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King Solomon’s Mines


‘…the overall effect is cheap as chips…’

“It’s a jungle out there…’ There’s been a few online articles recently tamping down expectations about the performance of the new Indiana Jones movie. It’s not just that it’s an action movie with an eighty year old star, or the heart-sinking influence of Pheobe Waller Bridge, whose touch didn’t do much for the last Bond movie. No, it’s the lack of recognition for the Indiana Jones character himself; unlike Star Wars, Marvel, DC or Star Trek, there hasn’t been a slew of fresh IP developments in the Raiders universe; in fact there’s only been one movie in the last four decades, and absolutely nobody wants to remember the debacle of the Crystal Skull.

Back in the 80’s, Indy was a big deal, and imitations were legion; This adaptation of King Solomon’s Mines came from the smoking hot word-processor of Gene Quintano, who wrote several Police Academy movies and the Jean Claude Van Damme classic Sudden Death. Back in 1985, he was taking the loot from the hapless Cannon brand to update H Rider Haggard’s adventure novel a full century after it was originally written. Of course, the real source of inspiration was the Indiana Jones films, on which J Lee Thompson’s derivative-to-a-fault movie was slavishly copied from. The narrative is familiar Boys Own adventure stuff, with a few modern twists to try and avoid creating a ethnically insensitive ‘white saviour’ narrative, a venture which proves unsurprisingly unsuccessful.

Kathleen Turner reportedly turned this movie down because it was too close to Romancing The Stone, although she might just as easily have body-swerved it because the film was likely to be completely bat-sh*t awful. So a pre-stardom Sharon Stone steps into her shoes as Jesse Huston, who hires explorer Allan Quatermain as her guide to what he glibly calls ‘beautiful downtown Angola’. Together with their guide, man-mountain Umbopo (Ken Gampu), Huston and Quatermain head to the local attractions of the Breasts of Sheba as they search for her missing father, but soon the prospect of diamond loot-box treasure takes their foray in a different direction…

An early scene in which Quatermain identifies a group of prisoners as slaves and frees them suggests that Quintano’s script might ring a few changes on the cliches, but there’s little debate about whether it’s right to cheerfully pillage the African culture they so thoughtlessly desecrate, Thompson’s film adheres to every cliché in the book as the savage native cannibals capture our heroes and boil them in a large pot for dinner; Quatermain and Huston escape, then get captured by more natives and tied up to be fed to alligators and then escape only to… What’s largely missing here is any hint of King Solomon or his mines; the last twenty minutes takes place in an inauspicious-looking hole in the side of a mountain, but there’s precious little to do with Haggard here; presumably the more accurate title King Solomon’s Hole didn’t test well with audiences.

What we watch as kids and as families can help mould minds in positive and negative ways; dropping on Prime in 2023, King Solomon’s Mines doesn’t sport a good look for sexism as well as racism. There’s a broken timing chain in its engine due to the sexual chemistry between Chamberlain and Stone, some 22 years apart; she’s just the usual hysterical damsel in distress that he’s man enough to rescue from snakes, spiders and sea-monsters. But the side-garnish is lacking too, with John Rhys-Davies parodying his Raiders of the Lost Ark role and Herbert Lom making something of a fool of himself as a bratwurst-chomping, Wagner-loving slap-head German. The action is handsome in places, as befits an expensive production, and there’s a jaunty Jerry Goldsmith score, but the overall effect is cheap as chips. And its hard to get behind a blood-thirsty hero who is happy to blast unsuspecting henchmen in the nuts from beneath the floorboards to get the drop on them; although a sequel was made, audiences generally felt that Allan Quatermain rebooted was one more out-dated hero they could generally do without.


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  1. God, I’d forgotten this movje existed but seeing this review gave me a ton of nostalgia. This was one of my dads favourites, and one of the few “classic films”, as he’d say, that I enjoyed in my young age.

    • It’s very hokey, but I guess that Prime thought it was worth reviving. Very old school Saturday matinee stuff…

        • I guess I must too. That scene where they’re in a cave saying their last words to each other just felt like you’d seen this movie a thousand times by the time you were twelve. And yet not in a way that’s all bad. Kind of reassuring.

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