This version comes from Hallmark Entertainment, an offshoot of the Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Greeting Cards. Since the mid-1990s, Hallmark have become prolific producers of lavish mini-series and tv movie adaptations of popular literary classics and fairytales. (See below for Hallmarks other genre-listed efforts).
One sits down to watch Hallmarks King Solomon's Mines with equal amounts of interest and trepidation. What must be said is that of all the versions of the story seen on screen so far, this production is the one that follows the plot of the book the closest. The series introduces many characters from the book Sir Henry, Captain Good, Twala, Googal that have not made appearances on screen before. There are certainly a number of changes as well. Most notably the mini-series eliminates the character of Sir Henrys brother who is the one that inspires the quest for the mines in the book. In its place, the mini-series adds Alison Doody as a romantic interest (a feature that was also added by all the other film versions) and has the quest now to be to find her father (a plot element that is taken from the 1985 film version rather than the book). The series also bumps the basics of H. Rider Haggards book up considerably besides giving the story a love interest, we also have the addition of pursuing Tsarist heavies and an embittered ex-colleague of Quatermains. There is also the subtle addition of some minor fantasy elements a prophetic shaman woman and most notably the mines now no longer being a source of diamonds but also containing a mystical stone that grants dominion over all the other tribes.
The place that King Solomon's Mines sinks considerably is where Hallmark have seen fit to cast the role of Quatermain (who here also gets an r in his name to now become Quartermain) with Patrick Swayze. For a brief time in the 1980s, Patrick Swayze was considered a heartthrob. In actuality, Swayze only had about two hits Dirty Dancing (1987) and Ghost (1990) and spent the rest of the time playing in formula bloke pictures. He was widely decried for lack of acting talent and spent the latter half of the 1990s in a career slump trying to regain those heights. As H. Rider Haggards larger-than-life African adventurer, Patrick Swayze is simply miscast. The role is of Allan Quatermain is surely one that requires either an heroic leading man type or else the grizzled Indiana Jones character. Patrick Swayze plays the part with the same jaw clenching, intense stare that served throughout all his other roles. Alas, by this point, Swayze is age 52 and while he tries hard, his leading man looks are not what they once were. Certainly, they are not enough to carry a larger-than-life part on its own and his slim acting abilities are nowhere near adequate to carry the rest of the role. Case in point being the would-be romantic scene between he and Alison Doody (who, compared to Swayze, is fine in her part) near the end, where his attempt to propose to her is nearly killed by Swayzes complete lack of expression. Swayze is also crippled by the fatal flaw of timing when viewing his Quatermain it is hard to get out of ones mind Sean Connerys fine portrayal of the aging Quatermain in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen the year before, where Connery played the part with dignity and authority. The other main complaint is that Quatermain is American rather than British. (Mindedly all the other above-listed film versions cast Quatermain with Americans, rather than British actors). This does noticeably jar when the series takes us back to England to visit Quatermains home life.
This is also a somewhat wiggist version of King Solomon's Mines. That is to say, it is a version that writes modern attitudes and assumptions over the story. Rather than a big game hunter, the series outfits Quatermain with a prologue where he does the Politically Correct thing and protests against hunting and animal slaughter. The series also outfits Quatermain with a son. No problem with this but the story then has him engaged in the oh-so-contemporary-American problem of a legal battle to regain custody of the son from his in-laws. In actuality, other explorers of this era such as Ernest Shackleton and Richard Burton thought nothing of leaving their wives and children for several years at a time and exploring the world and this was not considered abandonment. The character of Roy Marsdens Captain Good has been written in for no other reason than to have a series of running gags about his being fooled by wily natives or not understanding native customs. In truth, most British colonialists had such a condescending attitude towards Africans that any natives that tried to play practical jokes or laugh at a Britisher would have in all likelihood been shot or at the very least flogged for their arrogance. The most interesting character is the witch woman Googal who looks for all the world like Grace Jones just stepped out of Vamp (1986) and is played with a fascinating ambiguity where one can not be at all sure whose side she is operating on.
The series tends to go for a good many clichés of the African adventure story Westerners out of their cultural depths, the evil native chief wanting to rule the other tribes, tribal music on the soundtrack. Between Patrick Swayzes non-performance and the clichéd adventures, the mini-series takes a long time to come to life. The first half is relatively uneventful, although the show does pick up reasonably in the second half with the various shootouts, tribal fights and waterhole ambushes and some okay plot twists.
Director Steve Boyum has worked as a stuntman in the industry since the mid-1970s and began directing with forgettable tv fodder like Moms Got a Date with a Vampire (2000) and Stepsister from Planet Weird (2000), one genre action vehicle Timecop: The Berlin Decision (2003), one other Hallmark mini-series, La Femme Musketeer (2004) and the purportedly incredibly bad film Supercross (2005). He crafts the adventure with a certain epic feel and there is some fine location photography.
Hallmarks other works of genre note are: the sf mini-series White Dwarf (1995), The Canterville Ghost (1996), Gullivers Travels (1996), Harvey (1996), the Christmas musical Mrs Santa Claus (1996), Murders in the Rue Morgue (1996), the childrens horror Shadow Zone: The Undead Express (1996), the medical thriller Terminal (1996), The Odyssey (1997), the cloning thriller The Third Twin (1997), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1997), the monster movie Creature (1998), Merlin (1998), the sf film Virtual Obsession (1998), Aftershock: Earthquake in New York (1999), Alice in Wonderland (1999), Animal Farm (1999), A Christmas Carol (1999), the tv series Farscape (1999-2003), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1999), The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1999), The Magical Land of the Leprechauns (1999), Arabian Nights (2000), the modernized Hamlet (2000), Jason and the Argonauts (2000), Prince Charming (2000), the mini-series The 10th Kingdom (2000) set in an alternate world where fairy-tales are true, the medical thriller Acceptable Risk (2001), The Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells (2001), Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story (2001), The Monkey King/The Lost Empire (2001), My Life as a Fairytale: Hans Christian Andersen (2001), Snow White (2001), the series Tales from the Neverending Story (2001), the fantasy adventure Voyage of the Unicorn (2001), the Sherlock Holmes film The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire (2002), Dinotopia (2002), The Hound of the Baskervilles (2002), the Christmas film Mr St. Nick (2002), the Christmas film Santa Jr (2002), Snow Queen (2002), the modernized A Carol Christmas (2003), Children of Dune (2003), the American Indian legends mini-series Dreamkeeper (2003), the childrens monster film Monster Makers (2003), Angel in the Family (2004), A Christmas Carol (2004), Earthsea (2004), 5ive Days to Midnight (2004) about forewarning of the future, Frankenstein (2004), the Christmas film Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus (2004), Dinotopia: Quest for the Ruby Sunstone (2005), Hercules (2005), the thriller Icon (2005), Meet the Santas (2005), Mysterious Island (2005), the disaster mini-series Supernova (2005), The Curse of King Tuts Tomb (2006), the disaster mini-series The Final Days of Planet Earth (2006), Merlins Apprentice (2006), the bird flu disaster mini-series Pandemic (2006), the disaster mini-series 10:15 Apocalypse (2006), the psychic drama Carolina Moon (2007), the psychic drama Claire (2007) and the ghost story Something Beneath (2007).