Director – Steve Boyum, Screenplay – Adam Armus, Steven H. Berman & Kay Foster, Television Story – Steven H. Berman, Based on the Novel by H. Rider Haggard, Producer – Russ Markowitz, Photography – William Wages, Music – Mark Kilian & Daniel Licht, Digital Visual Effects – Look! Effects, Special Effects Supervisor – Kevin Adcock, Prosthetics – Dennis Beechey & Bob Carlisle, Production Design – Tom Hannam. Production Company – Hallmark Entertainment/Silverstar Limited/Larry Levinson Productions.
Patrick Swayze (Allan Quartermain), Alison Doody (Elizabeth Maitland), Gavin Hood (McNabb), Ian Roberts (Sir Henry), Roy Marsden (Captain Good), Nick Boraine (Ivan), John Standing (Professor Samuel Maitland), Sidede Onyulo (Umbopa/Ignosi), Lesedi Mogoathile (Gagool), Hakeen Kai-Kazim (Twala), Godfrey Lekala (Khaiva)
In Africa, archaeologist Samuel Maitland is captured by Twala, the despotic king of the Kuakuanis tribe. Twala demands that Maitland give him the map to the legendary mines of King Solomon, which are reputed to house a fabulous stone that will grant dominion over all the tribes. However, Maitland has sent the map to his daughter Elizabeth in England. When a letter comes demanding that she deliver the map to Twala, Elizabeth goes to find the adventurer Allan Quartermain, showing him a note from her father telling her to find him if there is any trouble. They set forth for Africa to exchange the map for her father. As their plans go awry, Quartermain decides the best course of action would be to mount an expedition to find the mines themselves. They are pursued by a ruthless agent of the Tsar who is determined to procure the mines’ wealth for his country and has teamed up with an embittered former colleague of Quartermain.
H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines (1885) is a classic work of adventure. King Solomon’s Mines created the heroic archetype of the African big game hunter hero, as well as the character adventuring in search of lost treasures that became the imprint for modern heroes like Indiana Jones and Lara Croft. Haggard had worked in the British Foreign Service and travelled extensively throughout Africa, before settling back in England and writing a host of books, the two most famous being King Solomon’s Mines and She (1887), both of which he sequelised a number of times. The two books have been filmed numerous times. King Solomon has previously appeared on screen as:– King Solomon’s Mines (1937), with Cedric Hardwicke as Quatermain; the excellent King Solomon’s Mines (1950) with Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr; a cheap British-Canadian production King Solomon’s Treasures (1978) with John Colicos as Quatermain; the abysmal King Solomon’s Mines (1985) with Richard Chamberlain; and The Asylum’s cheap Indiana Jones cash-in Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls (2008) with Sean Michael as Quatermain. There was also Watusi (1959), a further version of the story featuring George Montgomery as Alan Quaterman’s son Harry and cheaply made rehashing footage from the 1950 film. The setting was also appropriated for oddities like the Italian peplum film Maciste in King Solomon’s Mines (1964), the Spanish Tarzan in King Solomon’s Mines (1973) and even turns up in Congo (1995) and Shark in Venice (2008), while Quatermain also appears amid a host of other characters from Victorian literature in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003).
This version comes from Hallmark Entertainment, an offshoot of the Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Greeting Cards. Since the mid-1990s, Hallmark have become prolific producers of lavish mini-series and tv movie adaptations of popular literary classics and fairytales. (See below for Hallmark’s other genre-listed efforts).
One sits down to watch Hallmark’s King Solomon’s Mines with equal amounts of interest and trepidation. What must be said is that of all the versions of the story seen on screen so far, this production is the one that follows the plot of the book the closest. The series introduces many characters from the book – Sir Henry, Captain Good, Twala, Googal – that have not made appearances on screen before. There are certainly a number of changes as well. Most notably the mini-series eliminates the character of Sir Henry’s brother who is the one that inspires the quest for the mines in the book. In its place, the mini-series adds Alison Doody as a romantic interest (a feature that was also added by all the other film versions) and has the quest now to be to find her father (a plot element that is taken from the 1985 film version rather than the book). The series also bumps the basics of H. Rider Haggard’s book up considerably – besides giving the story a love interest, we also have the addition of pursuing Tsarist heavies and an embittered ex-colleague of Quatermain’s. There is also the subtle addition of some minor fantasy elements – a prophetic shaman woman and most notably the mines now no longer being a source of diamonds but also containing a mystical stone that grants dominion over all the other tribes.
The place that King Solomon’s Mines sinks considerably is where Hallmark have seen fit to cast the role of Quatermain (who here also gets an ‘r’ in his name to now become Quartermain) with Patrick Swayze. For a brief time in the 1980s, Patrick Swayze was considered a heartthrob. In actuality, Swayze only had about two hits – Dirty Dancing (1987) and Ghost (1990) – and spent the rest of the time playing in formula bloke pictures. He was widely decried for lack of acting talent and spent the latter half of the 1990s in a career slump trying to regain those heights. As H. Rider Haggard’s larger-than-life African adventurer, Patrick Swayze is simply miscast. The role is of Allan Quatermain is surely one that requires either an heroic leading man type or else the grizzled Indiana Jones character. Patrick Swayze plays the part with the same jaw clenching, intense stare that served throughout all his other roles.
