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TheRaider.net Features Articles Allan Quaterman - Part II
 
Allan Quatermain
by Michael French - posted on March 4, 2008
 
PART II: The Son Becomes the Father,
and the Father the Son

Four years shy of the 100th anniversary of the publication of King Solomon's Mines, a new kind of adventure hero slammed onto the big screen. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, the world's definition of adventure was redefined in the name, Indiana Jones. The ways in which this character changed the landscape of adventure filmmaking are countless and have been analyzed numerous times in numerous ways. Needless to say, Hollywood studios ran to the vaults to find properties they could mine to mimic the success of Indiana Jones.

The phenomenon was not new. When George Lucas' previous creation, Star Wars, was a box office smash, movie studios and independent producers ran to find their own Star Wars. Sometimes, they tried to do something new and “original” like Battlestar Galactica, but Star Wars was most notably responsible for resurrecting the properties and characters that had originally inspired it. Studios brought back Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in new movies and television shows to compete with the galaxy far, far away.

Special effects houses were rejuvenated and audiences became hungrier and more sophisticated in their tastes for action and awe-inspiring visuals. The adventure serials were good in their day, but would not fly before the eyes of then-modern audiences. Action films were being edited with more rapid pacing and certainly more dangerous stunt work was incorporated. With films like Bullitt and The French Connection in the late 1960s and early 1970s showing studios that audiences wanted a good helping of visceral action realism in their adventure films, the tide in filmmaking was turning.

Similarly, movie studios tried to recapture the adventure serial on their own terms after Raiders of the Lost Ark, with films like High Road to China and Romancing the Stone. Some enterprising independent producers, Golan-Globus, dusted off Allan Quatermain's safari hat 35 years after the 1950 version of King Solomon's Mines and brought him back to audiences. This time, however, Quatermain would be influenced by Indiana Jones and not always to the character's benefit.


1985: “Indy”pendent Producers Mire the Great White Hunter

King Solomon's Mines
1985 version.

The 1985 version of King Solomon's Mines, starring Richard Chamberlain as Allan Quatermain and Sharon Stone as Jessie Huston, a young woman in search of her lost father, is clearly a cheap ripoff of the Indiana Jones character. Aside from a few story references to King Solomon's Mines, Quatermain's helper Umbopa, renamed Umbopo, and the mythical mountains called the Breasts of Sheba, it is all but a cheap attempt to carbon copy the Indiana Jones franchise.

For one, Quatermain is now an American for the first time, and he carries a large Webley MKVI pistol and a sawed-off shotgun. For someone who's supposed to be the great white hunter, he really doesn't have any weaponry conducive to that end. This new Quatermain also has a penchant for sticks of dynamite. He's a goofy cad of a guy with cheesy one-liners at every turn.

The first scene, in which we are introduced to the villain, played by Raiders-alum John Rhys-Davies, an evil Turk, takes place in a cheap version of the Cairo bazaar. A fight breaks out and Jessie is wrapped up in an oriental rug. Basket chase, anyone? Audiences are also treated to an alligator pit and a room of spikes later in the movie.

click to enlarge
Richard Chamberlain
as Quatermain.

Some kernels of Haggard's story survive, including the restoration of Umbopa, er... Umbopo, to the throne of the Kukuana Tribe, but oddly his “real” name is Twala, which is actually the name of the usurper in the original book. The evil witch, Gagool, also makes a return in this version of the story, sadly as a hammy cartoon caricature.

The film's time line has also been pushed up 30 years to take place during World War I. This gives the filmmakers a ham handed excuse to use Germans as villains just as Raiders so effectively did. In set pieces not so well-made as in the Indiana Jones series, Quatermain loses his safari leader roots and instead is a cheapened Indy, fighting Germans on a moving train and getting dragged behind the locomotive. There are airplane chases and cannibalistic natives all while they seek to find King Solomon's Mines and the treasures within. There is also the inclusion of a rousing Jerry Goldsmith theme, very akin to John Williams treatment of the Indiana Jones music.

If the influence of Indiana Jones isn't clear enough in this first installment, the second film, Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold should make it obvious. Also very loosely based on a Haggar story of Allan Quatermain, our heroes search for the legendary City of Gold and come face to face with the leader of a dark cult who sacrifices his own people in a vat of molten gold. Temple of Doom anyone? Deleted scenes in this second film would have Quatermain using a bullwhip, as if the connection wasn't obvious enough already.

