Jim over at Grognardia has a post that highlights a recent French review of the -- as yet unreleased in the United States -- new Solomon Kane movie. The crux of the review is the the film is neither a good adaptation of Robert E Howard's character, nor is it a particularly good film in its own right.
Crap! This bodes ill.
My obsession with things Howardian will require that I watch the film when/if it is finally released in the United States, but I have greater reason to dread the inevitable viewing. In case you are wondering, my obsession is so potent that I have not only seen Conan, Conan: The Destroyer, Red Sonja, and Kull: The Conqueror on repeated occasions, I own them on DVD and watch them from time to time looking microscopically for glimpses of something remotely Howardian.
This is harder to do with some of the films than it is with others. Thankfully, there is always The Whole Wide World -- a delightful biographical Howardian film.
At the end of the post at Grognardia Jim asks, "What is it about Robert E. Howard that makes Hollywood want to tell its own stories with his characters rather presenting the ones he himself wrote? I'm sure there are other authors whose works have repeatedly suffered as much as Howard's have but I'm hard pressed to think of any at the moment."
I think there are a couple of reasons for the lack of presentation of Howard characters as they should be presented -- in their proper Howardian glory.
First, any Conan movie has to fight against decades of Frazetta's visual representations, and their descendants, of the character. Frazetta's art is stunning, but it doesn't very well match the actual descriptions of the character. Other characters present this problem to a lesser degree as they have fewer popularly resonant images to combat. They also have less popular resonance at all, which constitutes its own problem. A problem that typically leads to an, "I need to provide an origin and context" syndrome.
Second, movies are the perfect length to depict novellas. A 30,000 word story fits nicely in a 90 - 140 minute framework. One could make a nice movie out of The Hour of the Dragon, but any adaptation would likely suffer from "I need to provide an origin and context" syndrome. Fans of the Howard fiction know that the first Conan story, The Phoenix on the Sword, takes place late in the Barbarian's life and drops the reader right into an existing milieu. All we get for context is a beautifully written excerpt from The Nemedian Chronicles giving us a sense of place/time. The vast majority of Conan tales, and Solomon Kane tales, are shorter than novella length and leap from one time and place to another. The fireside story feel of this phenomenon is enjoyable for the reader, but doesn't make for a well structured film.
All one has to do is look at the Stone script for Conan: the Barbarian to see what happens when you combine disparate short stories -- themselves clouded through the de Camp lens -- and fuse them together with your own connecting narrative. One gets Conan fighting a Kull villain -- though to be fair the Kull villain is to Kull as Thoth Amon is to Conan.
The translation of a patchwork of short stories into a 90 minute narrative isn't easy, and it comes with its own temptations -- temptations that Hollywood has fallen into far too many times. It would take a talented, and devoted, writer to bring Howard's great Barbarian to the screen. Even then, there would be those who would quibble with the interpretation.
Imagine how many people felt a need to shout, "someone on the internet is wrong" when I wrote that Frazetta's Conan is artistically beautiful but textually inaccurate. I hold strongly to that opinion, but I imagine there are Howardians who would take me to task for such an opinion.
Howard, and Lovecraft, have yet to see an excellent Big Budget adaptation of their properties.
I lament that the upcoming Solomon Kane film will likely be horrible, but I will watch it none the less. It cannot be worse than Kull: The Conqueror.
Who do you think competes with them for the prize of most awfully adapted?