The late 1970s and 1980s was an
interesting era of filmmaking. Television some
thirty years before had forced the big movie studios
to scale back and rethink the way they did business
as more and more viewers stayed away from the
theatres to watch their televisions instead.
In this time of confusion, independent producers
and directors gained a foothold and by the 1970s
were producing some of the most cutting-edge material
of the period, using the big studios to distribute
their pictures to theatres while able to retain
creative control because the financing of the
films themselves was coming from the smaller production
By the late 1970s, Jaws
and Star Wars
had caused quite a cinematic stir, prompting some
independents to jump into the genres of fantasy,
adventure, and science-fiction like never before.
Some independent producers named the Salkinds
were able to get film rights to Superman
and make the blockbuster Superman:
The Movie, even though
owned DC Comics.
It was a licensing coup of a kind that would not
be possible today, as studios have since bought
up or run out those independents and regained
control of the film industry. Anyone out there
Pictures? How about
Nope, I thought not. But it might interest you
to know that they were responsible for mega hits
2: Judgment Day and
In the 1980s, these companies were alive and well
and all things were possible. A slew of fantasy
and adventure films were made, some great but
most of them terrible. For every Highlander
there was a Beastmaster,
for every Last
Starfighter there was
a Flash Gordon.
Needless to say, it was an interesting time to
go to the movies. You never knew what would pop
In 1981, Raiders
of the Lost Ark brought adventure films
back to the theatres and in 1984, Indiana
Jones and the Temple of Doom proved that
they were back in a big way. Independent production
wasted no time, and teamed up with The
Cannon Group to bring King
Solomon’s Mines back to the big screen.
Their intention in retrospect is hard to discern.
What resulted from their efforts is nothing like
the serious, regal adaptation starring Stewart
Granger and Deborah Kerr. The theatrical trailer
for the film touts the character of Allan Quatermain
as the greatest adventure hero of all time, clearly
comparing him to Indiana Jones.
Yet rather than adapt the book’s solid adventure,
this film seems to be an attempt to capitalize
on the style of Indiana Jones rather than rely
on the strength of H. Rider Haggard’s classic
story or previous cinematic incarnations.
From the first frame, this movie
feels satirical. It has a zany kind of humor that
is often so over the top it forces you to choose
between a laugh of disbelief or a groan of pain.
The film begins without any studied, and badly
needed, exposition, throwing you right into the
story to drown. Once again, Quatermain must help
his female companion find her father who searches
for King Solomon’s legendary mines.
In this incarnation, set just
before or during World
War I, Kaiser-style
Germans pursue Quatermain, led by Pink
Panther series alum
Herbert Lom. Lom teams up with John Rhys-Davies,
who is no longer the best digger in Egypt, but
the most evil mercenary in Turkey.
Richard Chamberlain takes on the role of Allan
Quatermain and does the best he can with it given
the nature in which the script was filmed. Chamberlain
is an excellent actor, but Golan-Globus
made a fatal error when giving this film a humorous
spin. They should have relied on Chamberlain’s
abilities as a serious and dramatic actor, but
instead they leave him out to dry with contrived
plot devices and weak lines.
Sharon Stone, as the female sidekick Jessie, has
never looked better on screen. I say never looked
better, because as far as her acting is concerned,
this veteran of the infamous Basic
Instinct has certainly
delivered better performances in years since.
Unfortunately, she is given little to do but whimper
and scream and ask incessant questions in a manner
that makes Kate Capshaw’s Willie character
seem downright dignified.
There are fun things for Indiana
Jones fans to see in the movie. Of course, Quatermain’s
look has been redone to echo Indy with a signature
bandolier and hat over safari clothes. Quatermain
carries a shotgun and packs a Webley MkVI, which
would find its way into Indy’s hand in Indiana
Jones and the Last Crusade.
The opening sequence of the film
has Quatermain in a massive marketplace reminiscent
of Cairo in Raiders of
the Lost Ark. There, Jessie is captured
by thugs who roll her up in a carpet and start
running off with her. Like Indy and the baskets,
Quatermain forces a carpet out of the hands of
some locals only to find that Jessie is not there.
Instead of a hay cart, Jessie falls into a fruit
Later, Quatermain one-ups Indy by falling off
of and then sliding under a moving train only
to catch a chain and get dragged behind it on
the rails just like Indy and the Nazi truck. Then,
in another prophetic (if poorly conceived) action
sequence, Jessie and Quatermain have a misadventure
in a German biplane, which Indy and his dad would
four years later.
From there it’s an encounter with two hostile
native tribes in a row, hungry lions, cannibals,
people who live upside-down, the worst giant spider
and bog creature in movie history, and finally
collapsing destruction of the legendary mines
which begins with a chamber sealing the heroes
in as a spiked ceiling descends upon them. Hmm…
sounds like Indiana Jones
and the Temple of Doom to me.
The only way to describe the bulk
of this film is "sloppy". There is no
time for the audience to catch a breather, no
break between action scenes, and no logic to any
of the situations they stumble into. The pacing
is terribly rapid as if the director wanted the
audience to go past plot holes so fast they couldn’t
possibly see them. The effects are sub par, even
for the period
During the film, these are just a few of the questions
I asked myself: "Why do World
War I Germans wear British uniforms and
carry British weapons from both world wars?",
"This is the third time he’s reappeared.
When will John Rhys-Davies’ character actually
die?", "Why are all these African tribes
hostile without motivation?", "Could
this be the worst romance scene I’ve ever
It’s a mess of a film that’s only
reflections of the real story are the mines, the
search for Jessie’s father, the return of
the rightful king to the troubled tribe, and Allan
Quatermain as the hero.
All that said, I confess I
liked it a little. Why? Because it is such a vintage
rip off of Indiana Jones I couldn’t help
but be charmed by its blatant borrowings. At the
same time, all of the actors seem to be having
great fun with the movie, even if the film is
bad. In one scene, surrounded by an entire city
of cannibals, Jessie begs Quatermain for a plan.
Quatermain cracks, "OK, you take the thousand
on the left and I’ll take the thousand on
the right." Later in the film, Jessie tells
Quatermain, "You’re the only one who
thinks your bad jokes are funny!"
With lines like those every now and then, a few
good sight gags, and a competent theme by the
late Jerry Goldsmith, it’s a tolerable film
Mines is a self-aware
film. It’s aware that it’s ridiculous,
the characters are aware, and unless you are dead,
you’ll be aware of it as well. I cannot
recommend this film as a purchase or even a rental,
but I wouldn’t discourage it either because
it’s so bad it’s fun. (MF)