“Pompeii” is an old-fashioned B-movie playing dress up as a 3D action-adventure epic . Like a goofy, likeable, gawky junior high kid wearing his dad’s suit (and using his dad’s steroids, too).
The film stars Kit Harington as Milo, whose sort-of Celtic horse-people village is sacked by Romans and his parents killed. He escapes death, only to be taken prisoner and sent to Londinium as a slave. Fifteen years later, the now strapping, glowering young man finds himself a gladiator in Pompeii, catching the eye of Cassia (Emily Browning) the daughter of the city’s most eminent couple, father Severus (Jared Harris) and mother Aurelia (Carrie Ann Moss).
While Milo bonds with hulking fellow gladiator Atticus (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje) and fights for his life in the arena, Severus has plans for some self-important civic projects, but needs the help of corrupt Roman senator Corvus (Keifer Sutherland, dishing a bad ham salad). Corvus also has his lustful eye on Cassia, and will twirl the end of his figurative moustache until he demonstrates the power of Rome all over her.
And then, the mountain, she angry. Cue much hollering and chariot-fu and knees-bent running about.
This all plays pretty much exactly as you think it will. Milo is all six-pack abs and soulful eyebrows, with a nice way in breaking a horse’s neck in merciful fashion. Cassia is junior-high cheerleader pale and wistfully desirable, Atticus is brutally noble, and Corvus leaves a trail of over-acted slime everywhere he goes. It’s an unashamedly hokey plot that could have come from a paperback romance novel, minus the lure of some skin, since this is a PG-13 outing.
In his previous films (the “Resident Evil” series, “Event Horizon”) Anderson has shown little beyond genre-level competence and ambition. Those seams show pretty clearly beneath the higher-budget trappings of this junior varsity epic, though thankfully, there is also little in the way of pretentious apology for its B-movie throwbacks.
Not that all that really matters. Come on, admit it, you’re here to see Vesuvius go nuclear and smoke up some Pompeiian brisket, lava style. And in that respect, director Paul W.S. Anderson and his CGI effects team do not disappoint. Basing the events of the eruption on a historical account by ancient historian Pliny the Younger (no, really), there’s flying ash, flaming boulders dropping from the sky, a tidal wave that sends boats careening through the streets, and of course, everyone’s favorite destructive force, ladies and gentlemen, the pyroclastic flow that incinerates all before it.
The gladiator stuff is acted with vigor, if not a lot of logic, and Harington and Agbaje look the part in their beefcake studliness. There is obvious care in the details of sets and costumes, and the cast seems to understand what kind of movie they’re appearing in, saying their lines and getting out of the way for the special effects to run amok. Except for Sutherland, who tries to chew the scenery like a Snidely Whiplash villain, but just chokes on it instead.
But, again, who cares? Come on, when does the mountain blow up? Probably the biggest knock on “Pompeii” is that it takes a loooong time for hell to break loose. When it finally does, you won’t be disappointed, but you have to put up with a lot of nonsense dialogue and ancient world conniving, and forgive the action scenes that felt neutered by their bloodless violence. And like pretty much every 3D film ever, the 3D effects are mildly interesting at best, and irrelevant and hokey at worst.
The 3D Blu-ray/Blu-ray combo pack of “Pompeii” is presented in 1080p High Definition, in 2.40:1 MVC Encoded 3D. The disc is very crisp and detailed, with excellent depth of focus. The muted colors of the live-action cinematography balance nicely against the fiery reds of the inferno CGI sequences. There are subtitle options for English, English SDH and Spanish (“Yo estoy en fuego!”).
The audio track is 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, and there is a pleasant low end to the mountain rumbling and explosions through the bass speaker. There is an option for an English descriptive track.
- a commentary track including director Paul W.S. Anderson
- “The Assembly,” about the cast and characters
- “The Volcanic Eruption,” a good featurette about, well, duh.
Exclusive to the Blu-ray version:
- An extensive set of deleted scenes, which really adds little beyond demonstrating the wisdom of editor Michele Conroy in trimming these scenes out in the first place.
- “The Gladiators,” another solid short about the stunt work of the fight scenes
- “The Costume Shop,” about the costume design process and the extra needs for a period production.
- “The Journey,” about the production design and philosophy of the storyline
- “Pompeii: Buried In Time,” about the original non-CGI city and the disaster that swept it away.
Silly and forgettable, but watchable in a guilty pleasure sort of way, “Pompeii” labors through a workaday love story before cutting loose with the chaos and the lava and the hey ho I’m on fire stuff.