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294 of 324 people found the following review helpful
Nine Things About the Movie “Pompeii”

1. The only thing that most people know about Pompeii is that it was an Italian city destroyed by a volcano and buried in ash a long time ago. So this movie makes up the rest of the story.

2. The plot of the movie is as generic as you can get. You can almost hear the filmmakers say, “Well, the event happened in gladiator times. And it’s about a bunch of people who can’t escape where they are and they all get killed. So let’s make ‘Gladiator’ meets ‘Titanic’. And even though it’s in Italy, let’s make everybody talk with a vague sort-of-British accent.”

3. And that’s exactly what they did. It’s your basic poor-boy/rich girl story. It’s about a boy named Milo that is captured in war, becomes a slave, and then is sent to Pompeii to fight as a gladiator. While there, he meets Cassia, the daughter of the city ruler. They fall in love. Her dad is upset. The usual.

4. Meanwhile, the volcano starts acting up. For some reason, it only happens at night, like the volcano was some serial killer, and people start disappearing.

5. Besides the love story, there is a half-baked political subplot.. Since we all know how the movie ends, the story is not only silly, it’s pointless. There’s no reason to care much about the characters.

6. The last half-hour of the film is all about the destruction of the city. It’s pretty cool to watch, and the 3D effects are well done.

7. The director did take a lot of time to make the city itself historically accurate, basing it on studies of the actual ruins. Historians give the movie points for this.

8. Scientists who study volcanoes say that the depiction of the volcano is also historically accurate, except for when it rains fireballs.

9. This is a simple, old-fashioned disaster movie that offers nothing special in terms of story, but is fun to watch.
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113 of 134 people found the following review helpful
Pompeii is the new disaster film from Paul W.S Anderson about, you guessed it, Pompeii! Following the story of Milo (Kit Harrington), a Celt who was put into slavery after his village was attacked and his parents killed, Milo becomes a gladiator, fighting numerous foes within area walls. But it's in Pompeii where Milo's destiny will come to light, falling in love with Cassia (Emily Browning), the daughter of Pompeii's ruler Severus (Jared Harris), and befriending a rival gladiator, Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). But when Mount Vesuvius begins to tremble and plumes of smoke and ash fall upon the great city, Milo, Atticus and Cassia must escape the city before they are buried by the mountain.

Pompeii isn't a bad movie; it really isn't. The only reason why i gave it four stars (I would give it 3.5 stars if there were an option) is because of all the poor reviews. Anderson's directing here is actually his best to date, better than his Resident Evil films, The Three Musketeers reboot and Event Horizon. His script, on the other hand, was disappointing. It's not that it was poorly written, it's just that there isn't anything new whatsoever. The visual effects were great, but not award-winning. The acting was a mixed bag. Kit Harrington was surprisingly static in the heroic lead role, being uninteresting and the stereotypical hero, but his acting helped keep the character from being completely lifeless. Emily Browning was good as Cassia, but nothing note-worthy. Kiefer Sutherland was actually great as the secondary protagonist, Senator Corvus, the man who killed Milo's mother. He was truly corrupt in his role, and a character you wanted to die horribly (which is good). But it was Adewale Akinnuoye who stole the show as Atticus. An emotionally complex and heroic character that is built around courage and strength, and the sad thing is, he gave an Oscar and Golden Globe worthy performance for a film that deserves neither. I really don't know why he wasn't the lead role, because the film would have been better if he was. The cinematography was good, echoing the greatness of this lost city, and the musical score was fantastic; a mix of Hans Zimmer's King Arthur and Marc Streitenfeld's Robin Hood.

Pompeii is a seriously underrated blockbuster that deserves better ratings, but is not classic-worthy material. I'll purchase it when it comes out, though, because it's still a good movie. Also, another thing that makes the film stand out is that it is factually accurate in terms of the volcanic eruption; yep, even the tsunami.

3.5/5 Stars
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230 of 286 people found the following review helpful
1. One parts mildly charismatic, ripped, perfectly tanned action hero. British accent required.
2. One parts token African ass-kicker.
3. One parts puffy-lipped, perfectly coiffed damsel-in-distress.
4. One parts good actor hamming it up as agressive bad-guy. British accent optional.
5. Two cups sloooooooo-motion and ramping. CGI bloodspray optional.
6. One cup Titanic: class-breaking romance on the eve of a terrible disaster.
7. One part Gladiator: because GLADIATORS!
8. Six parts sweaty six-packs. Use liberally.
9. One very, very large volcano.
10. One tsunami. Super-size.
11. One bag of historical accuracy. Discard without using.

