HTS Overall Score:
I have to admit a guilty secret. I rather like Paul W.S. Anderson’s movies. They are never typically brilliant (his only real claims to fame are the criminally underrated “Soldier” with Kurt Russell and “Event Horizon”), but they have a certain stylish glee to them that just resonates with my love of things that go boom and “rawwwwwrrr!!!” I am also a firm believer that there is a place for good movies, great movies, and even a place and a time for bad movies. Paul tends to lean towards bad movie more often than not, but his style, his flair and charisma have endeared his movies to me as popcorn fun, E.G. something that’s got lots of explosions, pretty lights, fancy fight scenes and a paper thin plot that’s really meant to get you through to the next scene of destruction. This formula is replicated here, just with the inclusion of gladiatorial combat, star crossed lovers, and a historic volcano eruption.
Jon Snow……errrrrr Milo (Kit Harington), is the lone Celtic survivor after a ruthless Roman invasion force sweeps away his entire people in a midnight raid. Being only a small child, he was left for dead and then subsequently sold into slavery as a gladiator apprentice. Mincing no words, or long backstory, the viewer is thrust 15 years later where we see that young Milo is making a name for himself as a lethal fighter. Simultaneously, young Cassia (Emily Browning), the young daughter of lords Severus (Jared Harris) and Aurelia (Carrie Ann Moss) returns to her home city of Pompeii to get away from all the debauchery and power mad Roman senators. Her happy home coming is cut short when she finds out that a particularly sleazy Roman senator by the name of Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) is taking a short “business trip” to her lovely home town. Corvus is obviously attracted to young Cassia and Cassia is obviously smitten with a new gladiator (guess whooooooooo!!?), leaving a bit of a conundrum for her parents. To make matters worse, this is the same senator who led the destruction on Milo’s home so many years ago.
Milo is obviously bent on the destruction of Corvus, but he is also head over heels for the beautiful Cassia. Making friends with a gladiator named Atticus (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje), who should be his mortal enemy, Milo has to survive the arena, survive Senator Corvus, and try to out run one of nature’s most destructive forces in the form of Mount Vesuvius.
Sword and Sandal movies have been making a big mark in modern cinema, especially with the rise of “Spartacus” from Starz and “The Legend of Hercules” along with the sequel to “300”. Disaster films are still as popular as ever, so Paul W.S. Anderson decided to cram together bits of “Spartacus”, “300” and “2012” all together to make a disaster movie that also mixes in copious amounts of burly men covered in sweat beating each other to a pulp. Kit Harington makes for an eye brow raising Milo, especially with his short height, but the boy has certainly worked out and did a semi decent job as the defiant warrior. Adewale was solid, for all that was needed of Atticus was a big guy who posed a threat and who looked like he could manhandle a dozen Roman soldiers. The only character that I felt was WILDLY out of place was Kiefer Sutherland. The man didn’t look, sound, or act remotely like he fit anywhere in the movie. I never thought he would fit from the moment I saw the trailer, and I was proven right. Sore thumb = standing out.
Overall, I felt that the movie wasn’t nearly the train wreck everyone was complaining about during its theatrical run. Now, don’t get me wrong, this was no work of art, but disaster movies aren’t really meant to be, and if you go in with the expectation that you want to see something with the skill set of “Gladiator,” you will be sorely disappointed. This movie is all about expectations, and knowledge of the director. I’ve seen just about every Paul W.S. Anderson movie known to man, so I had a pretty good handle on what I was going to be seeing. Lots of pretty colors, swords smashing into each other and disaster, death and mayhem everywhere once the volcano erupts. Which brings me to my last point: I was honestly surprised how little time was allocated to the actual disaster portion of the film. The first 1:15:00 were spent dealing with the revenge story of Milo and left the last 30 minutes to deal with the explosion of Vesuvius, which kind of made me raise my eyebrow in surprise. Now, those final 30 minutes are worth it for a disaster movie junkie like myself. Once the volcano really starts to get upset, the defecation hits the rotary oscillator and things get messy. The last act finally gives us what we’ve been waiting for the whole movie, and we watch as the whole city gets turned on its ear in a sequence that makes you say “ahhhhhhhh, that’s where a majority of the budget went!”. Mountains crumble, buildings fall, ships are swept through the city of Pompeii, all light up by the constant pouring of lava down Vesuvius.
