Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Screenwriters: Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler and Michael Robert Johnson
Runtime: 105 mins.
Australian release date: 20 March 2014
The question has to be asked, “Does 3D make epic disaster films any better?” In the case of Paul W. S. Anderson’s Pompeii, the answer is, “No!” If anything, it added to the disappointment as the special effects were plentiful but, regrettably, a bit cheesy in places and not as thrilling as they could have been. Admittedly, there were a couple of moments when one dodged a missile in the dark, but they weren’t enough to compensate for the effects’ overall lack of veracity. It’s hard to accept a storm of fireballs raining down on Pompeii during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD, when it is widely known that the debris that buried the ancient city was mainly made up of ash and pumice, not burning boulders. It’s also a little hard to accept that, while said fireballs are smashing buildings and ships to splinters, the roads are clear enough to drive a chariot through town!
The film opens with a potted history of the bloody background of Milo (Kit Harington), a young Celt who is captured in Britain and enslaved after his tribe has been slaughtered by a battalion of Romans led by Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland). Many years later Milo, now a gladiator, has to fight for his life in combat with a formidable opponent Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), who becomes his unlikely ally in his quest for freedom. Milo falls in love with Cassia (Aussie actress Emily Browning), the unattainable daughter of Pompeii’s ruling family. Unfortunately Corvus, now a Roman senator (who, for some weird reason, speaks with a very contrived plum in his mouth), has also fallen for Cassia, following her to Pompeii from Rome, and he’s not about to let her run off into the sunset with a Celtic slave!
For lovers of sword-and-sandal epics, Pompeii does have moments of high drama but, while saying that, the plot is corny and the situations often unbelievable. Possibly the filmmakers were so concerned with the technical difficulties of bringing Vesuvius to life that they neglected the script. Certainly, recreating the eruption of one of Europe’s largest volcanoes and the subsequent total destruction of a city, was always going to be difficult to bring successfully to the screen. Still, one can’t help but feel that at times the actors were just going through the motions because the emphasis was placed on the special effects; maybe that’s a consequence of acting against a green screen. Clinton Shorter’s rousing score helps things along, though, as does Michele Conroy’s fast-paced edit.
Anderson and his long-time producer partner Jeremy Bolt (who worked with him on the Resident Evil series), spent a number of years plotting how to enter into the 3D market and came to the conclusion that an epic disaster movie was the key to success. Hopefully this is a practice run and next time the results will be more rewarding. It definitely doesn’t match up to Bolt’s promise that the audience would be subjected to, “…a spectacle worthy of a Roman amphitheatre.” Perhaps Pompeii would have been better left covered in a cloud of volcanic ash.