1. Ripoff every sword-and-sandals movie ever made.
2. Put in lots of explosions, collapsing buildings, and slo-motion. This is actually cool.
3. Put in a forced, cliched love affair. Season with cheese.
4. Suspend disbelief, then take down the remains and burn them.
5. Be over the top in the least subtle way.
6. BAKE in HOT OVEN. Add side dish of revenge, served cold.

SERVES large audience, entertains during action scenes, is silly in the rest. A very fun experience, but not memorable. Seconds unlikely...
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108 of 137 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2014
Ok so yes, the movie was the whole I can't live with out my love Titanic thing all over again but come on. Pompeii was a goood movie. The writers really did their research. The movie showed the cultures of the time, politics, and the city itself really well. They even showed how messed up the ruler of Rome was during that time as well as those who servered under him. The graphics were good ninus the whole horse chace in the middle of a volcano. (ok I had many proplems with that scene.) The music was beautiful. The fight scenes where awesome and the ending actully ended like a disaster movie should.
I admit the movie does have some flaws but over all it was still a good movie.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2014
How many times have you played a game where you're the good guy saving the world? How many times have you watched super heroes movie where the good guy defeats the evil villain? Tell me, was Avatar or Avengers that great or was it also filled with an overdone story and predictable plot?

Nowadays, a lot of stuff is taken and done already. Whenever someone tries something new, you guys don't appreciate it and it bombs at the theaters. A crappy Adam Sandler movie becomes more successful than an obviously more thought out and better made movie like Pacific Rim (even though I admit that's far from flawless itself).

It's more about how you take an idea that's already done and make it your own. How it is implemented and executed in the movie is even more important than just simple originality.

I liked this movie because I've never seen a Gladiator movie that was also a natural disaster movie.
Cliche would be a gladiator movie all the way through or the typical ending (avoiding spoilers), but I found myself a bit surprised at the end.
I thought the characters were decent, I thought the movie was decent, and I enjoyed the watch. The reviews on Amazon are something else. I've seen great reviews for an obviously horrible item and see blind critics try to watch a movie like this and expect a documentary or history lesson. Why would you blindly go watch a movie like this and complain about stuff like how it has gladiators and blood or some romance in it? Next time, stop your complaining, watch the trailer and read up a brief description on it before deciding whether to watch it or not. Don't act like someone forced you to watch it.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2014
If you're looking for a great movie, or one with brilliant acting, or even a surprise or two, this isn't the right one for you. Utterly and absolutely predictable - not just the volcano, but everything. The volcano blows up, the city is destroyed, lots of people die. Should that be under a spoiler warning?

The fairly contrived plot opens in Britannia, where Milo, a Britannic boy of about 8-10 years, has the misfortune to be in the way of Rome's response to a British uprising - chronologically, likely the one led by Boudica/Boudicca/Boadicea, queen of the Iceni. That one happened in about AD 60-61, 18 or 19 years before Vesuvius erupted, which would make an 8-year old boy about 26-27 when Pompeii was destroyed. It's a bit of a stretch, but plausible. What is less plausible is that the officer commanding the Romans is Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), looking exactly as he does 20 years later - and Milo RECOGNIZES HIM. (In reality it should be the Roman governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, whose outnumbered force defeated the rebels in the Battle of Watling Street.)

Fast forward to 79 AD: Milo, now a slave, is a gladiator, fighting in a rain-drenched Londinium - and like Russell Crowe's Maximus in "Gladiator," he's invincible. He dispatches foes with dispatch, and style - even when he enters the arena unarmed. So the lanista, master of the gladiators, decides to take him east and make a fortune. Wouldn't you go to Rome - where the late Emperor has spent the last nine years building the world's greatest arena, set to open next year? Not this guy. He heads for Pompeii, a pleasant town of wineries and olive farmers, several day's journey further if you're walking.

On the way there they meet Cassia, whose wagon hits a pothole, resulting in a flat horse. Cassia is impressed with Milo's horse whispering skills, just before he kills it, and we all know she's decided a dirty slave is exactly the right man for the daughter of the richest man in Pompeii. You can practically see the little cupids fluttering about.

