“Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls” has an impressive bad-movie pedigree behind it. First of all, it’s from The Asylum, the straight-to-video quasi-studio (it’s actually just a couple of guys in a shed) that specializes in cheap knock-offs of current blockbusters — in this case “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull,” which itself was a cheap knock-off of “Journey to the Center of the Earth” with Brendan Fraser.
In addition, it revives a character who had previously appeared in another blatant Indiana Jones rip-off, “Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold” (1987), a movie whose colossal badness no doubt inspires the shameless hacks at The Asylum to this very day, out back in their shed with their camcorders and their humiliated actors and their SyFy Channel contracts.
There are no temples or skulls in “Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls,” but there is an Allan Quatermain, for whatever that’s worth. He’s a surly and humorless explorer (played by Sean Cameron Michael) who no longer explores and lives in South Africa with nothing to do but putter around the house all day. His finances are depleted, his wife is dead, his son is off at an expensive London boarding school. Whatever thrilling adventures Quatermain has had in the past, they are well behind him. So we’re feeling pretty stoked that the movie has chosen this portion of his life to show us.
To pay his son’s tuition, Allan has reluctantly decided to sell an old map he possesses that supposedly leads to King Solomon’s treasure, which he does not believe exists. The buyer, Ainsley (Christopher Adamson), is a snarling ghoul of a villain who the movie implies has connections to the Nazis (because it’s the 1930s and all villains have connections to the Nazis). But Allan has second thoughts, the deal goes south, and now Ainsley is steamed. Quatermain has no friends, but at least now he has an enemy.
As fate and screenwriting contrivances would have it, at the very moment Allan has met up with Ainsley at a bar, two young aristocrats named Sir Henry (Daniel Bonjour) and Lady Anna (Natalie Stone) have arrived hoping to hire Allan to help them find their friend who disappeared while searching for King Solomon’s treasure. They even have their own copy of the map! I guess Solomon passed out a few of them. Allan agrees to help Henry and Anna in exchange for a shload of money, but make no mistake, he doesn’t want to go on the expedition. He doesn’t like Anna or Henry, nor indeed does he find enjoyment in any aspect of being alive day to day. Allan Quatermain is a grouchy bastard. The movie thinks he’s being a lovably rakish curmudgeon, but he’s actually an off-putting lout who’s too sulky and unpleasant to be the main character of a movie. Fortunately, this isn’t really a “movie” so much as it’s series of filmed occurrences that happens to be movie-length.
Allan, Henry, Anna, and for some reason Allan’s African housekeeper Umbopa (Wittly Jourdan) all head out on the expedition. It is a walking expedition. They do a lot of walking. To convey the idea of the characters walking a lot, the movie shows the actors walking a lot. It is Method acting. They’ll walk for a while; and then they’ll run into Ainsley, who wants to kill them and take their map and who is somehow always one step ahead of them; and then they’ll escape from Ainsley through sheer luck or coincidence; and then they’ll walk for a while again, and the cycle repeats itself. The movie does this for about 45 hours.
As they journey through the South African savannas, Allan and the others face many perilous threats. For example, there’s a swarm of poorly rendered CGI locusts or maybe bees or perhaps raisins that they have to run away from. Another time, they see a rhinoceros! He’s not doing anything, just hanging out. But the scene gets very tense and everybody freezes up, because I guess they are afraid the rhino might do something? I think the movie thinks rhinos are more inherently frightening than they are. Maybe the movie is thinking of alligators. Whatever the case, the rhino just walks away, so never mind.
The four are eventually taken captive by a native tribe made up of spear-throwing warriors and floppy-breasted topless women, known to anthropologists as the National Geographic tribe. Turns out Umbopa is their queen! This has no bearing on the story, but good for her! Turns out Neville is here too, and so is Ainsley, of course, because he’s everywhere the movie needs him to be whether it makes sense or not.
As for King Solomon’s treasure, not only is it real, it is located nearby, inside one of those movie caves that collapse when you remove ancient artifacts from them. Anna survives a gunshot to the head thanks to the tiara the tribe’s chief gave her when he “bought” her from Ainsley (don’t ask), while Ainsley does not survive having his head ripped from his neck by Allan Quatermain, who uses a head-removal device he got from the Nat Geo tribe. That is a pretty sick thing for a primitive African tribe to have, but that’s probably just my Western Imperialism talking.
Technically, this lumpy, film-like mush was based on the Allan Quatermain novel “King Solomon’s Mines,” which had been made into a movie several times before but never with CGI locusts/bees/raisins. Quatermain originated in a series of novels published between 1885 and 1927, and the character was actually one of the inspirations for Indiana Jones. The fact that he eventually came to be used as an Indiana Jones rip-off is thus ironic and probably very sad for fans of those books. I wonder if he’s a scowling prick in the books, too, or if that’s just The Asylum’s magic touch?