Saturday, September 18, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: ALLAN QUATERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD (1988)

After the success of Cannon’s adaptation-cum-rip-off KING SOLOMON’S MINES (1985) it took a surprising amount of time for Golan and Globus to get their act together and do what they do… well, maybe it wasn’t exactly what they did best, but sequels they did! They didn’t even need a reason! They were crazy, you couldn’t stop them! Though many of their awful sequels are getting lavished with praise for being the cinematic equivalent of a mullet, let’s be honest, a lot of ‘em really sucked. You can talk up the merits of Cannon’s exploitation efforts and I’m with ya until you start bringing up those roman numerals. No amount of alcohol can put THE EXTERMINATOR II (1984) anywhere near on par with the original. SUPERMAN IV (1987), I don’t think so, and this is coming from someone who finds SUPERMAN III (1983) to be a misunderstood classic. Don’t even get me started on the DELTA FORCE or MISSING IN ACTION sequels. I gots me some strong love for da Cannon, but a man’s gotta know their limitations.

Where KING SOLOMON’S MINES was a fun, fast-paced, and totally ridiculous puree of Indiana Jones and Allan Quatermain, ALLAN QUATERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD is a blue streak of insanity that gleefully plunges into the sun after discovering that you can’t make wings out of crap.

The huge deficits in the film’s fun factor start early on. We find a soft-focus shot Quatermain (Richard Chamberlain) living a cloying life of an almost married couple with Jesse (Sharon Stone). Quatermain idles away the time by having African boys set up a see-saw that they jump on to launch fruit and vegetables into the air for Quatermain to shoot. Jesse is all excited about a package she just got via the train and is bubbling with excitement as it is a suit for Quatermain. They are to be married in the states and it just won’t do to have him dressed up in his safari gear. Is your enthusiasm starting to wilt yet? Not to worry, the “Little House in the Bush” thing ends soon. A white man, being pursued by black men in hoods with lots of gold jewelry (how do they go to the bathroom with all that stuff on?), collapses on Quatermain’s front porch. Quatermain runs after the attackers, fights them and comes back with an ornate kukri knife and a ruined suit. The man is an adventurer named Dumont who is a friend of Quatermain’s brother (when did Quatermain get a brother?!) with whom he went searching for the fabled city of gold that is supposedly home to the lost white African race. Ummm… What?

Quatermain embarks on his new adventure much to the dismay of Jesse who actually takes off to America without him, then half way to the train has a change of head, flips out and starts throwing off her travelling clothes in the back of the convertible and throwing them over a cliff. Quatermain, meanwhile follows up on some leads that Dumont gave him before being killed by the white hooded dudes who managed to sneak into Quatermain’s house, grapple with a screaming Dumont, strangle him to death and sneak out again without anyone being the wiser. On the way to following Dumont’s clues, Quatermain is hounded by a street peddler who insists that he has some silver shirts that will repel daggers, Quatermain finally buys some just to shut they guy up. You don’t think they’ll factor into the plot later, do you? This brings Quatermain in contact with his new travelling companions: Swarma (Robert Donner) a phony swami who claims to be the holiest of men but is actually a greedy coward, and yes, his character is the *ahem* comic relief, and Umslopogaas (James Earl Jones), an axe and platitude-wielding barbarian warrior who seems much more suited to be a character in a sequel to CONAN THE DESTROYER (1984). James, buddy, what was it? A new swimming pool? A pony for your daughter? What?

After some serious slogging Quatermain and company find The Walls of Jaupura (aren’t those in India?), which has a path leading right down the middle. The thunder peals through the sky and Umslopogaas gravely intones “it is the wrath of angry souls”. Or just the foley guys trying to distract you from the fact that they are on a tiny foam set. Of course it is a trap and Quatermain and Jesse come face to face with the rotting corpse of his brother’s travelling companion. The episodic nature of this film really kicks in at this point with an angry native tribe who refuse to accept a teapot instead of Jesse, an encounter with a super-scary (at least to Swarma) whirlpool, the Magic Mountain log ride done via a painfully unexciting blue-screen with a giant pillar of fire erupting from the whirlpool as rubber river monsters belch giant toothy worms. This is the part where I stared down the neck of an empty bottle of likker and muttered “what do they put in this stuff?”
As they paddle closer to… whatever… they start sweating from the heat.
Swarma: “You are entering the devil’s heart!”
Jesse: “Are we entering a volcano?”
Quatermain: “No, just the devil’s heart.”

Once out of the boat, screenwriter Gene Quintano suddenly seems to run out of crazy to throw at us and decides to turn a scene where the group must leap across a five-foot chasm into an epic affair. Seriously, it goes on for eeeever with the increasingly grating Swarma babbling in terror. Once across they are attacked by a lion who leaps into the scene, is promptly shot dead by Quatermain, exit stage left! Cue rubber bat attack! Or well, actually rubber bat fly-by. If it weren’t for all the not-terribly-special effects and the single animal wrangling, I’d say someone just made this stuff up on the day of shooting.

Quatermain finds the lost city! Yay! A lion attacks a small white child! Boo! Quartermain shoots! Lion dead... again. From here we discover that like keys on my piano the legendary “white race” are living here in harmony with the black race. They eat fruit and worship lions… Uh oh. What did Quatermain shoot dead twice? This can’t be good. Even if they are a bunch of fruit eatin’ hippies. The queen of the city is a passive hottie (Aileen Marson) that’s hooked up with Quatermain’s rather foppish looking brother, but the real ruler of the city is the high priest Agon (Henry Silva) who is running a slave mine and dipping his subjects into a pit of molten gold. Oh, and laughing maniacally. I’d accuse Henry Silva of chewing the scenery, but it’s more like he’s in a pissing contest with it. With a massive frizzy wig that makes him look like a taller version of Dio, Silva acts as if the colossal marble and gold sets are trying to horn in on his limelight and by christ he ain’t havin’ none of it!

As it turns out, the Queen isn’t really fond of Agon anyway and is getting tired of him dipping people in his giant pool of molten gold that lies at the bottom of his gold mine of doom. The queen gives the thumbs up for Quatermain and company to mount an epic battle against Agon’s army and kill them all by melting a giant gold statue with lightning bolts. Did I stutter? You heard me. Lightning bolts. Melting gold statue. Dead army.

Yes, H. Rider Haggard did write a sequel to “King Solomon’s Mines” titled “Allan Quatermain”. This movie could be considered an adaptation of it only for the fact that the names of some of the characters are actually in the film and that it takes place in Africa. Oh and Quatermain stumbles across a white tribe of extremely bloodthirsty warriors, except here the tribe has been changed to a lost city of crackers living in utopian peace and a nutty priest that dips people in molten gold. Yeah, I guess you could make the case that the first one didn’t exactly hold true to the book either, but this one just runs completely loony with the premise. Of course, if it didn’t, it wouldn't be nearly as much fun to watch. The movie ends with Quatermain telling Jesse, “I’ve been thinking, it’s time for something else.” To which Jesse replies, “some other great adventure?” The mind boggles at what a third entry could hold. Maybe someday fellow Junkie Will (hoarder of a Variety of ads) will stumble across that trade ad. One can only hope.

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