Saturday, July 02, 2011

Kane Not Entirely Able

The recent Solomon Kane film has been adapted into a novel courtesy of horror writer Ramsey Campbell. Campbell is a superlative horror writer and a man with great expertise at creating mood, but he has never impressed me as a writer of action adventure. As a result, his Solomon Kane seems to move forward in fits and starts; the parts that are horrifying are really powerful, while the segments in between seem to be constructed in a more workmanlike manner, moving the story forward in a capable fashion but never fully drawing the reader into this fictional world.

I don't really fault Campbell for the fact that it's an adequate book; I am convinced that novelizations are inherently problematic, since they require an author to tell a story that's not his, trying to adapt its visual construction into a prose narrative. In this case, it's even more complex, because we have  screenwriter Michael Bassett trying to capture the tone of Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane, then handing the story off to an acclaimed novelist who has to then translate that into a prose style that's not really Howardian. The result is a story that isn't Howard, it isn't Bassett, and it isn't Campbell; instead, it's an amalgam of the latter two trying to capture the feel of a character created by the former.

(The worst example of a novelization of this sort was the Francis Ford Coppola film Bram Stoker's Dracula, which was then novelized by Fred Saberhagen, creating the seemingly absurd book "Bram Stoker's Dracula by Fred Saberhagen based on a film by Francis Ford Coppola.")

There are moments where Campbell shines through, and his storytelling sense makes this an above-average novel, but I'm not sure that it's a book that will really satisfy fans of Robert E. Howard or Ramsey Campbell. Fans of both (like me) will appreciate it as an intriguing experiment, even though it doesn't fully coalesce.

(The fact that Bassett's script doesn't adapt a tale by Robert E. Howard doesn't mean that the film is bad, mind you; I truly enjoyed Michael Mann's Last of the Mohicans, which has very little to do with James Fenimore Cooper's novel of the same title and much more to do with the 1936 Randolph Scott film. Truth is, a film and a book are totally different creatures, and in some cases the very same elements that make a good book are impossible to translate to film, which is why I'm convinced there will never be a truly good, faithful film based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft or Edgar Allan Poe.)

No comments: