Thursday, March 13, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: Pompeii

Pompeii was written by Janet and Lee Batchler and Michael Robert Johnson and was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (director of Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon and three of the Resident Evil films).

Anderson and Co. supposedly took great pains to be as scientifically and historically accurate as possible. The filmmakers studied footage of modern volcanoes to realistically recreate the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. They even toured the ruins of Pompeii to get the sets and layout of the city just right.

The two main characters in the film were supposedly inspired by the plaster casts of the "Twin Lovers," an actual couple who were locked in an eternal embrace by the lava flow.

Unfortunately it seems they also used archeological methods to write the script. It's as derivative and predictable a story as I've seen in many a year, following the standard disaster movie template to the letter.


The Plot:
Mt. Vesuvius erupts. Everyone dies. The end.

Ok, I suppose I can do better than that. Young Milo (Kit Harington, of Game Of Thrones fame) watches as his Celtic village is wiped out by Roman Senator Corvus (a strangely cast Kiefer Sutherland). 

Milo is sold into slavery and grows up to become a twenty-something gladiator in Pompeii. He's befriended by another gladiator named Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), who, due to his sidekick status, is doomed to die. Milo cute-meets Cassia (Emily Browning), the wealthy daughter of a Pompeiian nobleman, and the two begin a forbidden romance that's doomed by the arrival of Senator Corvus and the impending eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.

• Kit Harington has exactly one expression in his repertoire, which he wears throughout the entire film (it's the same one he's worn in every season of Game Of Thrones). He needs to try and come up with a few new expressions or he's going to become the male Kristen Stewart.

• I'm very surprised that Mila Jovavitch didn't show up in this film, considering she's married to Paul W.S. Anderson. After all, he wrote all and directed most of her Resident Evil movies.

• It's inevitable that a film about an historical event is going to be a bit predictable, but this film gives new meaning to the word. Of course we know the volcano's going to erupt at some point, but the events leading up to it don't have to be so obvious. 

I could see every single plot point coming down the street from a mile off, and accurately predicted every last thing that happened. Am I some kind of film genius? Hardly. The movie's just that predictable.

Case in point: During the eruption, Milo, Cassia and Atticus duck into the colosseum for safety. Atticus says he's going downstairs to the stables to borrow some horses so they can ride out of the city. Cassia tells Milo to go help his friend while she waits patiently for him to come back. 

Now what possible motive could she have for insisting they separate in the middle of the cataclysm? The only reason was so that Kiefer Sutherland could sneak in and capture her while she was unprotected, forcing Milo to have to rescue her and artificially generate some tension in the script (which already featured a deadly volcanic eruption). And that's exactly what happened! The script is chock full of predictable incidents like that. 

• As my pal K.W. Monster pointed out, this is pretty much the exact same story as Titanic. There's a poor boy who falls for a rich girl. There's a rich guy who wants to make sure that doesn't happen. The poor boy has a colorful sidekick who's doomed to die first. The boy and girl have a brief romance that's interrupted by a disaster.

The only thing that keeps it from becoming a 100% carbon copy is the fact that in Pompeii, both leads die at the end. If Cassia had survived and watched as Milo perished, it would have matched every plot point perfectly.

• Speaking of Titanic... supposedly many teens who saw that film were shocked when they later found out it was based on a real event. I wonder if the teens who saw this film know there was a real Pompeii?

• Play the Pompeii drinking game! Every time the camera pans up from the city to show Mt. Vesuvius looming in the background, take a drink. You'll be dead before the movie ends. 

Seriously, no matter how many times we see the city, they always pan up to the mountain before the end of the scene. I assume they did this to remind the dullards in the audience which movie they were watching?

And just like you can see the Eiffel Tower from every window in Paris, you could see Mt. Vesuvius from every window in Pompeii.

• When Mt. Vesuvius starts erupting, we see lightning flashing within the enormous ash cloud. It certainly looks cool, but… does that really happen during a volcanic eruption? 

According to the director, yes! Kudos for getting that right.

• What was that accent was Keifer Sutherland was using? It kind of sounds like he tried to do the Received Pronunciation accent (the standard British one used in TV and films) that everyone else in the film uses, but either couldn't do it or forgot it half the time.

I suppose by now it's useless to point out that people in ancient Rome probably didn't sound like modern day Brits, eh? I noticed that everyone in the Noah trailer is speaking that way as well. Just another one of those movie conventions we all accept without thinking about it.

• Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje reeeeally needs to think about changing his name. I get that it's brimming with cultural heritage for him and he's right to be proud of it, but… can you pronounce it? I sure can't. 

Just think how many jobs he loses in a year because Hollywood producers say, "Hey, get me that guy who was in LOST. Adewale um… Ak… akbar… Abigail… get me Idris Elba!" You know it happens.

• There was a lot of eye rolling dialogue in this film. The most egregious example was Atticus' "We who are about to die salute you!" right before he salutes the lava and dies.

Senator Corvus even says the "Kill them. Kill them all" line that's infested many movie in the past few years.

• I was very surprised by the ending. You don't see sad endings very often in Hollywood these days. I'll give the filmmakers credit for killing off the entire cast.

Pompeii is competently made and reasonably entertaining, but it suffers from an utterly predictable by-the-book plot. I give it a B-.


  1. Not that I blame you, but I could predict every line in this article just as much as every plot 'twist' in the movie. I immediately thought of Titanic as well, and couldn't help smile at the way the camera kept panning to Vesuvius every five minutes :) It wasn't really a bad movie, but very unimaginative. I'd give it maybe 3 stars, and half of that was just the attention to detail in the volcanic eruption and the depiction of Pompeii, which admittedly were both superb. The characters could have been a lot more interesting. Why not have Pliny the Younger as a character as well? He saw the eruption from far off, and gave the historical description of it. His uncle - Pliny the Elder, died trying to save people in the harbour. Sure you could keep the love story, but why not put some interesting historical characters in it as well? Pliny the Younger would also have been the only major character to survive, which I think is a nice touch.

  2. Replies
    1. Well, that certainly put me in my place. Kudos for the courage it took to sign your name to such an inflammatory post. Oh wait...

      By the way, it would be far more accurate if you'd said, "shut up atheist."


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