Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold is a blatant rip-off of Indiana Jones, but the ironic thing is that both of them were inspired by the novels of H. Rider Haggard a century earlier. Indie got there first, though; Raiders of the Lost Ark, released in 1981, beat Allan Quatermain’s first adventure, King Solomon’s Mines, by a good four years, and even Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom had been out for a year. Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold, then, came at a time in between the successes of Spielberg in 1986, after Temple of Doom but before The Last Crusade, and attempted to bank on the formula that had made Indiana Jones such a successful – especially monetarily – character.
The Allan Quatermain of this series, played by Richard Chamberlain, certainly has many of the same characteristics, and that’s difficult to get past in a film that ultimately plays like a watered-down version of the Indiana Jones series. Chamberlain and his company are stuck in a film that suffers from a poor screenplay and a fixation with formulaic plot progression, and it doesn’t help matters that most of the cast is given stereotypical two-dimensional parts. Sharon Stone’s Jesse Huston, for example, is simply present to be a thorn in Quatermain’s side for most of the film, urging him to quit his adventures in Africa for a trip to the States and, potentially, a marriage. She’s given a few moments to show her worth, but ultimately she is a character that allows Quatermain to save the day and get the girl over and over again.
It’s obvious that The Lost City of Gold isn’t trying to recreate the mold, though; the film is an adventure story at heart, less worried about crafting deep characters than moving between action set-pieces. The initial plot setup relies on a relationship between Quatermain and his long-lost brother Robeson (Martin Rabbett) that never gains much credence, and as the film progresses towards the titular lost city of gold, things get ever more outrageous during escalating traps for the protagonists.
The film takes quite a while for Quatermain and his travelers, including James Earl Jones as the strongman Umslopogaas and a cowardly Swarma (Robert Donner), to reach the City of Gold, but the trip along the way is what will appeal to the action fan in the audience. A number of encounters with environmental traps abound, including a walkway that collapses into itself and a run-in with an indigenous tribe that are only convinced to let the group pass because of Quatermain. These are fun moments aided by Chamberlain’s playful nature as the protagonist; equally humorous is the way Swarma is depicted, literally quaking in fear at every turn.
But they aren’t elaborate enough to reach Indiana Jones levels of entertainment, not only because of the acting but also because the there’s little sense of danger or tension in Gary Nelson’s direction. It wouldn’t be so bad if The Lost City of Gold didn’t draw attention to its cinematic aspirations: the music from Michael Linn conjures John Williams’ Indie score at every turn, making it difficult to disassociate this film from its obviously superior brethren.
Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold‘s final moments don’t hold too much more weight in gold, either. Besides an outrageous performance from Henry Silva as the evil priest Agon lording over the City of Gold, and a delectable Cassandra Peterson as Sorais, the film’s conclusion is too quickly instigated and then concluded – after Quatermain finds his brother in this white tribe deep in the jungle, he attempts to overthrow Agon for little reason, then succeeds even after Agon comes up with a large army to fight against him. It smacks of a quick resolution just because, and unfortunately Lost City of Gold feels significantly lacking in a meaningful plot; it’s not even that interested in explaining the reasoning for the gold of the city.
With that said, Nelson’s film is bad but certainly not unwatchable, and those that enjoy the spirit of Indiana Jones will find it present – if lacking – in Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold as well. It might have earned Sharon Stone a Razzie, it might have all the makings of creative licensing copyrights, but it also has some entertaining moments that border on offensive, like its multiple lion shootings and its semi-racist elements. It’s an experience, to be sure, but it’s also an adventure that pales in comparison to like-minded genre films releasing at the same time.
Olive Films hasn’t included any special features on this disc. Unfortunately, it doesn’t even come with subtitles. Still, this is a nice-looking 2.35:1 Blu-Ray release that has good video quality except for a couple of noticeable night scenes with visual noise. As far as I know, this is probably the only Blu-Ray release of the film.