I don’t have to tell you Pompeii is bad. Everybody knows Pompeii is bad. It’s ludicrous, and that’s because mythical popcorn movies have all devolved into the same mindless, effects-driven gruel that even the schlockmeisters of the past (Dino De Laurentiis, Sir Lew Grade, Carlo Ponti) would refuse to touch if they were time-machined forward. Epic, escapist, large-scaled cinema has been engulfed and poisoned by the ComicCon virus (video-game and comic-book mythology, physics-defying fantasies), and submentals the world over are submitting to the historical visions of pulp-loving low-lifes like Zack Snyder (whose 300 I hated) and Steven DeKnight (the Spartacus series) and Pompeii‘s Paul W.S. Anderson (the poor man’s Snyder). Some of the “fans” (i.e., the ones who watch this crap ironically) obviously know that the video-game vistas and blatantly fake-looking CG compositions are unfit to watch and that the cliched, braindead dialogue is unfit to listen to, and yet everyone is nodding out and munching away in the multiplexes as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We all know things are bad — worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy.
I’m not going to “review” this piece of shit but here are some random thoughts:
For what it’s worth, I was half-impressed by the unconventional ending. I respect the willingness to subvert audience expectations. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Keifer Sutherland‘s bad guy, a demonic Roman elitist called Senator Corvis, is ridiculous. No one ever thought to be “bad” or villainous in the history of the world has ever regarded himself or herself as such. Every dark or shadowed soul (including Joseph Goebbels) has thought of himself as semi-decent and reasonable, or at least understandably motivated. It is always the mark of rotten writing to have a villain who revels in his evil behavior, who doubles down on his rancid-ness when push comes to shove. But I enjoyed Sutherland’s approximation of a British accent. He figured it out and got it right.
The basic Pompeii concept was to blend the Titanic plot (rich girl falls for poor boy, demonic suitor determined to prevent them from being together, disaster and death looming) with a CG-cranked, comic-book-flavored Gladiator meets 300 meets DeKnight’s Spartacus. But the basic Pompeii effect didn’t happen until Anderson sat with down with screenwriters Lee and Janet Scott Batchler and explained the strategy. “I’m going to bloody smother the second half of this film with fireball and earthquake effects…everyone will be gasping for air and there will be no escape,” he told them. “But before that happens, you guys are going to have to set the tone during the first hour. Understand me, Lee and Janet, when I say I don’t want cliched, tedious dialogue. I want you to write dialogue that will make people feel like they’re being urinated upon. I want them to feel so insulted and narcotized and plundered that they’ll rejoice when the volcano blows, because at least this will mean the end of the dialogue- and gladiator-driven portion.”
It’s obvious that Game of Thrones fans that Kit Harrington (i.e, “John Snow”) is short. He’s about 5′ 7″, and he looks growth-stunted. His lead Pompeii character, Milo (a.k.a., “the Celt”), is a major gladiatorial badass. Nobody can take this guy. He kills a good 25 or 30 opponents in the film, and I just wasn’t buying it. Heroes don’t have to be tall, but they can’t be runts. They have be at least…oh, 5′ 10″ or thereabouts. The bad guys can’t consistently be much taller than the hero, as in Pompeii. Remember Marlon Brando‘s jailhouse scene with Slim Pickens in One-Eyed Jacks (’60)? Brando was 5’7″ and Pickens was 6’3″, and for the first time in that film you realized Brando was on the smallish side. I swear to God it diminished him on some level. Heroes should always look at least mid-sized. Shane director George Stevens knew enough to protect the 5’6″ Alan Ladd from seeming too short, having him stand on boxes and whatnot.
On the other hand Harrington is a good romantic match for Emily Browning, who’s only 5’1″. Is she ever going to act in anything good? Sucker Punch, Sleeping Beauty, Pompeii…her resume is one shit sandwich after another.
I had honestly never heard of the small Roman settlement of Londinium until I saw Pompeii yesterday afternoon.
But I’ll acknowledge that Pompeii shows some respect for the way the city is/was actually laid out. I’ve walked around Pompeii and know what I’m talking about. But Mt. Vesuvius is not a mile or so north of the remains, as the film indicates — it’s a good two or three miles away, if not farther. There was and is a sports collisseum, a little smaller than Rome’s. And yet Anderson imagines the volcano reducing the collisseum to rubble (nope) as well as a a good portion of the city, and also a tsunami surging into the city like the Asian tsunami of 2004. The main reason for our fascination with Pompeii, of course, is that most of it was preserved and not destroyed by the volcano. Most of it survived. There’s just too much overkill when the volcano blows, which is a shame given that what actually happened was more than horrific. Stones, ash and fumes descended upon the city, and 16,000 people died due to “a hundred thousand times the thermal energy released by the Hiroshima bombing” (says the Wiki page). But Anderson is too much of an animal to respect that.
Pompeii is a tank. It did only about $3.3 million yesterday, and is expected to accumulate less than $10 million by Sunday night. It cost $100 million to make, not counting marketing.
Explanation: I intended to file this as soon as I got back from yesterday’s Pompeii screening, which began around 12:20 pm. My clock is off so when I got home (i.e., around 3:30 pm) I figured I’d take a 45-minute nap before writing. I woke up at 11:30 pm. It’s now just before 5 am. It’s going to take some time to adjust.
Kit Harrington (r.) with Game of Thrones costars.