No warning. No escape.
We’ve all seen the photos in those Scholastic books from third grade: the hapless residents of the fabled city of Pompeii, forever calcified as relics of the monster of from Mount Vesuvius hundreds of years ago. Now, finally, we get to see what these people were like before they were flash-frozen in ash…and they’re not that much different to tell you the truth.
It’s 79 AD and the city of Pompeii is one of the go-to places in the Roman Empire. Wealth and power is concentrated in its ornate marble hallways and the rich are just going to get richer when a powerful Roman official named Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland, 24) eyes Pompeii as a ripe investment opportunity.
Meanwhile, Milo (Kit Harrington, Game of Thrones), a good-looking slave boy-turned-unbeatable-gladiator, shows up on the scene, falls in love with a girl way out of his league and promptly gets on the bad side of Corvus and his cronies. That means: nastiness in the arena and the distinct potential for painful spear death. But then Vesuvius decides to blow its top and all hell promptly breaks loose. Rich, creamy, molten hell.
Pompeii is made up of three distinct genres, mixed together in a Paul W.S. Anderson-powered blender and pureed into a bowl of blockbuster. At least that’s what the studio was hoping for. Alas, the $100 million budget ultimately went to waste as Pompeii melted down at the box office.
But did it deserve its fate? Anderson isn’t going to land an Oscar anytime soon, but he’s had his moments (I still think Death Race is a decent hard-R B movie) and there’s plenty of grist to be ground from the Pompeii story. Plus he’s got himself an up-and-coming leading man fronting it all. It can’t be as bad as its atrocious ticket sales say it is, right?
Well, right. Pompeii isn’t bad. But I can understand why it didn’t burn up the box office charts. Because, when all is said and done and the ash has long since settled, what you have is an empty, familiar, forgettable experience. I think a lot of the mediocrity has to do with the film’s fractured focus. It’s just too many movies rolled into one and the effectiveness of the whole dulls as a result.
So let’s review the separate movies:
Pompeii: The Gladiator Movie
Utterly predictable from the first sword-swipe to the last, with bits and pieces lifted from other movies. You see, when Milo was a child he witnessed his parents get ventilated by Corvus. And then he was sold into slavery. But he harnessed his rage and turned himself into a skilled killer. And then he got really famous in the arena. So famous that the Romans cheat and try to have him killed. But Milo and his fellow slaves work together to survive! (End of Gladiator Movie. Final Grade: C-)
Pompeii: The Disaster Movie
As the gladiator movie wraps, the disaster section begins. Vesuvius erupts and Pompeii is ravaged by mass flooding, flaming debris, hot hail, rivers of fire and people get wiped out like crazy. Truthfully, I have no issues with spectacle. The money is all up on the screen and the sound and the fury is righteous A/V porn. (End of Disaster Movie. Final Grade: B)
Pompeii: The Love Story
The best part of this shallow, flaccid piece of the story? It’s restrained and breezy and acts only as a forced reason for the Good Guy and the Bay Guy to chase each other around on horses while buildings disintegrate around them. (End of Love Story. Final Grade: D+)
Average all that up and this exceedingly scientific method produces, I don’t know, a number that would allow you to enter the next grade but something your mom will take away your Xbox for.
Sony’s Pompeii 3D (Blu-ray) is robust, starting with a slick 2.40:1/1080p (MVC-encoded) transfer that handles the on-screen carnage well. The visual effects are better-than-decent and the picture quality renders the massive loss of life as nicely as you could hope for. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio delivers a hefty blast of volcanic bombast and generic score. Extras: 2D version of the film, filmmakers’ commentary, deleted scenes, and featurettes on the cast, visual effects, stunts, production design and costume design. A documentary on the historical Pompeii wraps things up, along with a digital copy of the film.
Things blow up / melt down with panache and Kit Harrington grimaces like a champ. Those are the big takeaways of an otherwise noisy, but empty affair.