Story in these films is sacrificed for speed and “action,” which is too bad as all of the mystery and intrigue of the original novel is lost. Had they taken a page from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the producers would have seen that a few slow moments to build suspense and story go a long way. The 1980s version of King Solomon's Mines is an attempt to cash in on Indiana Jones' wake. The solid literary character of Haggard's novels that is at his core a kind of father of the Indiana Jones concept is regurgitated in a pale imitation of the character he inspired.


2004: Indiana Quatermain and the Spirit of Compromise

King Solomon's Mines
2004 version.

By 2004, the first three installments of the Indiana Jones series had come and gone, as had other adventure franchises like The Mummy and Tomb Raider. With that passing came digital special effects and a penchant for longer stories based on literature thanks to the successes of the Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings films.

In this new, adaptation-friendly environment, Hallmark took on the task of finally bringing Allan Quatermain back in a 3-hour miniseries, and this time around, the producers had a clear vision of what the 21st century take on Quatermain should be about. Quatermain became part hunter, part cowboy and part Indiana Jones.

Clearly influenced by the excellent character development within the Indiana Jones films, this King Solomon's Mines draws a new picture of Quatermain as a man fighting for custody of his son and despite his doubts about the legendary mines, needs the money it would bring to regain his child. Patrick Swayze plays an excellent, albeit American, Quatermain with the serious experience of Stewart Granger's portrayal and the rugged action hero traits made popular by Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones.

click to enlarge
Patrick Swayze as Quatermain.

But Indiana Jones' influence on this King Solomon's Mines is evident as they incorporate a malignant group of pre-World War I Russians who shadow Quartermain and his friends, who include Khiva once again, this time less of a tribal African and more of a Westernized African, as well as Alison Doody of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade playing Elizabeth Maitland, the woman who hires Quatermain to find her father.

Henry Curtis returns in this version as well, but not as the young adventurer of the original 1937 film or the husband of the heroine as in the 1950 version. This time, he is back in the expedition as Quatermain's longtime friend and wizened older safari veteran, making sure that true to modern sensibilities the title character becomes the younger, most robust character. This is an interesting change from the days when Haggard wrote the original story and the 1937 film in which Quatermain is the oldest one in the group and he is the hero because he has the most experience and the most knowledge, while Curtis becomes the young fist-swinging compatriot. Truly a sign of our times that these characters have come down through literally the centuries and evolved in this way.

With Indiana Jones a successful template to rejuvenate Haggard's story, the 2004 film borrows and modifies interesting elements and does not tiredly rip off whole ideas like the 1985 version. Instead, we are treated to an ancient map, some lost landmarks and tombs and plenty of action, with fistfights and gun battles, damsels in distress who can still throw their own punches like Marion Ravenwood, and peril from both the natives and the agents of an enemy government. Sounds like the best elements of an Indiana Jones movie, doesn't it?

Umbopa
2004 version of Umbopa.

The Kukuana Tribe in this film has the same dignity of the 1950 version and Twala is a malicious and modern version of his previous incarnations. Twala is effectively foiled by a zen-like and wizened-beyond-his-years version of Umbopa who is part Ghandi and part Yoda in his intelligence and determination.

One of the most fascinating evolutions in this version is the depiction of Gagool, the witch. She is neither loyal to Twala or against him. Rather, she sees the future and is loyal only to the course of time. Gagool is not merely a raving witch doctor or screaming old woman. In this film, she is young but timeless and clearly a potentially dangerous and deadly foe to cross. The writers have made her a rich, multi-layered character.

The final brush stroke left behind by Indiana Jones on this version of King Solomon's Mines is the inclusion of traps in the mines themselves and Quatermain finds himself facing off against his traitorous protege in an underground chamber with a floor that has spears which come up from the masonry at just the wrong time, making the ensuing fistfight even more perilous.

In the years since Indiana Jones, the adaptations of Haggard's famous adventure hero, Allan Quatermain have come full circle. Where once they were a major influence on the heroes of modern cinema, Quatermain has now been reborn by the characters he helped inspire. The son becomes the father and the father the son. What matters most is that moviegoers and adventure story lovers reap the immense benefits.

So, whether it's a brown fedora or a wide-brimmed British safari hat, rest assured that both Webley-carrying men of action will continue into the foreseeable future together as the adventure heroes by which all others are measured and inspired.

 

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