‘Solomon Kane,’ ‘Silent Hill: Revelation’ Director Talks About Thinking Man’s Thrillers and Making Good Video Game Movies

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When a movie takes three years to make it to theaters after being finished, the onus is on the cast and filmmakers to ensure that people don’t think it’s a turd that’s getting a courtesy flush en route to home video. But Solomon Kane doesn’t just have an incredibly gifted director in Michael J. Bassett at the helm and star in Simon Purefoy on the screen, it’s a sweeping action-thriller with some genuinely intriguing ideas at its core.

Celebuzz spoke to Bassett recently about his work on the overdue opus, which currently available for viewing both in theaters and on video-on-demand. In addition to discussing the moral and intellectual implications of what otherwise might be a purely visceral experience, the filmmaker talked about his work on the upcoming Silent Hill: Revelation 3D, and explained what he hopes will distinguish his video game adaptation from its predecessors.

What does Bassett’s ‘Silent Hill’ sequel say that the first one didn’t?

Celebuzz: Just to get started, talk about what initial approach you wanted to take with this material, because there’s a really interesting sort of morality play woven into this adventure tale.

Michael J. Bassett: I like characters who believe absolutely in something. In Kane’s case, obviously he believes in the word of God, and he’s a warrior on behalf of that word. I think he’s fascinating to me because I don’t believe he’s correct in his fulsome belief in that — I believe there’s pagan magic in there, and there’s other kinds of belief systems working within that. But that’s why he’s such a fascinating character. So when you read [Robert E.] Howard’s books, the short stories, you see a very devout man, almost a fundamentalist man. But you also see the cracks in that belief. And sometimes he questions and sometimes he wants to know what it is. And that, to me, was a fascinating story to explore.

With this Solomon Kanestory, I obviously predate the existence of that particular man, because I wanted to see what took him to the point to where he believed he was the sword who could bring justice to the world. Now, that’s a kind of approach as if he’s a Batman figure. I mean, essentially he’s the Dark Knight but from earlier times. And it’s a fascinating story to tell. And obviously with being a fan of Howard’s original writings when I was given the opportunity to do an adaptation and to sort of pick apart the stories and say, “How can I get the character to be the character on the page, so that if we go to subsequent stories, there he is for everybody to see?” So yeah, I think that it’s quite timely that he’s a man of faith. And we really brutalize him. We make him go literally through hell to come out the other side to have a greater understanding of who he is.

CB: How difficult was it to create that back story to show where this guy was prior to the main story? At the beginning of the movie, he’s so brutal and sort of callous that his transformation is kind of interesting because it seems like he’s trying to avoid going to hell rather than having pure reasons for being nonviolent or virtuous.

MB: Yeah, but I think that’s really interesting is that yes it’s like the, “I don’t want to be punished for what I’m doing.” And then through the course of the film I think he comes to understand that position. And we’re mixing Christian beliefs and Pagan magic even though there are no demons, and devils, and things. But he believes everything. He comes across these things. So trying to find a story which is a great fantasy adventure, trading in the ideas which fantasy fans are familiar with, and at the same time saying, “Okay, there is something more serious.” I crucify the guy. It’s not by accident that happens to him. Because when that Christ figure comes back, he comes back as the lion not the lamb. And perhaps Kane is carrying that kind of weight on his shoulders. So I thought that was kind of an interesting thing to explore. Is he sincere about it? I believe James Purefoy would say that his character is sincere about it. And I certainly believe that as well.

CB: It’s just interesting that his journey seems to be the discovery of the value of being good.

MB: Oh my God, yeah, yeah. And that, to me, is what storytelling should be about, is when you start with a character in one form and you end up with a character in a completely other one. And you can plot ways, the little things that happen to him on the way build towards the resurrection of a better man. Now, there’s an argument that [asks] is a man who kills on behalf of his belief a better man at all? And I think we’re facing that in the modern world all the time. There are plenty of people who’ll you for their faith, because they believe their word is better than your word. And that’s not the say the movie is heavy handed about it at all. It is a big sword and sorcery, fantasy adventure. But it seems to me there’s no point turning up for a day’s work unless you’ve got some intellectual resonance going on under there as well.

CB: How difficult was it to juggle that sort of intellectual resonance and also to sort of deliver the goods, that sort of visceral entertainment?

MB: Well, literally there was a moment in the movie where he sort of says that. He says, “Oh, you know, if I kill you I’m bound for hell.” And if that’s not a motivation to not fight, I don’t know what is. But something happens which says, “Alright, I’ll pay that price because I need to deliver some justice.” And the justice in those days was on the edge of a very big sword. So once the script had been written, once I figured out that story, delivering on the set was a completely different beast. Making a movie’s a machine, and you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the right part. Now, James Purefoy playing Kane, once we talked it through and he understood what we were trying to go for, and he completely gets the character. You almost hand that spiritual journey over to him because I’ve got a lot of other things to do.

It’s about having trust in somebody, and knowing that you’ve cast the right person, and that they’re able to completely understand and deliver what you’re after. And I think the performance in the middle of this movie, for all the faults of the movie, but it’s a faultless performance. And I think that’s the thing that, every time I watch the movie back and I haven’t seen it for a while, and I watched it very recently, you go, “That dude delivers. He really, really delivers.” And you believe that that journey is his journey. And it’s a very unusual fantasy movie in that respect, because it takes itself very seriously. And it’s almost like we sort of predate Game of Thronesa little bit in the sense of fantasy can be a serious-minded thing. It can be about themes and big ideas, and resonance, and religion, and belief and all those things. Whereas the movies I tended to grow up with as a kid, which I loved and were the reasons I wanted to do fantasy movies at all, were a little bit lighter, perhaps in tone, a little bit campier. And there’s not a camp bone in this movie’s body.

