Sony // 1997 // 172 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // May 18th, 2010
The wise king of Israel.
If biblical calculations are correct, Solomon ruled over Israel for forty years. During that time, he was famed for his wisdom, built the first temple in Jerusalem, and took many wives. Surely there's room there for a solid biblical film, but compared to figures like Moses, Jesus, and even his father King David, Solomon has been given pretty short cinematic shrift, with very few films dedicated to his legacy. Those that do feature Solomon in a starring role almost inevitably focus on his love for the Queen of Sheba, forgetting all the intrigue surrounding his succession and his building of the temple. Solomon attempts to make up for some of those omissions by telling a three-hour story that takes place before Solomon's succession to his relationship with the Queen of Sheba. Although the scope of the film sounds like a good thing, the film is unlikely to satisfy those looking for a faithful representation of biblical stories or a more traditional biblical epic.
Before he can ascend the throne about to be vacated by the dying David (Max von Sydow, The Exorcist), Solomon (Ben Cross, Star Trek (2009)) must deal with court intrigue, as heir-apparent Adonijah (Ivan Kaye, Layer Cake) seeks to seize the throne. David, however, is persuaded to declare Solomon his heir, which creates animosity. Once the throne is secured for Solomon, he meets the visiting Queen of Sheba (Vivica A. Fox, Soul Food) and falls in love. When she refuses to stay for him, Solomon becomes obsessed, allowing his kingdom to be threatened.
Perhaps the most famous story about Solomon's wisdom is the one about the two women fighting over a baby. Solomon's idea is to split the baby in half. When one woman agrees and the other is horrified that the baby should be treated that way, Solomon knows he should give the baby to the latter woman. The filmmakers behind Solomon should learn a lesson from their title character. Except, instead of two women, we have biblical accuracy on one side and epic storytelling on the other, with the character of Solomon in the middle. Rather than give the character over to one or the other, the film splits the difference offering some of Solomon's biblical background but also playing up the Sheba angle much more than the source texts.
This split makes Solomon a frustrating watch. On one hand, it's interesting to see the succession from David to Solomon portrayed the way it is played out in The Bible because David skips over his oldest son in favor of Solomon (on the advice of both God and Bathsheba). On the other, the whole Queen of Sheba angle is overdone. She gets only a passing mention in The Bible, and the relationship between Solomon and Sheba portrayed here (and in other more romantic interpretations of their relationship) is more like David and Bathsheba than whatever relationship we can intuit from the few lines about the Queen in The Bible. Consequently, those looking for biblical accuracy or lessons are likely to be disappointed by the focus on the Queen of Sheba, and those coming for a romantic movie about the love between a king and a queen are likely to be disappointed by all the palace intrigue.
It's not all bad, though. Some of the performances are pretty good. Max von Sydow, for instance, is especially watchable as the aging king. The film also does a good job in several scenes conjuring a solid desert environment in which to place the story.
The DVD from Sony is a solid if unremarkable release. The full-frame transfer does fine with the source material, which looks like broadcast quality video. Colors look a little washed out, but that's probably intended to invoke the desert sun, and there are no significant compression problems to be found. The stereo audio keeps dialogue audible, and the English and English SDH subtitle options are a nice addition. The disc, however, is lacking in any extras whatsoever. One wishes that Sony would get together with the History Channel or someone similar to release this with a documentary or two on Solomon's historical origins, his building of the Temple, or something similar. The lack of extras on an old TV movie isn't surprising, but it feels like a missed opportunity.
The story of Solomon is ripe for a biblically accurate story of his rise to power, one that shows his tremendous accomplishments (like building the Temple) without devolving into a story about a lovesick king after his meeting with the Queen of Sheba. Sadly Solomon isn't that story; nor is it a particularly compelling romance, which means it's unlikely to satisfy most audience. Only serious fans of the actors involved should consider this disc for rental. Everyone else would be better off sticking with a reading of The Bible.
Solomon is guilty of being an unwise adaptation.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 172 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated