Trilogy on the back cover, but other than the basic good vs. evil plot line, the films have little in common. Unlike Jackson's films, Solomon Kane is emotionally withdrawn and, despite its short 104-minute running time and frequent swordplay, often uninteresting. Bassett's production design shows promise, and Purefoy does his best with the material. After nearly four years, Solomon Kane is not worth the wait.
Anchor Bay's 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer likely recycles the same image used on international Blu-ray releases over the past several years. This is not a bad thing, as the film looks good in high definition. Solomon Kane is a dark film, and the image preserves shadow detail well. Fine object detail and texture and quite good, and some of the outdoor landscapes are striking in depth and clarity. The film's colors, which lean toward blues, greys and browns, are nicely saturated, and skin tones are appropriately pale. Some of the effects look a bid dodgy in HD clarity, but this is not the fault of the transfer.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack immerses viewers in the chaotic 17th century world, and the surround speakers and subwoofer are often active. Dialogue, effects and score are nicely balanced, and the track exhibits good range and clarity. Action and ambient effects make use of the entire sound field, and the scenes of sword fighting and devil tramping sound pleasingly weighty. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are available.
Most of, but not all, the features from the U.K. Blu-ray are ported onto this U.S. release. The Commentary by Writer/Director Michael J. Bassett and James Purefoy is informative but not especially entertaining. The pair discusses all aspects of the production, but, like the film, the commentary is often dull. The Making of Solomon Kane (11:47/SD) feels like an EPK featurette, and the Deleted Scene: Cave Fight (2:26/SD) is introduced by Bassett as being extraneous to the overall story. Special FX: The Creation of the Fire Demon (2:00/SD) looks at how the filmmakers created the CGI adversary, and Bassett provides further insight into his love of fantasy films and stories in the Interview with Writer/Director Michael J. Bassett (8:51/SD). Finally, you get an Interview with James Purefoy (8:32/SD) and some Original Concept Art (1:15/SD).
I heard rumblings about Solomon Kane way back in 2008 when the film was in production, and some corners of the Internet have been in love with Michael J. Bassett's violent fantasy film ever since. Solomon Kane features a commanding lead in James Purefoy, but neither he nor the supporting cast is given much to work with in this underwritten film. Bassett's eye for framing and the film's production design are often impressive, but Solomon Kane is less exciting than it should be. Fans of the film can finally pick up the Blu-ray in America; others may want to check it out. At most, Rent It.