Robert Towne (Chinatown, The Last Detail, The Firm) being hired to write a Sony miniseries based on Robert Harris‘s “Pompeii” — the same property that Roman Polanski tried to adapt into a feature only to abandon in ’07 — is an okay thing and a mildly interesting move. Because one might speculate that the Chinatown-resembling elements in Harris’s story had a bit to do with Towne’s involvement.

The main protagonist is Marcus Attilius Primus, a Roman engineer in the mold of Charlton Heston‘s character in Earthquake — a willful and sympathetic character with professional responsibilities. He rushes down from Rome to the Bay of Napoli to repair a damaged aqueduct, the Aqua Augusta, only to meet and fall for Corelia, described in an Amazon summary as “the defiant daughter of a vile real-estate speculator” a la Evelyn Cross Mulray and Noah Cross.

Down the road Corelia supplies Marcus “with documents implicating her father and Attilius’s predecessor in a water embezzlement scheme.” I’m not making this up!

All disaster movies are obliged to follow the same plot scheme. Acquaint the audience with a community of characters — some admirable, some villainous, some marginal — in Act One, while supplying indications and warnings of the disaster yet to come. The disaster occurs sometime during Act Two (or at the beginning of Act Three), and thereby shows what the key characters are made of. The pure logistical spectacle of the disaster occupies a good 15 or 20-minute span. And then the sorrow, the cleanup and the final resolution.

“All of us I think, have fantasies about living in the past and Pompeii uniquely allows you to indulge that fantasy,” Towne was quoted saying by Variety. “The Harris book tells a compelling story with contemporary relevance. If you want an idea of what it was like to live life back then, ‘Pompeii’ is it.”

Not taken by yours truly during my May 2007 visit to Pompeii.

Exec producer Ridley Scott said Towne would “bring his trademark vision to this remarkable project. In portraying an historical world on the brink of destruction, he will no doubt capture and engage audiences globally. His adaptation will truly make for an astonishing television event.”

I only ask that Scott and Sony spend the extra time to make the CG as fine and exacting as possible, and that Towne supply as much detail as he can about the minutiae of Italian life in A.D. 79. I say this as someone who visited Pompeii four years ago.

When he bailed on his Pompeii project Polanski said he had “put a lot of work and energy into [it] so it is not without regret that I have to decline my further involvement.” If I were Towne I’d be all over Polanski’s script and research, and urging Scott and Sony to compensate Polanski and give some kind of screen credit for creative input or whatever.

Polanski reportedly wanted Orlando Bloom, an actor whose career has been all but dead since the debacle of Elizabethtown and the underwhelming response to Kingdom of Heaven, to play Marcus Primus, and Scarlett Johansson was web-rumored to be interested in (or being sought for) the Corelia part.