Friday, November 21, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Pompeii (2014) *½

PG-13, 105 min.
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Writers: Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Bathler, Michael Robert Johnson
Starring: Kit Harrington, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jared Harris, Carrie-Anne Moss, Sasha Roiz, Jessica Lucas, Joe Pingue, Currie Graham

I’m not sure what I did wrong to be subjected to two Paul W.S. Anderson movies in one week. Truth is it’s my own fault. I voluntarily watched both of them and I should know better. I couldn’t shake “Event Horizon” from my head after seeing “Interstellar” for some reason and then “Pompeii” came through the mail from Netflix. I didn’t want it sitting around without something good coming to replace it, so I watched it. True, I’m the one that put it in my queue, but I thought a movie about Pompeii would be really interesting until I learned that Paul W.S. Anderson had directed it. By that point, it was already in my queue, and I was a bit curious as to just how much he could screw it up.

There’s the potential here for a great disaster flick. It’s a period piece, obviously, which doesn’t normally produce a disaster formula. That could’ve been interesting. Unfortunately, for some reason someone had the brilliant idea to throw in a revenge plot and a romance to spice things up. Then they made it more about the revenge and the romance than about the real-life natural disaster that inspired it.

Remember back in 1997 when both “Dante’s Peak” and “Volcano” were released, two movies about volcanoes erupting? The movies weren’t any good, but at least they were true disaster formulas. They had a large casts of characters. The characters weren’t developed. It was all about the events of the disaster. “Dante’s Peak” mostly consisted of people running away from ash. “Volcano” had them running away from lava in a ridiculously contrived Los Angeles location. I’m sure that saved the production money and only required some silly lines about an underground volcano underneath L.A.

Now, here we have a story about a real volcano disaster. We don’t have to sit through all that technical exposition explaining everything because the people in 79 A.D. didn’t know any of that crap. They thought Mount Vesuvius’s rumblings were signs from the gods. It would’ve been nice to explore some of that thinking. Instead we get a slave and a princess wrapped up in a forbidden love. An evil Roman general is promised the princess’s hand and he happens to be the same man who killed the slave’s parents when the slave was just a boy. The characters are better developed than in most disaster flicks, but only because they’re cookie cutter cutouts of formula characters.

None of it has anything to do with the actual Mount Vesuvius disaster. It could be a made up city and volcano. The location and historical significance are moot points in this story. The special effects are good, but nothing else is of any interest and Vesuvius is merely a backdrop to an outplayed tragic romance. That’s too bad. It’s also too bad there isn’t another Pompeii movie coming out with a different take on this historical disaster.

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