Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Written by: Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler, Michael Robert Johnson
Starring: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Browning, Kit Harington
IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 103 min
REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In 62 A.D. Britannia, some Romans led by Corvus massacre some Celts. The only survivor is a boy named Milo, whose mother Corvus personally killes, and who is captured by slave traders. Seventeen years later, Milo is a talented gladiator who is brought to Pompeii. On the way, he meets and falls for Cassia, who is the daughter of the city ruler Severus and his wife Aurelia. Cassia has returned from Rome where Corvus is now a senator. Severus is hoping to have the new Emperor Titus invest in plans to rebuild Pompeii but Cassia warns him of Rome becoming more corrupt. A servant takes Cassia’s horse for a ride only to be swallowed up when a quake from Mount Vesuvius opens up the Earth under him…
Well they got the volcano eruption pretty much right…well, if you ignore the facts that in 19 A.D Mt. Vesuvius already appears to have its top off [which considering it hadn’t erupted in a big way yet would have been impossible!], and that the arena that is destroyed in the film still stands today. First of all you have the tremors. Then some of the ground giving way and anyone or anything caught in the middle being swallowed up. Then the chunks of fiery earth and lava catapulting out up to a 30 mile radius around the mountain. Then the ash. Some have said that the tsunami which spread through part of the city was invented, but there probably was one – it just didn’t go as far onto the mainland as the film had it do. Even if you think Pompeii is crap, and many folk seem to think it is while the film is also flopping hard, you have to give it some respect as regards the eruption which destroyed the Italian town of Pompeii. Then again though, I don’t think Pompeii is crap at all and, coming right after Tarzan, I find myself once again in the position of defending a film which I enjoyed and which I seriously believe has far more merit than you may have been led to believe.
Perhaps my liking for Pompeii might be partly due to my fondness for films of the ‘sword and sandal’ variety, though it seems harder for people to make a decent one these days. Though like the lousy Hercules it’s clearly modelled in part on Gladiator [with a bit of Conan The Barbarian added], Pompeii is at its heart a disaster movie, and most disaster movies have to face a difficult problem – that of making the human story and the preamble to the stuff we really want to see interesting enough that you’re not shuffling in your seats for the first part and care about some of the characters when they are endangered and/or killed off. The several versions of Edward Bulwer-Lytton novel’s The Last Days Of Pompeii, which Pompeii doesn’t really have much to do with, have a more complex storyline that that in Paul W.S. Anderson’s film and make the persecution of Christians the major theme. This film just has a simple tale of gladiators and revenge mixed with a love story, and yes it has its corny aspects, but works pretty well and only really goes off the rails towards the end, where the town being destroyed by the volcano was obviously not enough so they throw in lots of fighting and chasing and rescuing, including a truly ridiculous scene where a man on a horse chases after a chariot as everything is destroyed around them.
There’s a pleasantly old-fashioned feel to some of the film, despite some modern touches of the more unfortunate kind such as a tiresome warmed-over-Hans-Zimmer score [for Gods’s sake, can be have some more diversity in our film scores again soon!] and shaky camera and over-hasty cutting in the action scenes, though the latter isn’t too bad by comparison with some of the unwatchable crap we get at the moment, and this film has one really good fight sequence where a few gladiators have to do battle with a load of Roman soldiers in the arena. Complaints by some about the lack of gory detail seem silly – they managed without it in these kinds of films in decades past. The film sometimes seems to be aiming for a Titanic-style effect, but the love story isn’t given enough time to eventually move. The cast seem to be mostly enjoying themselves, especially an entertainingly hammy Kiefer Sutherland, but why on earth did they get some of the American actors to speak with British accents which they seem unable to maintain? It’s also amusingly obvious that most of the other performers are around a head taller than star Kit Harrington despite the efforts to disguise the fact with clever camera angles and the way characters are placed.
Considering that this isn’t really a high budget production, the special effects are quite impressive. There are some awesome shots of fiery earth balls smashing into buildings and a huge wave drowning hundreds of people and propelling a ship through the city. Some shots are a bit computer game-like but considering the amount of effects required they did a decent job overall. I didn’t see Pompeii in 3D, which, considering how appalling much of the 3D in Anderson’s previous film The Three Musketeers was with its people and buildings looking like cardboard cut-outs, was undoubtedly a good thing. Pompeii is far far better than that horrible Dumas adaptation though. Anderson will probably never make a really good movie in his life, but he’s sure made some fun ones, and Pompeii, while it suffers from major issues like trying to cram too much into its running time and lapsing into total silliness towards the end, is certainly one of them. It’s quite enjoyable, if highly derivative, sword and sandal fare and, when it comes down to it, quite a cracking [sorry] disaster movie.