Thursday, March 2, 2017

KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1985) (Blu-ray Review)

Label: Olive Films
Region Code: A
Rating: PG-13
Duration: 100 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Stereo 2.0 with Optional English subtitles 
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Cast: Herbert Lom, John Rhys-Davies, Richard Chamberlain, Sharon Stone

Wowzers, I had not re watched this one since the 80s, and while I always knew it was a low-rent Indiana Jones knock-off from the dubiously awesome Cannon Films, I guess I remembered it more fondly than it deserved to be, but that's often the way it goes with movies largely remembered with the warm-lacquered veneer of youthful nostalgia. The film based on the Victorian adventure novel of the same name by author Henry Rider Haggard, but is largely perverted to cash-in on the 80s success of Stephen Spielberg's runaway success with Indian Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark, whose titular star was actually a riff on Haggard's original creation, the adventurer Allan Quatermain, but make no mistake, this version of the character, based on the original source material, is ironically, a pale image of the imposter Indiana Jones. 

In the story at hand we have professional adventurer Allan Quatermain (Richard Chamberlain, Shogun) having been hired by professional helpless-blond Jessie(Sharon Stone, Deadly Blessing) to track down her father, who has gone missing somewhere on the African continent. Her father was in search of the legendary mines of King Solomon and it's mythical treasure, but the old has run afoul of the German adventurer/Colonel Bockner(Herbert Lom, 99 Women)and his Turkish slave-trading henchman Dogati (John Rhys-Davies, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark). 

What transpires is a dizzying array of African adventure action set pieces with very little story to provide any connective tissue, it's just non-stop vignettes. We have a bizarre train ride, a high-flying aerial duel in a bi-plane with a German fighter pilot, a horse drawn vegetable cart chase through a village square, and our duo nearly ending up as dinner for a cannibal tribe and run afoul of several others, plus Quatermain shooting a would-be rapist in the balls with a double-barrelled shotgun! Layered into that we have loads of 80s awful racial stereotypes, and vintage sexism, plus the supernatural threat of a giant spider, a water demon, and the Queen of Sheba encased in a crystal tomb - this damn movie has a bit of everything, but at the same time is anemic in so many ways.
This Cannon-produced action-adventure monstrosity is stuffed to the gills with  ridiculous action-adventure silliness, with a lot of primitive people stereotypes, our hero calling various people "towel-heads" and "camel-jockeys", which makes it a bit hard to love Chamberlain's Quatermain character, the guys an arrogant prick, which is sort of fun but he falls a few hundred yards short of our beloved Indie, which is strange when you think about how much Indie was a riff on Quatermain. 

Chamberlain is just ill-fitted for the role of an action hero,  he had a slim build,not the most athletic guy in the world, and his attempts at physicality are weak. sure, he gets few good quips (and a lot of real groaners), but the scripted dialogue is tired, and there's only so much his charm can make up for. The worst of the dialogue is saved for poor Sharon Stone, sure, she's not great here, but the script has her utter some real stinkers as the blond damsel in distress, at one point screaming “I don’t want to die with dignity!”. The romance between these two is way overwrought, the two have zero chemistry, the budding romance is laughably forced, reportedly the pair loathed each on-set, and it shows in nearly every scene, I cannot believe they made it through two movies filmed back to back. 

It was nice to see Herbert Lom show up as Colonel Bockner, the German baddie character is not far removed from similar characters he played often, and he does it with the right amount of camp, his hate-hate relationship with the Turk Dogati is fun as the two hurl insults at each other

Like the sequel, Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1987), the movie is low-rent, a slice of cheap exploitation cinema, a cheesy knock-off adventure flick, uninspired, 80s goofy and, a good bit of fun in how awful it all is, if you love the Cannon Film aesthetic you will probably have a blast with this one. Director J. Lee Thompson, director of the original Cape Fear (1962), was a director whose star was fading fast at this point, he was known mainly for a series of Charles Bronson revenge flicks, but my favorite of his later era stuff was the slasher movie Happy Birthday To Me (1981), which I love a ton. If you crave more of Thompson uninspired action-adventurer knock-offs from the 80's also check out his  Chuck Norris/Lou Gossett team-up Firewalker (1986), also featuring an appearance from John Rhys-Davis. 

Audio/Video: King Solomon's Mines (1981) arrives on Blu-ray from Olive Films, who also released the sequel on Blu-ray last year. The was licensed from MGM and is presented in the original widescreen aspect ratio (2.35:1) and looks pretty solid, the grain is nicely managed, colors are robust, black levels are pleasing, no serious complaints. The 80s cinematography can be a bit soft focused in some scenes, but overall this is a nicely sharp presentation, as I said about Olive's presentation of the sequel, it's not Criterion-worthy, but it is definitely Cannon-worthy, haha. 

Audio is the disc comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track with optional English subtitles. The stereo track doesn't have the most dynamic sound design about it but the Jerry Goldsmith (The Omen) Indiana Jones knock-off score with some fun heroic themes sounds quite nice. The disc is bare bones, no even a trailer on this one, but I do like that Olive Films used the original one-sheet poster art for the new Blu-ray, it's very nice, way better than the actual film. What this release needed is a making of doc, I would love to hear the cast and crew talk about making this pair of action-adventure flicks for Cannon Films, that doc would probably be more entertaining than the movies.   

As much shit as I talked about this movie (and it sequel) it does all go back to the veneer of youthful nostalgia for me, I love it in a bad movie sort of way, it's goofy, campy, oh so bad, but it's also fun, I had fun with it, and like the sequel I am glad to see it preserved in all it's Golan and Globus glory in HD, long live the legacy of Cannon Films! 2/5