Alas, by this point, Swayze is age 52 and while he tries hard, his leading man looks are not what they once were. Certainly, they are not enough to carry a larger-than-life part on its own and his slim acting abilities are nowhere near adequate to carry the rest of the role. Case in point being the would-be romantic scene between he and Alison Doody (who, compared to Swayze, is fine in her part) near the end, where his attempt to propose to her is nearly killed by Swayze’s complete lack of expression. Swayze is also crippled by the fatal flaw of timing – when viewing his Quatermain it is hard to get out of one’s mind Sean Connery’s fine portrayal of the aging Quatermain in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen the year before, where Connery played the part with dignity and authority. The other main complaint is that Quatermain is American rather than British. (Mindedly all the other above-listed film versions cast Quatermain with Americans, rather than British actors). This does noticeably jar when the series takes us back to England to visit Quatermain’s home life.
This is also a somewhat wiggist version of King Solomon’s Mines. That is to say, it is a version that writes modern attitudes and assumptions over the story. Rather than a big game hunter, the series outfits Quatermain with a prologue where he does the Politically Correct thing and protests against hunting and animal slaughter. The series also outfits Quatermain with a son. No problem with this but the story then has him engaged in the oh-so-contemporary-American problem of a legal battle to regain custody of the son from his in-laws. In actuality, other explorers of this era such as Ernest Shackleton and Richard Burton thought nothing of leaving their wives and children for several years at a time and exploring the world and this was not considered abandonment. The character of Roy Marsden’s Captain Good has been written in for no other reason than to have a series of running gags about his being fooled by wily natives or not understanding native customs. In truth, most British colonialists had such a condescending attitude towards Africans that any natives that tried to play practical jokes or laugh at a Britisher would have in all likelihood been shot or at the very least flogged for their arrogance. The most interesting character is the witch woman Googal – who looks for all the world like Grace Jones just stepped out of Vamp (1986) – and is played with a fascinating ambiguity where one can not be at all sure whose side she is operating on.
The series tends to go for a good many clichés of the African adventure story – Westerners out of their cultural depths, the evil native chief wanting to rule the other tribes, tribal music on the soundtrack. Between Patrick Swayze’s non-performance and the clichéd adventures, the mini-series takes a long time to come to life. The first half is relatively uneventful, although the show does pick up reasonably in the second half with the various shootouts, tribal fights and waterhole ambushes and some okay plot twists.
Director Steve Boyum has worked as a stuntman in the industry since the mid-1970s and began directing with forgettable tv fodder like Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire (2000) and Stepsister from Planet Weird (2000), one genre action vehicle Timecop: The Berlin Decision (2003), one other Hallmark mini-series, La Femme Musketeer (2004) and the purportedly incredibly bad film Supercross (2005). He crafts the adventure with a certain epic feel and there is some fine location photography.
Hallmark’s other works of genre note are:– the sf mini-series White Dwarf (1995), The Canterville Ghost (1996), Gulliver’s Travels (1996), Harvey (1996), the Christmas musical Mrs Santa Claus (1996), Murders in the Rue Morgue (1996), the children’s horror Shadow Zone: The Undead Express (1996), the medical thriller Terminal (1996), The Odyssey (1997), the cloning thriller The Third Twin (1997), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1997), the monster movie Creature (1998), Merlin (1998), the sf film Virtual Obsession (1998), Aftershock: Earthquake in New York (1999), Alice in Wonderland (1999), Animal Farm (1999), A Christmas Carol (1999), the tv series Farscape (1999-2003), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1999), The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1999), The Magical Land of the Leprechauns (1999), Arabian Nights (2000), the modernised Hamlet (2000), Jason and the Argonauts (2000), Prince Charming (2000), the mini-series The 10th Kingdom (2000) set in an alternate world where fairy-tales are true, the medical thriller Acceptable Risk (2001), The Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells (2001), Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story (2001), The Monkey King/The Lost Empire (2001), My Life as a Fairytale: Hans Christian Andersen (2001), Snow White (2001), the series Tales from the Neverending Story (2001), the fantasy adventure Voyage of the Unicorn (2001), the Sherlock Holmes film The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire (2002), Dinotopia (2002), The Hound of the Baskervilles (2002), the Christmas film Mr St. Nick (2002), the Christmas film Santa Jr (2002), Snow Queen (2002), the modernised A Carol Christmas (2003), Children of Dune (2003), the American Indian legends mini-series Dreamkeeper (2003), the children’s monster film Monster Makers (2003), Angel in the Family (2004), A Christmas Carol (2004), Earthsea (2004), 5ive Days to Midnight (2004) about forewarning of the future, Frankenstein (2004), the Christmas film Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus (2004), Dinotopia: Quest for the Ruby Sunstone (2005), Hercules (2005), the thriller Icon (2005), Meet the Santas (2005), Mysterious Island (2005), the disaster mini-series Supernova (2005), The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb (2006), the disaster mini-series Final Days of Planet Earth (2006), Merlin’s Apprentice (2006), the bird flu disaster mini-series Pandemic (2006), the disaster mini-series 10:15 Apocalypse (2006), the psychic drama Carolina Moon (2007), the psychic drama Claire (2007) and the ghost story Something Beneath (2007).