Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Pompeii (2014)

Ah what better way to honour a true historical disaster by turning it into an action flick with the tagline 'This will blow your mind'. Although this tag seems to have vanished and has been replaced with 'From the ashes a hero will rise' which doesn't really make a lick of sense to me. But of course there's always 'A city will fall, a hero will rise', which again doesn't really add up does it...oh boy I really do sense pending doom here.

So I'm sure we all know about the ancient destruction of the Italian city Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD...yes? good. This W.S. Anderson directed film is all about that cataclysmic event but just like the James Cameron directed 'Titanic' it shoves a load of padding in before the actual real reason you go to see the film. Yes it sounds horrible and morbid but end of the day we all go to see films like this for the death and destruction. On one hand its simply morbid curiosity, intrigue and to see how it actually happened or looked. On the other hand its the perfect popcorn fodder that people enjoy because we are all sick sick beings (just like the Romans and their arenas).

So leading up to the carnage we are given a basic romantic setup, a typically old fashioned love yarn that we've seen many times but admittedly generally works. A young Celtic boys family are slaughtered by nasty Romans, the Nazi's of the ancient world...kinda. The boy is put into slavery and grows up to become a powerful this isn't Conan. He eventually gains the favour of his owner and is taken to Pompeii to fight there. Of course there he sees and falls for Cassis the daughter of Pompeii's ruler, thing is the evil Roman Senator kiefer Sutherland also wants Cassia's ass so as you can image this causes issues. What follows is a stereotypical romantic Romeo and Juliet gladiator based tale where Cassia hates the Roman Senator, falls for our buff sweaty hero and also has to deal with her important city ruling parents who have certain responsibilities to the Romans.

Basically without trying to beat around the bush too much...this is practically Ridley Scott's 'Gladiator' with a huge volcano at the end. Most of the film is centred around Milo (Milo?) the powerful slave who can defeat any foe in the arena no worries. Honesty some scenes are almost identical with the same kind of shots, direction, camera angles, lighting etc...this gladiator does all the same fights we saw in Ridley's film including the odd chariot. All the characters are incredibly cliched and predictable unfortunately. Milo the hero played by Kit Harington is pretty bad frankly, he pouts a lot and isn't overly attractive either, Cassia is your standard Princess type, her parents are your everyday rich snobby aristocratic types (although Moss does look the part of a Roman woman) and Sutherland has a blast as the ridiculously dastardly evil Roman Senator, cartoon villainy there folks. Oh and Milo has the standard big black slave friend too just like in Ridley Sco...

On the plus side I really must congratulate the film makers for impressive visuals, yes you read that right. The city of Pompeii has been meticulously recreated with the aid of computer wizardry combined with usage of the real ruins for a handy overall map layout. Apparently the whole city is very accurate to how the city would have looked right down to the paving stones in the streets and I gotta admit it does look fantastic on screen. The streets are bustling interesting and colourful, citizens looks realistically dressed, the surrounding landscapes are beautiful, the amphitheatre is stunning inside and out, animals roam around and the Romans all look slick in their armour clad uniforms (just like the Nazi's did in their snappy military garb). I gotta say even the combat sequences look good and rival Mr Scott's famous nice colourful visuals at least, not quite as good stunt/action coordination wise.

I guess if I'm honest I quite enjoyed the build up story in this film, it looks great and it isn't boring (unlike Cameron's ship flick), mostly because they stuff lots of bloody fighting into it, which works. The problems start when the disaster starts, don't get me wrong when Vesuvius blows it looks tremendous and highly authentic...but the following obligatory action schlock isn't. Yes despite the world falling down around them the hero and the baddie Romans still find time to battle one on one and try to stab each other at every turn. It becomes extremely jokey as we near the big finale, people are getting wiped out every minute by flying debris, a tsunami, buildings collapsing, gas heat etc...yet time stops completely for the main characters to clash until one of them is truly dead and stabbed.

The chariot chasing horse sequence is amazingly dumb with unbelievably fake CGI usage, unbelievably fake greenscreen usage and pretty much ruins the film. God knows what Anderson was thinking, he's got this pretty decent strong historical love story which is arguably realistic...but then decides to throw in sequences you'd expect to see in some shitty Michael Bay throw away action vehicle! He clearly thought he needed something for the kids to keep them entertained, there is no other explanation, terrible decision. What makes it so hilarious is the fact every single human being has vanished from Pompeii as this horse and chariot go tearing down the streets jumping chasms and dodging rock bombardment!! what!!

So the plot is completely and utterly cliched at every turn and rips off so many other films, the build up to the actual eruption plays out like 'Dante's Peak' in places. You know what I mean, faceless people getting killed by the odd cracks that start showing. I still admit, the simple old fashioned silver screen love aspect mixed with slavery survival and brutal battles works wonders, the volcano bit at the end feels like a whole new film.

The film has been well made, well directed and it looks and feels great overall in my opinion. Like other real events you do feel unsure as to whether you should be enjoying a film about such a disaster, it really happened to these poor people. I try to think this is a homage but in all honesty it does feel more like an action flick playing on the horror to milk money from our pockets, which feels wrong obviously. The start and end of the film does sort of honour the people focusing on the plaster casts of the victims, some of the films characters are based on a few of the real casts apparently. The very final sequence shows us this with the two main characters representing the 'Pompeii lovers' remains which is a bit emotional admittedly. In the end the film is quite touching in the right places and you can maybe feel that lump in your throat swelling. I just think Anderson spoilt a good thing with cheap lazy action sequences which kinda tarnish the memory of Pompeii.