THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"KING SOLOMON'S MINES"
In the 1980s, Cannon Films was well-known for cranking out low-budget movies. Their logo was on some good films, but there were many more that were cheesy. The heads of the company, Menahem Golan and Yoran Globus, often tried to capitalize on whatever was popular at any given time. Following the success of the Indiana Jones pictures, the duo mounted an adaptation of King Solomon's Mines designed to replicate the look and feel of the Steven Spielberg classics. It didn't have a great box office performance just $15 million but it spawned a sequel, Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold. Olive Films brings King Solomon's Mines to DVD and Blu-ray on February 21.
Set in Africa circa the 1900s, the story casts Richard Chamberlain as Allan Quatermain, a fortune hunter helping the impossibly beautiful Jesse Huston (Sharon Stone) to find her father, who went missing while searching for the titular treasure-filled mines. They attempt to outrun a German colonel (Herbert Lom) and a Turkish slave-trader (Raiders of the Lost Ark alum John Rhys-Davies), both of whom want to get to the mines first. Various dangers present themselves one after the other, including getting caught by a tribe of cannibals that want to eat them for dinner.
Director J. Lee Thompson (Cape Fear, The Guns of Navarone) tries to create thrilling Indiana Jones-esque action sequences on a limited Cannon Films budget. That proves nearly impossible. King Solomon's Mines is frequently laughable, particularly during a biplane fight that was clearly staged on a set. Nothing about the film is convincingly done. When the characters finally get to the mines, they look like the cheap-o sets that they are. Many of the special effects are, shall we say, less than special, as well.
And that's a big part of the appeal. While in no way a good movie, King Solomon's Mines has maintained a cult fanbase, thanks to its pervasive cheesiness. At the time, the picture felt exactly like what it was an inexpensive Raiders ripoff. Seen today, it's an amazing artifact. Watching how the filmmakers attempted to pull off a thrill-a-minute adventure on a bargain-basement budget provides some undeniable entertainment value. It may not be what anyone involved intended, but it's certainly there.
To their eternal credit, both Chamberlain and Stone seem well aware of the film's limitations. They perform their roles with a tongue-in-cheek quality, never shying away from the chance to mug for the camera or go big. They may not be Harrison Ford and Karen Allen, but they work up their own goofball chemistry nonetheless.
Olive Films' Blu-ray transfer looks incredibly good. The picture quality is very vibrant for a movie that was clearly made for (figurative) nickels and dimes. The sound mix is also well-done, allowing Jerry Goldsmith's intentional replication of John Williams' Indiana Jones theme to blast effectively from your surround sound speakers.
Again, King Solomon's Mines is pretty bad as a movie. As a relic of that time in the '80s when Cannon Films was doing its unique, oddly-fascinating thing, though, it's kind of indispensable. Olive Films presents it in excellent form for movie buffs who appreciate C-grade cinema from that era.
For more information on this and other great titles, please visit the Olive Films website.
King Solomon's Mines is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!