Wrapping up the modern adaptations has been fraught with peril more perilous than any of the perils Pauline ever had to face. You’d think in this age of fast-paced, action oriented, mega-budgeted action vehicles that it would be a no-brainer to throw a fedora on a well-groomed head and retread the steps Cannon took to re-invent the turn of the century adventure piece via Indiana Jones. Not so easy as it turns out.
In 1986, the Australian Burbank Film Company decided that the world was crying out for an animated adaptation of “King Solomon’s Mines” suitable for the whole family. The BFC made a career of sorts from ’82 to ‘88 cranking out a slew of literary adaptations of Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and many others. To be fair, the idea of doing an animated adaptation of such things as Homer’s “The Odyssey” and Alexandre Dumas’ “The Man in the Iron Mask” is not really inherently bad. What is bad is the fact that BFC decided that nobody would want to see an animated adaptation of a literary classic unless it was done with the sensibility of a poverty-stricken Hanna-Barbera, except without the sense of irony or drug-culture hipness.
You want action? Adventure? Hemmingway-esque machismo? Forget it! You get what HBO gives you bitch, and you’ll like it! This tedious chore of a film starts out on a bad note with the first title card reading “Hallmark Entertainment”. Brace yourself! This is gonna hurt.
Since the entire concept of the safari is distastefully un-PC, we need to make sure that we establish Quatermain as a sensitive ‘90s male… even though it’s not the ‘90s anymore. While taking out a boorish, fat, loud jackass on an elephant hunt, issues arise. The fat man wants to shoot anything that moves and is particularly keen on shooting at the herd of female elephants. As anyone who’s never been laid knows, females are sacred temples of life that should be worshipped and protected with as much chest-thumping as possible. Here Quatermain declares with a righteous fervor that females are off limits and they will continue to track and hunt a male as per the contract.
In 2004 TNT debuted their first film in a trilogy of successful Indiana Jones knock-offs, THE LIBRARIAN: QUEST FOR THE SPEAR. Inspired by the popularity of the 2004 uber-RAIDERS plagerist NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS (not reviewed here simply because of who it stars), the TV movie was mostly Indiana Jones with liberal doses of HELLBOY (2004) and, erm, NIGHT AT THE MEUSEUM (2006) which it predates. In 2006, the sequel, THE LIBRARIAN II: RETURN TO KING SOLOMON’S MINES, saw the affable, not entirely macho Flynn Carsen (Noah Wyle) return as the archaeologist who is working for a secret organization who keeps magical antiquities out of the hands of bad guys in a secret basement in the New York library.
In the opening sequence Carsen and his ummmm… “native” guide are trying to grab the mythical Crystal Skull from the hands of black leather trenchcoat wearing ruffians in the Utah dessert. Clearly these guys aren’t the sharpest spades in the dirt as it is a desert… and they are wearing black leather coats. However it does provide for a rather well shot chase sequence with our heroes on horseback and the villains throwing dynamite at them from their motorcycles and dune buggy. Oh, and yes, that is the same mythical Crystal Skull that another more well pedigreed archeologist went looking for in Peru in 2008. Jesus, how un-freakin'-original was that wretched sequel anyway?
Anyway, in spite of the Native American sidekick being about as subtle as Eddie Anderson’s Rochester routine, there’s plenty of action, big camera shots and a good, solid sense of adventure. Doubly so when the setting switches to Cairo where machine-gun toting mercenaries chase a professor who is carrying the location to the secret mines of King Solomon. Directed by veteran TV director Jonathan Frakes, best known for his role as Riker on the relentlessly melodramatic “Star Trek: Next Generation”, there are actually a lot of things to like about this movie. The cast is for the most part good for a TV movie, with Bob Newhart being the stand-out as Carsen’s boss. Sure Bob is doing the same shtick that has served him well for decades, but it’s still entertaining, particularly when the alternative is the comedy involving the fact that the relics that Carson retrieves all develop a life of their own when ensconced in the Library. Yeah, the comedy is goofy TV stuff and the CG effects are pretty low-rent and over-used, but believe me, I have seen worse.
If you are looking for fast-paced, light-weight Indiana Jones-esque adventure, this will certainly fit the bill. While this is definitely the Bud Light of the subgenre, as opposed to the Guinness that is RAIDERS, at least it’s not the American hefeweizen (served with orange slice and Virgina Slims) that was the Swayze version. Proceed at your own peril.