Understanding and respecting source material

1 05 2009

There’s a Solomon Kane movie being made. Solomon Kane is one of my all time favorite characters, and it goes without saying that Hollywood isn’t interested in source material as much as it is im marketability. That’s fine and it’s something that writers have to understand. In fact, it’s why we should keep marketability in mind when writing. However, one can make changes to the source material all they want, as long as they stay true to the characters and concept. There is no sin in this. The new Star Trek movie is a perfect example. It changes a lot, but Kirk is still Kirk, etc. When you stray from the premise, and when you don’t understand the source characters, not only will your project fail, but it may as well be considered theft.

There is no similarity between Howard’s Solomon Kane, and this movie’s Solomon Kane, save for the name and the funny hat. In effect, someone stole the name and the funny hat for their own, entirely different character, and that’s sad.

Here is the summary of the new Solomon Kane:

Based on the character created by Robert E. Howard. CAPTAIN SOLOMON KANE is a brutally efficient 16th Century killing machine. Armed with his signature pistols, cutlass and rapier, he and his men unleash their bloodlust as they fight for England in war after war on all continents. As the story opens, Kane and his men are carving a bloody path through hordes of defenders of a city in northern Africa. But when Kane decides to attack a mysterious nearby castle to plunder its rumored riches, things start to get strange. It turns out that the castle is inhabited by evil demons but Kane and his men push on deeper into the keep, hell-bent for of treasure. His men are picked off one by one and eventually Kane is left alone facing down a ten-foot beast … THE REAPER. The demon tells Kane that he’s come from Hell specifically to get him. Though Kane manages to escape the demon, he knows that he must redeem himself by renouncing violence and living a life of peace and purity. It isn’t long before his newfound spirituality is tested when he journeys across an England ravaged by diabolical human raiders who fight under the command of a terrifying, masked Overlord. When he fails to stop the slaughter of a family that has befriended him, Kane vows to free their daughter, who has been enslaved—even if it means putting his own soul in peril by renouncing his vow of peace. His search brings him face to face with the brother he thought dead and the evil sorcerer who has manipulated him for his own ends. In the process of saving the girl and defeating the magician, Kane learns that he has been saved from the Reaper in order to fulfil a new destiny—to defend the innocent and fight evil wherever it may occur.

This is an origin story explaining how Solomon Kane became who he was. It is utterly unnecessary to the viewer, just as it was unnecessary to the reader. Solomon Kane is a puritan and holy warrior. He’s cut from the Oliver Cromwell cloth. He’s not about God’s love, he’s about God’s wrath. He’s a killer, but he’s a just killer. Nothing is mentioned about why he’s the way he is, and if I had to guess, I’d say he didn’t suffer any major tragedy. He’s not crazy. He was never crazy. He’s simply a believer. A very zealous believer.

In fact, it does Kane a disservice to explore his emotions and motives, because questioning the nature of reality, and his world view is the cornerstone of some of the best Solomon Kane stories. For instance, he stumbles upon an African village where witchdoctors are able to possess other people and reanimate the dead. This so completely blows Kane away that he actually travels with a fetish staff, something demonic in his opinion, to remind himself that he doesn’t fully understand the world, no matter what his experiences are. That’s powerful.

There’s this pathetic fashion in todays entertainment that we either have to know (and justify) precisely why someone kills, and we so limit the acceptable excuses. He can kill because he’s because he’s greedy, because he’s crazy, or because he’s in some kind of emotional pain that excuses (if not justifies) his actions. That’s about it.

Take the punisher. There have been two recent Punisher movies, with two different takes on why the punisher kills bad guys. The first was because he was in emotional pain. His family was killed, and he wanted revenge, and to avenge their deaths. This movie was a failure, and this is not why The Punisher kills bad guys.

The second movie I didn’t see. I heard it was fun, but not a good movie, and the Punisher came across cartoonish and, well, basically crazy. There are two possibilities here. One, that the makers did intend for him to come across as crazy, which is not the reason the Punisher kills. The other possibility is they nailed the reason the Punisher kills, and the elitist, sensitive, pansy movie critics couldn’t fathom the reason, so they just assumed he was crazy. I really hope it’s the latter.

The Punisher kills because… wait for it… he’s punishing killers. Duh. The world is better off without the bad guys in it, so he kills them. He’s not motivated by revenge, or grief. What happened to his family should never happen to anyone else, and he does his part to make that dream come true. That’s it. It’s simple. It’s basic. It’s visceral. And it’s completely over the heads of most creative writers today. They think the concept is overly-simplistic, black and while, immature, whatever. No, it’s not. It’s just something they don’t understand.

Solomon Kane is the same way. He kills bad guys because they deserve it. That’s it. Understand it. Respect it. And then write about what that’s so intersting, because it really, really is interesting.