Friday, February 21, 2014

Pompeii has thrills, romance

By James Colt Harrison

The story of old Pompeii, Italy has been fascinating audiences for millenniums. The same is true today when we can only imagine the splendor of the city as it was then and the terror experienced by the citizens when their whole world came tumbling down during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. This is like the Titanic story; we all know the ending, but we don’t know how the film will get there.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson trains his excellent 3D cameras on real sets, models, and CGI scenes to elaborate effectiveness. There is one killer scene in which a cliffside villa crumbles into the sea, along with half the mountain. No animals were hurt in the filming of these scenes!

Mr. Anderson must be an avid movie-watcher as he has had his screenwriters Janet Scott & Lee Batchelor and Michael Robert Johnson borrow from every heart-wrenching epic film such as the aforementioned Titanic as well as The Horse Whisperer, The Robe, Demetrius and the Gladiators, with a little of Spartacus thrown in for good measure. Every “Roman-themed” film of yesteryear serves as a blue print for this “new” look at life in 79 A.D. The filmmakers can’t be faulted too much because how many different ways can the same story be told?

Strapping Kit Harrington of Game of Thrones TV fame, plays grown-up Milo. As a young boy he watched in horror as his parents were slaughtered by the mean and nasty Roman soldier Keifer Sutherland (Corvus) and his top lieutenant Proculus (Sasha Roiz) when they eliminated the Celts. Milo grows up a slave and seeks his revenge 17 years later.

Because Milo is young and strong, he is a natural for the arena where he is obligated to kill for the entertainment of the governing powers. On his way to being shipped to Pompeii he saves the life of Cassia (Emily Browning), the daughter of high official and town chief Severus (Mad Men’s Jared Harris) and her beautiful mother Aurelia (Carrie-Ann Moss). They immediately do goo-goo eyes at each other, even though they know it is forbidden. But that never stopped determined and hormonally excited youth nor Hollywood. Through circumstances and clever screen-writing, the two are thrust together several times, cementing their attachment. But do we believe their romance? It’s debatable and borders on preposterous. There’s not much chemistry between the two, and the only sparks come from the mountain.

While in prison Milo makes friends with the gigantic Atticus (Adewale Akkinnuoye-Agbaje), a fellow slave flighter. Together they team up and nearly wipe out the entire Roman legion on their own. You can only do that if you are the star of the movie.

All of the fighting, head-lopping and arm severing is simply a lead-up to the huge climax and the reason the film was made in glorious 3D. Using some of the best 3D effects seen on screen, Anderson makes us feel the heat of the lava as the mountain spews rockets of boiling rocks down on the Pompeiians. We must admit we dodged a few of those boulders and covered our eyes with trembling arms! Oh, and we mustn’t forget the sensational tsunami that puts the cap on the town. Terrific!

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