Naturally, evil Senator Corvus shows up with his own designs on Cassia, leading to the inevitable confrontation in the city as the gods rain down fire and destruction all around them. And since no Roman movie is complete without a chariot scene, there's the unlikeliest of chases as Corvus, with Cassia handcuffed to his chariot, leads Milo (on a horse) on a merry chase as the ground - against all laws of geology - collapses around them. (That vies with the war galleys chasing panicked mobs through the streets for the prize as least credible scene.)

The acting is competent, at least, not embarrassing. The fight choreography was actually pretty good. The volcano effects were very impressive, geologically plausible - and historically wrong, if you compare the happenings in contemporary accounts. That is, it might have happened that way, but it didn't.

They totally ignored the existence of Herculaneum, Misenum, Stabiae, Oplontis, and the rest of the region. They ignored the HUGE Pompeiian industries in wine and olive oil. They added a very impressive (and fictional) lighthouse and breakwater in the harbor - again, it's visually spectacular. (Realistically, there should have been cargo ships to transport wine and olive oil, and a fleet of smaller fishing boats, since seafood would have been a staple. We don't really get to see much of that.)

I would have liked to see Gaius Plinius (Pliny the Elder) at least make an appearance, since he dispatched naval ships from the base at Misenum to evacuate refugees, and died in the rescue attempt. That heroic sidebar, with the death of one of the first scientists and author of the first encyclopedia, would have raised the total count of actual historical characters to one - a story worth telling.

The cast - hmmm. Kit Harrington, as the gladiator/slave/horse whisperer Milo (aka, "The Celt"), is passable, but to my eye looks far too small to be dangerous to the big muscle-rippling gladiator types. (Oh, well - Bruce Lee was a little guy, too.) Emily Browning is generically beautiful as Cassia, and carries her role well, despite its improbabilities. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, as African champion gladiator Atticus (much easier to say!) plays himself, which is impressive enough, and Jared Harris, as Cassia's doting father Severus, takes a stab at playing Derek Jacobi. Kiefer Sutherland, as the contemptible Senator Corvus ("crow" in Latin) chews up the scenery in fine style while his army inexplicably struts around in Imperial purple. Aurelia, Cassia's mother and Severus' wife, is competently portrayed by Carrie-Ann Moss, whom everyone knows is really Trinity.

(I want to mention here that the new Emperor in Rome, Titus, gets a bad rap in this movie. The dialogue makes it sound as though Titus was corrupt and a pawn of the worst elements. Historians who lived in his lifetime were unanimous in praise of Titus, and one day, when he realized he hadn't done a good deed for anyone, he sadly remarked, "I have lost a day." Titus was a good emperor, don't believe the lies!)

I'm sure they read all the historical accounts and modern analyses before writing the screenplay. At least, I hope they did, out of a sense of duty, but it doesn't matter much, because if they did, they cut the pictures out of the books and then threw the texts away. I understand that history finishes a distant third in Hollywood after drama and a cheesy love story, but you can tell a great story within the framework of history (e.g., Starz' "Spartacus" series).

The mountain is the sleeping giant in this story, and when it wakes it provides its own spotlight. It's been a little adjusted to look more menacing. In reality, the lower slopes at least were probably covered with olive orchards and vineyards, taking advantage of the slopes and the rich soil, as Pompeii was the #1 wine supplier to Rome. Pliny attributed fires they saw on the mountainside at night (the eruption actually lasted two days) to villages on the mountain, burning. They didn't bother with any of that here; this mountain is uninhabited and fearsome. Do you remember "The Last Days of Pompeii" miniseries from 1984? There the mountain was a smooth, beautiful cone, almost like Mt. Fuji, but green. Not this Vesuvius - this one is gnarly, with twists and ripples at its base, and an open crater already at the top. A tortured piece of geology, Italy's own Mt. Doom.

The producers clearly spent a LOT of money on special effects, and I have to say it never looks fake. Even the tsunami that carries the warships into the town looks almost believable - but although Pliny's letter of the disaster mentions the water in the Bay of Naples receding ("...the sea seemed to roll back upon itself..."), archaeologists have found no evidence of tsunami wave action in the city, much less war galleys dropped on the town.

One of the most visually striking effects is found in the high aerial views during the eruption - looking down, you see it all happening, and then one or more fireballs will flash across the screen, leaving an expanding smoke trail. With the movement of the (virtual) "camera" point of view juxtaposed against those smoke trails, you might for a moment believe your screen has been transformed into 3D. The geologists tell us the fireballs are hokey, but the effect, visually, is brilliant.

