3D Blu-ray Edition
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Kit Harrington, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Emily Browning, Carrie-Anne
Moss, Jared Harris, Kiefer Sutherland
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 105 Minutes
Release Date: May 20, 2014
“Is THIS what you call sport?”
“No, my dear Cassia…this is what we call POLITICS.”
Pompeii at least gives me a wonderful chance as a movie critic: I don’t have to worry about accidentally spoiling how it ends. Unless you missed history class.
The island of Pompeii has been a source of archeological wonder and modern day fantasy for a long time. It’s a real-life Atlantis still capable of assuming almost mythic passion and imagination. When I was in high school Latin class, there was a mini-series on called “The Last Days of Pompeii” we all watched. What was the actual story? I don’t remember. But no matter what fictional story you come up with, you practically can’t beat a climax of a volcano forever burying an entire city.
With Pompeii, there was seemingly no effort to even try to come up with a story to compete with the finale. It’s so full of clichés that you might be ticking them off in your head while waiting for the big boom.
There’s the poor slave boy/gladiator Milo (Harrington), a Celt who saw his people wiped out by the merciless Corvus (Sutherland), only to find himself fighting in an arena before him. There’s the poor little rich girl Cassia (Browning), whose father (Harris) is trying to get Corvus to invest in Pompeii, but Corvus has something he’d like to invest in the daughter instead of the city. In an early scene, the slave Milo offers to help when her chariot horse becomes lame, and the sight of the ripped young gladiator means Cassia will have very little taste left over for Corvus.
There is the champion African gladiator Atticus (Akinnuoye-Agbaje), who is to fight his last fight before earning his freedom from the Roman Empire. Will he have to fight the new, fast, and angrily reckless Milo? Or will the two find friendship in the face of their true enemy?
One guess. Really, the only guesswork involved here is how far any of these well-worn storylines will play out before the volcano has its scene-stealing cameo. When it does, it’s mostly effective…some of the effects and shots are indeed all you hoped they would be, and worth waiting for.
But sometimes, the story just won’t die. There are stretches in the middle of the eruption where confrontations take place and play out, and for these moments, it’s as though the volcano is politely waiting for the banality to conclude before resuming.
But let’s face it…we come to Pompeii for the action and the destruction, and those are the moments where the movie doesn’t fail. Paul W.S. Anderson may not be Paul Thomas Anderson, but he clearly knows how to deliver entertaining action spectacle.
As far as the acting? Well, a few of my favorites are here…Carrie-Anne Moss is always a welcome presence, and I was pleased to see Jared Harris of Mad Men in the mix (one character even refers to him as a “mad man”…nice). Emily Browning is lovely as always, and Kit Harrington is perfectly acceptable as a leading man with washboard abs. Perhaps my favorite is Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who looks and feels authentic throughout as a powerful warrior who only wants the freedom he was promised.
And Kiefer Sutherland? Wow. I don’t know where to begin. His performance is not quite over-the-top, but very close. He’s one of the few actors who can play a good guy (think: Jack Bauer), but when he plays a villain, the glee and fun he must feel seems almost too much to contain. This is a cardboard, one-dimensional character who only exists to antagonize, but few thespians can pull off such a ham-handed performance and still seem respectable.
Pompeii works for what it is, and as far as not admiring the story, that was no surprise…I didn’t expect screenwriters to try and compete with an exploding volcano. At least it doesn’t make us wait TOO long to get to the real reason we came to see it in the first place.
No complaints here at all…the folks at Sony have delivered a remarkable 3D high definition transfer. Depth is not always a focus of every scene, but it certainly is where it counts, and when used, the effects are clean, with no visible ghosting. The print itself is delivered superbly; whether the brightly lit days of Pompeii or the ash-darkened sky, images, and more importantly, ACTION comes through with completely clarity and cleanness.
There is some good dynamic range at play here, though I found the volcano, while strong, was not quite the shelf-rattling experience I was expecting. Nevertheless, the surrounds are used tastefully, and dialogue is well-balanced against the mayhem.
The 3D disc contains a preview and a filmmaker commentary; all other extras are on the 2D Blu-ray release. They include 20 deleted or alternate scenes, plus individual featurettes on the stunts, production design, costumes, cast, special effects, and even a look at the real Pompeii.
Pompeii is a mixture of 3D action and spectacle woven into an otherwise tired and worn out story. You know what you want from this movie, and as far as that aspect goes, it doesn’t disappoint.