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Pompeii (3D Blu-ray Review)

16 May, 2014 By: John Latchem

Street 5/20/14
Sony Pictures
Box Office $23.22 million
$30.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 3D BD
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense battle sequences, disaster-related action and brief sexual content.
Stars Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Carrie-Anne Moss, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jessica Lucas, Jared Harris, Kiefer Sutherland, Sasha Roiz, Currie Graham, Joe Pingue.

Unless the objective is a documentary, the biggest obstacle to making a film about the destruction of the ancient city of Pompeii is that the event doesn’t lend itself to an inherent narrative.

Most films based on actual events can frame their stories around characters who existed in the historic record, but that isn’t the case here, as reliable records of the day-to-day lives of the citizens of Pompeii don’t exist. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius wiping out the Italian city in 79 A.D. certainly lends itself to a bevy of impressive special effects, but the devastation itself was the story.

As a result, filmmakers could craft literally any story to guide viewers through Pompeii as the volcano erupts, since there’s little doubt how it will resolve. Unfortunately, the script for director Paul W.S. Anderson’s Pompeii settles for a generic Roman Empire tale involving a love story, class warfare and imperial politics. The simplicity of the "Volcanic Titanic" framing story was Anderson’s intent, so as not to burden viewers with anything deeper once the volcano erupts, but it’s not like the director of Aliens vs. Predator, Resident Evil, Death Race and Event Horizon could be expected to actually challenge his audience. (Not to be confused with Paul Thomas Anderson, director of complex films such as Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and The Master.)

As it turns out, the volcano doesn’t explode until 67 minutes into the film’s easily manageable 105-minute running time, leaving little choice but to sit through the by-the-numbers mesh of Gladiator and Titanic that serves as our window into the culture of Pompeii.

Kit Harington of “Game of Thrones” plays Milo, a Celtic gladiator who harbors a grudge against the Romans for slaughtering his village when he was a boy. Sent to fight in Pompeii, he meets Cassia (Emily Browning), the daughter of the city’s ruler (Jared Harris). Cassia has caught the eye of Roman senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland, trying out his best English accent), but she is smitten with Milo because of his skills as a horse whisperer.  By coincidence, Corvus is the general who led the assault of Milo’s village.

While all this personal animosity gets worked out in the arena, the volcano starts doing its thing, and everyone flees for their lives, but not before seeking out whatever vengeance they think is coming to them.

If you happen to notice how derivative many of the plot elements are, don’t feel guilty; Anderson uses his commentary track to freely discusses pretty much everything that influenced him (he even says Milo’s horsemanship was a trait added to flesh out the character the same way Jack was made an artist in Titanic).

It’s not the most compelling storyline, but as presented it isn’t horrible and actually does its job in settling up some decent action sequences. Of course, the explosion of the volcano is the centerpiece of the film, and the effects of it all are very well rendered. The city was destroyed by a combination of earthquakes, a tidal wave that also prevented escape from the harbor, and a final cloud of superheated gas, all of which generally historically accurate as are depicted here (aside from a few massive fireballs launched from the mountain).

The film looks great, and Anderson takes full advantage of his 3D cameras to really pull viewers into the action. There are worse ways to spend an hour-and-a-half.

The Blu-ray includes 23 minutes of deleted scenes, most of which lack any finished special effects, but some do expand on a few of the subplots in the film.

The disc also includes five behind-the-scenes featurettes running about seven minutes each, and a 24-minute making-of program that repeats a lot of the material but expounds a bit on the real Pompeii, which is definitely something that needed to be included with the disc. Otherwise, most of the interviews are pretty standard promotional fluff.

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