I'm a serious enthusiast for the Roman world. I've got 'em all, from "Ben Hur" and "Cleopatra" to "Rome" and "Gladiator". This movie has one real saving grace - its beautiful visualization of Pompeii before the volcano destroyed it. Beautifully reconstructed, beautifully photographed - really, it's gorgeous. (Including the arena, which looks a lot like the surviving pictures!). I really enjoyed watching the first half, and seeing that window back in time.

For that, and that alone, I'll buy it. (EDIT: I bought it.)

BTW - for the story they SHOULD have made, read the book, "Pompeii", by Robert Harris. A far better story, by a writer who knows how to use history without abusing it, with a surprising yet believable ending. There was talk that it might be produced as a movie. Sadly, this one probably killed its chance.

Further recommended reading: "A Day of Fire," by Stephanie Dray, Ben Kane, et al. This novel by six authors, each with one character and one story, recreates the world and the event brilliantly. Tell them I sent you.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
This review is based on having watched "Pompeii" in the cinema with my wife and son.

If the acting talent and skilfully-created effects which went into this film had been combined with a well written plot, something like a film adaptation of Robert Harris's excellent novel "Pompeii," it would have been a classic. Instead the storyline was simplistic, full of cliches, and a travesty of history, and made for a terrible waste of the considerable acting skill and effort which the cast put into it.

The film begins with images representing the statue-like casts which are all that remains of victims of the disaster at Pompeii. Such casts were made by modern archaeologists who poured plaster into hollows in the ash left by the bodies of unfortunate residents of Pompeii and Herculaneum who were killed and entombed by the volcanic eruption which devastated those cities in 79AD.

Superimposed on the images of those casts are quotations from the real historical letters about the disaster written to the historian Tacitus by Pliny the Younger, an eyewitness himself and nephew of the Roman fleet commander (Pliny the Elder) who died while leading rescue efforts. It's a powerful start and probably the best bit of the film. Unfortunately it goes downhill from there.

The hero of the film is the last survivor of a British tribe, famed for their skill with horses, who had been exterminated by the Romans in AD62 for rebelling against the empire. Having watched his entire family cut down, a young boy is taken as a slave to Londinium where he is subsequently trained as a gladiator and becomes known as "The Celt."

Unfortunately for him, he is purchased for a gladiatorial school in Pompeii and arrives there in August 79AD. This character is brilliantly played as an adult by Kit Harington (Jon Snow from "Game of Thrones - Season 1-3 [DVD] [2014]").

His arrival in Pompeii conincides with the return to the city of a beautiful young noblewoman called Cassia, played by Emily Browning (Violet from "Lemony Snicket's: A Series Of Unfortunate Events [DVD] [2004]" and Babydoll from "Sucker Punch [Blu-ray]") and he comes to Cassia's attention by showing kindness to her injured horse.

Cassia's parents, played by Jared Harris (David Robert Jones from "Fringe: The Complete Season 1-5 [Blu-ray] [2013] [Region Free]" and General Grant from "Lincoln) and Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity from "The Complete Matrix Trilogy [Blu-ray] [1999] [Region Free]") are trying to redevelop Pompeii. The fact that there was a redevelopment project to rebuild the city at the time it was destroyed is one of comparatively few historical details that the film gets right. They have asked the new Emperor Titus, who has recently succeeded Vespasian, to invest in their project.

Titus sends a Senator called Corvus (Keifer Sutherland) as his representative to look into the project, but Corvus, brilliantly and villanously played by Sutherland, has agendas of his own.

Meanwhile at the school for gladiators our hero meets Atticus, (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje,) the champion gladiator who has to win one more fight to gain his freedom. Harington and Agbaje brilliantly depict the awkward friendship which develops between two men who assume that one of them is going to have to kill the other.

For the first part of the film, most of the characters ignore the increasingly obvious warnings of impending catastrophe from Vesuvius, concentrating instead on their ambitions, plans, lusts and hopes for advancement, freedom, or revenge. But then the volcano erupts and Roman and slave alike are forced to divert at least some of their attention from fighting each other to fighting to stay alive ...

The acting and some of the dialogue was generally good, and in places Harington, Agbaje and Browning in particular almost manage to save the film from the cliche-ridden, trivialised and historically inaccurate travesty of a plot. But only almost.

The people who put the special effects together were highly skilled and some aspects of what they did - the visualisation of a Roman city, roman galleys, and some of the disaster scenes such as the depiction of the "pyroclastic flow" at the climax of the eruption which killed everyone left alive in the area at that point - were excellent. Unfortunately the film's producers could not resist the temptation to throw everything but the kitchen sink at Pompeii, hitting the city in the film with every imaginable natural disaster whether it actually happened or not.

