The story has been told on film three times before, a tale of adventure, intrigue and action that is more than a century old. But the new movie "King Solomon's Mines," airing on Saturday at 5 and 9 p.m. on the Hallmark Channel, has a few features that make it distinct, according to executive producer Nick Lombardo.
"The biggest difference is we had Patrick Swayze," said Lombardo. "He has always portrayed characters of passion, he just has that ability to be impassioned about what they do. That is what shows on camera."
Swayze -- who's quick to mention that it was another TV project, "North and South," that launched his career -- called the film "a dramatic telling of the adventure, but with a sense of fun," he said. "I read this [story] when I was a little kid, and every kid has dreamed about being this kind of man. And out of that was born that whole genre of Indiana Jones."
The tale is of explorer Allan Quatermain (Swayze), who goes in search of a kidnapped archeologist in the heart of Africa.
The captive's daughter, Elizabeth Maitland (Alison Doody), insists on accompanying Quatermain on the rescue mission. Her father, being held by a native king, possesses a map that is the key to untold treasures, the legendary King Solomon's mines.
Some of the subplots -- including Quatermain's grief over his wife's death, his vow never to return to Africa and his fight to gain custody of his young son in London -- also set this version apart from the others.
"In the original, they were going back to Africa after treasure," said Swayze. "But treasure doesn't make an audience care. The man has sworn he'll never go back to Africa, then a pretty girl asks him to, and he goes? Hello? So it has to be about something, and the something is, he needs the money for his son, because he wants to keep him."
Swayze said the multiple story lines meant the script "was being rewritten on a minute-by-minute basis. But if you have a situation where people are excited by a mutual goal, it takes out the ego," he said. "And we all thought this could be an
epic. . . . I'm pretty proud of Quatermain."
The basis for the story is an 1885 novel by H. Rider Haggard. The book introduced Quatermain, a hunter hired to find an Englishman's brother and a diamond mine.
"Adventure, scope, betrayals, that is what attracted us to retell it," Lombardo said. "If we have to take out some element that doesn't make sense to our audience today, we will. But we gave the Allan Quatermain character a sense of conservation. He is more of a culler than a destroyer."
In the opening scene, a prelude to the main story line, Quatermain is a guide for an elephant hunter who decides to take down an entire herd rather than just the adult male. Quatermain's protests are ignored.
"The hunt goes awry, and Allan is hijacked by his business partner," said director Steve Boyum. "That goes against his sensibilities. The character is more enlightened about the environment than he was in the novel."
Swayze, a self-described conservationist, found the scene difficult even to watch. "There were two main elephants I worked with, Harry and Sally. I fell in love with Harry. When we were finished, and getting ready to leave, I wanted to see if this elephant really knew who I was," Swayze said. "I yelled at him, and even though Harry had gone back with the herd, he ran to my vehicle and wrapped his trunk around my head. He didn't want me to go."
Working with the film's wildlife was a treat for Swayze, but Lombardo called it the film's biggest challenge.
"Trying to get those large movie animals close to the camera is an iffy proposition," he said. "We traveled all over South Africa to find game reserves that had the animals to work with."
Lombardo called Swayze "a great horseman. When he's at full gallop and hauls out a rifle, the authenticity is invaluable."
Swayze, who raises Egyptian-Arabian horses, said in the film's riding scenes, "everything I wore is my own, just change my Western hat for an African bush hat."
Doody, who appeared in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," called Swayze "a real action hero." She is reluctant to compare the two films, but called the Hallmark project "a great action-packed adventure story that will stand the test of time."
Swayze, planning a series of conservation documentaries with his brother, actor Don Swayze, said the film "just hit every passion I have. Just being in a world of South Africa and watching the struggle for equality and human dignity" was inspiring, he said.
"You can't get away with a hero role except in a period piece, and you can do that with a character who believes in the things that people want to see today, the things that make their hearts feel good."
The story of Allan Quatermain and the search for King Solomon's mines has been the inspiration for three other movies. Each film has different plot quirks, but all were titled "King Solomon's Mines":
1937: Cedric Hardwicke plays Quatermain, who goes in search of a missing fortune hunter named Patrick O'Brien at the request of O'Brien's daughter Kathy.
1950: Stewart Granger is Quatermain. This time the missing man is the husband of a woman played by Deborah Kerr.
1985: Richard Chamberlain is Quatermain. He is hired to find the missing jungle explorer-father of Jesse Huston, played by Sharon Stone.