Rated PG-13 for intense battle sequences, disaster-related action and brief sexual content
“Pompeii” is a decent popcorn flick, but what all popcorn flicks really need to make them shine is an awesome picture and sound, which is given in spades. The 2.39:1 AVC encode is a fantastic display of bright colors and shiny swords. The film has a sort of golden amber hue to it, punctuated with lots of dry and earthy tones. There’s a LOT of color to the film, especially in the sumptuous palace of Cassia, but those colors are slightly muted by said earthy tones. Black levels are amazingly deep and inky without losing anything in the process. The Roman centurion’s armor shines like black Onyx and makes you feel as if you’re staring into the abyss. Crush is non-existent, and detail is mind-blowingly fantastic. My only complaint with the picture was that the color grading added a slight bit of softness to the picture which robbed us just a little bit of detail. It was very stylistically done, and not distracting, but noticeable if you really look for it.
To round out the picture, the 5.1 DTS-HD MA is one aggressive monster of a track. I honestly have to say that it’s just THHHHHHHHHHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIISSSS shy of being a 5/5 recording. The dialogue is nice and clean, locked to the center channel and balanced well with the furor going on around it. I was really really impressed with the detail shown in the surrounds and the fronts. The film envelopes you in the level of destruction, to where you can hear individual rocks tinking to the ground all around, literally shifting the soundstage at a moment’s notice and retaining perfect clarity. Even amidst the roar and bellow of Mt. Vesuvius wiping the slate clean, you can hear individual roof shingles being town off and thrown to the left, the right and the rear, each distinctly represented and replicated. Now, what disaster movie is complete without an over aggressive LFE track? Like all athletes, I recommend that you give your subs a good stretching beforehand, maybe give it a warm bath, otherwise it’s going to pull a hamstring or burn out a voice coil, that’s for sure. The sonic bombardment is pretty loud throughout the movie, with horse’s hooves and doors slamming with tremendous weight, but when the mountain starts to stir for the first time and collapses the young boy into the earth, I literally felt the hairs rise on the back of my neck and my chest start to feel that familiar pressure. I haven’t done any measurements, but you can be certain that there’s no pesky high pass filter here as the LFE literally assaults you without mercy. I left the movie with a big goofy grin on my face and my ears pulsing. Definitely an amazing job on the sound recording.
• Audio Commentary
• Deleted & Alternate Scenes
• The Assembly
• The Journey
• The Costume Shop
• The Volcanic Eruption
• The Gladiators
• Pompeii: Buried in Time
“Pompeii” is a decently entertaining film that really is just another notch on Paul W.S. Anderson’s belt. He knows what he’s good at and sticks to his guns. We get swords, a little cheesy romance, bad one liners, and lots of stylistic destruction. Expectations are key here, and your enjoyment of the film should be hinged on how much you like his previous films. If you’ve seen “Resident Evil”, “Soldier”, “The Three Musketeers” then it’s pretty easy to gauge if you’re going to like this one. The middle act suffers from being a bit duller than the rest, but the final act is where the money shot is. Lots of mayhem, carnage, and pretty colors (even including a sword fight in the middle of an ash covered Pompeii between Milo and Corvus). It won’t win awards, but its fun for a cheap rental, or if the title hits $10 in the store.
Starring: Kit Harington, Keifer Sutherland, Emily Browning
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Written by: Janet Scott Batchler
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Studio: Sony Pictures
Runtime: 105 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: May 20th 2014
Buy Pompeii Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Give it a Watch
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