And while the real story of Pompeii includes some fascinating and exciting tales of heroism as well as tragedy - for example the fact that one of the greatest scientists in the history of the Roman Empire gave his life while leading rescue efforts - the plot of this film ignores tat in favour of a merger of the bog-standard "Swords and Sandals" and "Disaster Movie" genres.

Spoiler alert !

Up to this point in the review I have not included any significant plot detail not already given in the description of the films. I am now, without mentioning what happens to any of the cast of characters, going to mention some of the many differences between the historical disaster and the film. If you would consider this a spoiler, please stop reading here.

When Vesuvius erupted around mid-day on 24th August AD79, it began by sending a giant cloud of smoke, ash and pumice into the air: "sheets of flame" were also visible at the top of the mountain. At first the main effects were not necessarily lethal: they were to blot out the sun and send a rain of ash and small pieces of hot pumice over the entire area of the Bay of Naples. This first stage of the eruption lasted perhaps 12 hours, and those who fled at this point had a good chance of survival. Those who boarded the quadreremes (galleys with four banks of oars) which the elder Pliny sent to evacuate people, or made it to the other ships in the area, survived. Those who started moving quickly to get as far away from Vesuvius as possible on foot, cart or horseback, also often lived to tell the tale.

But from around midnight pyroclastic surges began to flow outward from Vesuvius: these are ground-hugging avalanches of hot ash, pumice, rock fragments and volcanic gas which rush down the side of a volcano at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour and will instantly kill any living thing unfortunate enough to be in the way. These surges killed everyone in Pompeii. Volcanic activity that night also destroyed the nearby port of Herculaneum, and devastated much of the surrounding area. Pliny the younger described how he and his mother had fled North from Misenum and lived because they reached "some distance" beyond the point where "the fire itself actually stopped."

However, the creators of the film could not resist throwing every imaginable natural disaster into the mix, regardless of whether or not it actually happened. As we have seen, for the first 12 hours or so Vesuvius throw out ash and pumice, and Pliny records that people protected themselves from the hail of stones by tying pillows to their heads. In the film however, the volcano also throws out much larger objects, presumably meant to represent balls of lava, which look like fireballs and land with an impact like an artillery bombardment.

There was some damage to buildings from earth tremors at this stage but the film greatly exaggerates this, showing buildings collapsing, such as the amphitheatre in Pompeii, which actually survived the event, partly buried under ash and pumice, were subsequently dug out by modern archaeologists and can still be seen today.

The film-makers also throw in a completely fictitious tsunami. Pliny records that the sea retreated during the eruption - which the film shows - but in history it stayed retreated. The site of Pompeii is now half a mile inland. In the film the sea comes back as a massive wave which flings ashore those ships which hadn't been sunk by (equally fictitious) flying rocks and threatens to drown many of the citizens.

Then there are the film's liberties with Roman history. Vespasian, who had emerged the winner of the civil war which followed the death of Nero, had been one of Rome's better emperors. He had two sons, Titus and Domitian. Vespasian died shortly before the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79 and his son Titus was on the throne at this stage.

In real history Titus was generally regarded as a good and popular ruler during his short reign - so much so that when Mozart wanted to suck up to the Hapsburgs by writing an opera about a merciful Emperor he chose Titus as the subject of "The Mercy of Titus" (Link: Mozart: La Clemenza Di Tito) because Titus was one of the very few Emperors with whom the quality of mercy could plausibly be associated. However, he was succeeded by his brother Domitian who was yet another in the depressingly long line of murderous power-mad tyrants with delusions of godhood like Caligula, Nero, Heliogabalus, Commodus, etc, etc, etc.

In this film it is implied that the new Emperor is imposing another reign of terror in Rome. Which did happen, but not until a couple of years after the destruction of Pompeii, when Domitian had succeeded Titus.

There are also several misrepresentations of the role of gladiators. They did often die in the arena, but they were far too expensive to be killed as lightly as this film suggests. Gladiators who survived and earned money for a certain period of time were allowed to buy their freedom - and as long as they didn't do something stupid like lead a rebellion, promises that gladiators would be allowed to buy their freedom were generally kept.