CB: Definitely not. At what point do you feel like all of the ideas in terms of the execution sort of crystallized for you? Do you watch your movie a year later and go, “Holy shit, there’s something in this that I didn’t even maybe intend, but that’s really interesting?”

MB: Well, what’s really interesting is obviously now I’ve got a lot more perspective on the movie than I ever had before. And I know, broadly, I can’t speak for the North American audience because they’re just about to discover it, having said that, a lot of people over here have seen it because they made a point of getting it by hook or by crook, legal or not legal, but I know people have seen the movie and they respond to it.

And what people get from the film, and there’s been a big audience all around the world now. And I know they take things from the movie perhaps I didn’t anticipate. But they’re better — they’re really into it more. They can see more symbolism. They see more ideas. And that’s really, really exciting. I mean, some countries really interestingly respond to the movie better than others. A lot of the sort of Latin countries with the kind of the hot explorer blood, with the tradition of adventure and a tradition of swordplay, they love this thing, the buccaneer spirit. And other countries, it’s not for them. And it’s very, very unusual to be able to have that distance to go, “Oh, I get that. I understand why that worked.” It doesn’t necessarily change the movie at all, because I finally have to make the movie for myself as a fan. Because I don’t know what you want or what anybody else wants. And if I did start trying to second guess everybody I’d make a completely compromised picture. I’d rather make a flawed picture that has my personal flaws than some muddled mess of everybody else’s ideas.

CB: Is there a professional advantage in the delay of this movie being released much closer to the release of Silent Hill: Revelation?

MB: I will only be able to answer that question after that release has happened. But yeah — it’s interesting, because of the delay in the release of Kane over here, and obviously the bulk of the film industry that makes these kinds of movies is in the U.S., they’re saying, “Well let’s wait for the movie to come out before we talk to Michael about whatever.” And the fact that I’ve got two movies coming out within I think four weeks of each other, and they’re both very different movies. One is a huge wide-release on Halloween in 3D, adaptation of a computer game, and the one is this kind of slightly classical, measured adaptation of a piece of literary pulp fiction. You’ll be able to choose which bit of me you like.

And the very bizarre thing, I’ve just been shooting a Cinemax/HBO TV show, which is called Strike Back, which is just guys with guns blowing stuff up. It’s about Special Forces operatives, which is enormous fun to do. And that actually gets broadcast in-between the two movie releases as well. So you’re not going to be able to get away from me.

CB: With Silent Hill: Revelation, there was a mixed reception to the first film. What sort of responsibility does that put on you to entice them to come back?

MB: I think you’ve got to raise the game. You’ve got to make a sequel better than the original, that’s the point of the sequel. You’ve learned from what was good and what was bad. And with Silent Hill, I brought back quite a lot of the team from the first one of the bits that I liked. I think the film is artistically very successful, I think it’s perhaps not narratively so successful. The story’s a little muddled. It treads so much on the arcane mythology of the games that the mainstream audience perhaps didn’t get it.

I wanted to make a movie that was more scary, more intense. And the 3D element, though obviously it’s a gimmicky thing now, but when you’re doing a computer game adaptation, when you’re trying to draw the audience into this alternate world, 3D is a fantastic tool to have at your disposal for that. I can reach out at you and I can also draw you in a little bit as well. So it was kind of a fun experience to play with this technology. How long it stays around is anybody’s guess these days — in the same way that I’m very much looking forward to the 48 frames per second that Peter Jackson’s working on. Because on paper that’s going to work, but aesthetically are people going to respond to it? And I just don’t know. I mean, I just don’t know. I mean, mostly I’m just a fan so I want to see what the other guys are doing. With Silent Hill I was a gamer. I played the games. It was a fantastic opportunity for me to go, “Dude, I’m going to make a computer game adaptation.” So I’m the sequel, I’m an adaptation and I’m a standalone movie. And that’s the tricky thing to balance.

CB: Video game movie adaptations have kind of dubious pedigree, to say the very least. What do you feel like is it that they have lacked that is necessary for them to connect with audiences.

MB: Story, story, story, story, character, character, story, character. I mean, it’s the only reason you’ve got to watch a movie. You don’t really remember how big the explosion was 20 years later, but you remember the moment when Bruce Willis said, “Yippee ki-yay, mother f*cker,” because the context of that character doing his thing, or Rutger Hauer’s incredible speech on the top of the building in the Blade Runner, those are the things you remember. The visual wraparound is amazing, but your takeaway from a movie is always how you resonate with the characters. And I suspect that, and nobody’s seen Silent Hill yet, so they make think quite to the contrary, but what I want to do is give you the story of a girl that you relate to and understand within the environment of the computer game mythology, and the landscape that’s been created for it.

So I suspect, as computer games are getting better, and they’re getting better written and better directed, the synthesis of the two is going to be so sort of flawless that you won’t know where one begins and the other one ends. I mean, you play Dead Space, which is a fantastic game, and you have these kind of animated movies that go with it as well. The movies let the game down, you know? So, it’s the other way around. I mean, and in God of War, if I God please get the chance to make a God of War movie, how the hell do you better the graphics there? Even the performance of the characters are pretty good. So it’s hard for Hollywood and film business in general to take a game and make something better than the game. Because they’re an incredibly immersive way of experiencing adventure.

Watch a clip from Solomon Kane below.

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