Friday 31 May 2024

King Solomon’s Mines (1985)

There have been several film adaptations of H. Rider Haggard’s classic 1885 tale of adventure King Solomon’s Mines. The 1937 version has its admirers and it’s reasonably enjoyable but it has its problems and Sir Cedric Hardwicke is badly miscast as Allan Quatermain. The 1950 version is much better with Stewart Granger being perfectly cast in the lead role, and looks great. And then there’s the 1985 version.

This is a Cannon production, which depending on your tastes is either very promising news or very worrying news. This 1985 version is much less admired than the earlier films but there was some impressive talent involved. Maybe he’s no Stewart Granger but Richard Chamberlain was no slouch when it came to playing in adventure movies. Sharon Stone was not yet a big name but you can see signs of her star quality. You’ve got Herbert Lom as a villain, always a huge plus. And John Rhys-Davies is always fun in these kinds of movies. You’ve got J. Lee Thompson directing. This is the guy who directed The Guns of Navarone. The man knew how to make exciting action-adventure movies.

This 1985 version is not exactly a faithful adaptation of the novel, as we shall see. Not surprisingly given that it was made in 1985 this is very much an attempt to capture a Raiders of the Lost Ark vibe.

The setting would appear to be German East Africa and since there are cars and aircraft but the Great War is never mentioned we can guess that the events of the film are supposed to take place shorty before the outbreak of war, probably around 1912 or thereabouts.

Jesse Huston (Sharon Stone) is a student archaeologist from Iowa. She has apparently hired Allan Quatermain (Richard Chamberlain) to help find her archaeologist father who has disappeared in Africa. He had been looking for a map revealing the location of King Solomon’s Mines, having devoted most of his career to the search for the mines. Hardly anybody actually believes the mines exist. Jesse’s father believes they exist, and he is convinced that he has acquired a map that really will lead him there.

The local German commander, Colonel Bockner (Herbert Lom), believes in the mines. As does the sinister scheming Dogati (John Rhys-Davies). They want that map.

Allan Quatermain doesn’t believe in the legend but Jesse is his client and although she’s exasperating he’s determined to help her.

Wild adventures ensue, with Jesse getting captured several times, a horse-drawn car chase, a car chase, an aerial dogfight, various pitched battles, fight scenes on a train and encounters with lions. Jesse and Quatermain almost get eaten several times, and not always by animals.

Of course they eventually find King Solomon’s Mines and of course it turns out to be a very dangerous discovery, with Colonel Bockner and Dogati not being the only threats.

The whole movie is crazy and don’t expect a taut coherent plot, and don’t expect a movie that makes any concessions at all to realism or plausibility. It’s closer in feel to the wonderful movie serials of the 1930s and 40s than to Rider Haggard. Scenes are included because they’re fun, not because they have the slightest connection to the plot.

Cannon obviously could not match the budget Spielberg had on Raiders of the Lost Ark but this movie still looks expensive. Whatever the budget was most of it ended up on the screen. The visuals are impressive. OK, some of the special effects are a bit iffy but for a modestly budgeted movie they work well enough. And they are fun. I’d rather have fun cheesy special effects than fancy effects done without imagination.

J. Lee Thompson is a director whose work has been seriously underrated. He knows the importance of pacing. The action doesn’t let up. As soon as our hero and heroine escape from one danger they are plunged into some new terror.

Richard Chamberlain makes a perfectly adequate hero. Sharon Stone is charming and cute as the likeable Jesse, a girl with an extraordinary talent for getting herself into trouble. Herbert Lom hams it up outrageously, which is as it should be.

This movie did extremely well at the box office. Critics hated it, insisting on comparing it to the 1950 movie even though it should have been glaringly obvious that the 1985 movie has its tongue planted firmly in cheek and is deliberately silly, goofy and cheesy. This unabashedly a B-movie.

Get yourself plenty of beer and popcorn, switch off your critical faculties and just sit back and enjoy the fun. This is a hugely enjoyable load of nonsense and I loved it. Very highly recommended.

The Olive Films Blu-Ray is barebones but offers a lovely transfer.

I've also reviewed the 1937 version and the 1950 version.

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