Thursday, July 10, 2014

Movie Reviews: Pompeii (2014)

No warning. No escape.

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson

Writers: Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler (screenplay), Michael Robert Johnson

Stars: Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland, Carrie-Ann Moss, Jessica Lucas, Jared Harris, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

Synopsis: The story has some redeeming qualities, but overall what it gets right, historically, is outweighed by a weak story that’s mostly not enough.

You know nothing, Jon Snow Kit Harrington.

Nothing about picking good films, at least.

In fairness, on paper Pompeii probably looked like a good bet: an action/adventure star-crossed lovers’ romance with the backdrop of a painstakingly recreated historical event, albeit with a few Hollywood flourishes.

Harrington plays a Celtic slave forced to fight as a Roman gladiator who catches the interest of Cassia (Emily Browning), the daughter of the city’s ruler. Cassia is pursued by Corvus, a Roman Senator who just so happens to be the same person who slaughtered Harrington’s parents and entire Celtic tribe, and now wants Harrington dead, too ... all as the volcano looming above the city belches ominous smoke. As with Titanic, audiences might know the fate of the doomed city but will nevertheless root for the unknown fate of the fictional characters set inside it.

And as with Titanic, director Paul W. S. Anderson takes great pains to recreate ancient Pompeii with great historical accuracy – in some regards, at least. Special effects artists relied on photographs and recent video footage of other volcanoes, and while the lightning strikes might seem like a Hollywood embellishment, but vulcanologists have praised the lightning’s accuracy and other details. And historians have praised the meticulous recreation of the city of Pompeii which accurately contours to the excavated ruins.

Anderson admits to taking certain other liberties for the sake of the story, including condensing the timeline of the eruption and allowing women more freedom than the ancient Roman Empire would have allowed. Audiences will forgive such alterations if they make the story better. Unfortunately for Pompeii, they don’t.

Visually, Pompeii is sumptuous, especially Harrington’s sculpted body which audiences will be forgiven for assuming (incorrectly) is another CGI effect. But the story is weak and predictable. Harrington and Browning have virtually no chemistry and their romance, based on a few seconds of screen time, isn’t believable. (Titanic may have taken three hours, but that’s at least in part because James Cameron needed to properly develop his characters.) Kiefer Sutherland’s villain is one-dimensional, cartoonishly cropping up whenever more tension is needed, somehow magically always knowing where our protagonists will be.

The story has some redeeming qualities, but overall what it gets right, historically, is outweighed by a weak story that’s mostly not enough.

Rating: 2 ½ stars

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