I'm a part time actor and part time writer living in Perth. I love being on stage. I love going out with friends, doesn't matter what we do
Published March 26th 2014
Exploding volcano anyone?
It's not difficult to list the films that are liberally borrowed from for the Roman disaster epic Pompeii - the first scene is from Conan the Barbarian and the last from Titanic, with great swathes of Spartacus and Gladiator in between. Even the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, unleashing fiery destruction and a bonus tsunami in 3D, has a readily familiar feel.
That's the norm for British filmmaker Paul W.S. Anderson, a visual stylist who often treats the story as a secondary element. It's an approach that has worked for him in the Resident Evil series, starring his wife, Milla Jovovich, where he creates deliberately artificial realities he can manipulate, but despite some purposeful moments this AD79 period epic feels constrained and sometimes clunky.
The divided young lovers are Milo (Kit Harington), a slave-turned-gladiator brought to the Roman city for games planned by the wealthy father of Cassia (Emily Browning), a young woman weary of privileged suitors. Neither are demonstrative actors; Harington, despite his 12-pack abs, is a great brooder, as seen on television's Game of Thrones, while Browning and her otherworldly cheekbones suggest nocturnal sojourns. Thankfully, their heated glances are punctuated by Kiefer Sutherland as a corrupt Roman general who slaughtered Milo's tribe and now plans to wed Cassia, and an ominously rumbling mountain.
It's difficult to tell which is trying harder to be menacing. As in all disaster movies there are scenes of official indifference, here studded with copybook toga flick cliches such as slaves bearing grapes at a feast, although Anderson is more at home with the gladiators' fights in and beneath the bloody arena. Featuring Milo and his imposing rival, Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), they are cleanly staged and deftly edited.
The gleaming digital worlds Anderson normally favours allow for extravagant or unexpected visual set-ups, but the sword-on-shield clashes in Pompeii feel beholden to tradition. A touch of his high-tech artfulness wouldn't have gone astray amid the predictable scenes of mass destruction.
The city's end is far quicker than the two days scientists believe was required, but patience is not a virtue in this film. Milo and Cassia have barely exchanged words and shared a stolen horse ride before fleeing for their lives. The running, ducking and leaping they can pull off, but the grand romantic gesture required for the finale is a different matter.