Film Review: Pompeii

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 8th April 2014.

Pompeii is the latest 3D action epic from English director Paul W. S. Anderson. Not to be confused with Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Magnolia, The Master, Boogie Nights) who is a director of repute with a body of brilliantly crafted motion pictures, Anderson is generally a director of disposable eye candy with a preference for exploding bodies, usually of the zombie kind.

Milo (Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington) is a slave forced to become a gladiator in Pompeii, where he attracts the eye of Cassia (Australian actress Emily Browning), the daughter of the city’s ruler Severus (Jared Harris). Unfortunately, Cassia is betrothed to the Roman Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland). As the battle for her heart becomes physical, proceedings are interrupted by a natural disaster, namely the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Does this plot sound familiar? Yep, it’s the storyline from Titanic, ripped off wholesale and transplanted to sword and sandal land. Where James Cameron’s epic benefitted from strong performances from a talented cast, in particular the magnetic Kate Winslet and star on the rise Leonardo DiCaprio (I can’t really explain Billy Zane), Pompeii suffers from a uneven lineup of thespians ranging from emerging star Harington (treading water in a role not far removed at all from his character in Game of Thrones) to the scenery chewing antics of Sutherland (who is easily next in line to replace his father Donald Sutherland as cinema’s bad guy de jour). Even the usually reliable Browning, who shone in the mediocre Sucker Punch and the arduous Sleeping Beauty, can do little but look concerned.

Pompeii is director Anderson’s fourth foray into using 3D cameras (as opposed to post- production rendering) which I found surprising as the film rarely popped on the screen and reminded me of the disastrous 3D conversion of Clash of the Titans. Besides a singular moment when the guy next to me and I ducked to avoid a flying log, the visuals lacked a depth of field and I pretty soon forgot that I was watching a 3D movie. Lots and lots of CGI ash falling in 3D is hardly a reason to force me to wear those annoying glasses for ninety minutes.

Pompeii has flopped at the US box office so far with a meagre $10 million taking on its first weekend. With a $100 million budget to recoup, plus marketing expenses, German production house Constantin Film may well have a disaster (about a disaster) on its hands.

With the majority of the cast reduced to the famous death casts that can be found in museums (although I understand that these were actually produced by injecting plaster into the spaces left by decomposing bodies but hey, it’s a Paul W. S. Anderson film) and the credits rolling, I left the cinema with a feeling of positivity and hope. At least there can’t be a sequel.

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