The film also repeats a popular misconception that the "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" signs had the same meaning as they do today. In fact at some point over the last two thousand years the meanings of these signs have been transposed. In Roman times "thumbs up" was the sign to kill a defeated gladiator and thumbs down was the sign to spare him, instead of the reverse. It would be nice to see a "swords and sandals" epic get this detail right but sadly "Pompeii" was not going to be the film which shoots for accuracy in this or most other respects.

To summarise: "Pompeii" features some excellent acting by very talented actors and some very clever effects. Unfortunately this cannot entirely compensate for one of the worst written screenplays I have ever seen and for the fact that the film is a travesty of historical accuracy even by the industry's low standards.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2014
Imagine "Titanic" and "Gladiator" hooked up after a drunken tequila love-fest to spawn a deformed, mutant movie-child.

You may wonder how these two could possibly combine into a single entity -- but still try. Imagine a movie that has the sappy Romeo-and-Juliet, rich beauty falls for lowly commoner construct of Titanic; the angry, undefeatable, indefatigable slave-hero of Gladiator (complete with an African sidekick who saves the hero while pining for his family); the totally boring, one-dimensional meanie from either movie, entire scenes lifted from both movies, entire scenes lifted from the horse whisperer (whoops, that's TV). Now, mind you, this devil child possesses none of the interesting characteristics of its parents, none of their redeeming bits. No. Instead this wretched creature is crippled by inept writing, useless direction, pathetic acting (by actors out of their element in a kindergarten Christmas play), and of course, absolutely zero historical merit.

Can you imagine this pathetic thing? Well stop trying. The reality is that Pompeii is far worse than anything one could possibly imagine. There is nothing of any merit. Ed Wood's movies are better. Ed Wood at least tried. (Well, there's one redeeming part - the actual volcano is pretty cool. Maybe because it snuffs out all the whiny actors. Whoever did the CGI, you get the single star. Everything else was a complete waste of precious time.)

Or to put another way, I rented this movie for free with a Redbox coupon and I still got ripped off. If you must see it, best see it drunk out of your mind.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Heaven knows, I play and replay every episode of GOT, thrilled that the brooding and beautiful Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is going to be in my living room. But this is a stinker. It overworks every painful cliche from every sword-n-sandal flick ever made, heaping on the star-crossed lovers tragedy (complete with moonlit bareback gallops in the shadow of impending doom), the tough, noble African to teach us about honor, and the reprehensible Roman politician with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. And I'm sorry to say it, but did anyone else notice how absurdly large Emily Browning's EARS are?? She has a strange beauty that defies... well, everything (which is good since she can't really act), but all I could see were those tragic head sails. Sadly, even Emily's ears weren't enough to distract me from the fact that this was just a terrible movie. At least the Starz 'Sparticus' series had the good sense to camp it up with huge, oily gladiators, sleazy villains, unapologetically filthy sex, and tankers of slow-mo CGI blood. And of course, the Reigning Queen of Camp herself, Lucy Lawless. Don't leave Rome without her.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2014
There was a lot more effort put into this film than I had anticipated. Paul W.S. Anderson tries his hardest to give us a full old-school historical epic complete with stylish cinematography and some inventive camera angles. Unfortunately, the material he chooses to invent would have given the cheesiest of '50s epics pause. A young gladiator's family was killed by an evil Roman senator and now he seeks revenge. A young noblewoman falls in love with him but she is forcibly engaged to the same evil and lustful senator, who wants her only because she has refused him. About the only thing missing to make this identical to the worst of the melodramatic 19th century melodrama that it seems to be imitating is the tragic tale of persecuted Christians. It certainly has the tiresome wholesomeness that you can only find in '50s epic or Christian made-for-TV movies.

This outdated content mixes poorly with the modern style with which the story is told. So at the climax of the terrible love story where you might expect a low end gladiatorial revolt or heroic rescue we get instead a remake of the scenes from Gladiator. Instead of a final showdown with the villain featuring fancy swordplay we get a chariot race through the center of town. Cliches like the villain kidnapping the heroine are reduced to even greater absurdity when they're combined with such destructive imagery, since now his narcissism seems nonsensical given that he is willing to die just to ensure his petty grudge does not get lost. And a character like Milo, who is basically the same revenge-driven angry man as Maximus from Gladiator, seems completely out of place as the self-righteous 50s patronizing heroic type. Seriously, when you can say that The Last Days of Pompeii felt more real then you know you're in a bad place.

The film is aiming to capture at least three different things simultaneously: bad 19th century pulp romance, modern mindless action movie excess, and general realism. It might be a surprise to see that last one thrown in there since it merges so poorly with the other two, but there are numerous behind-the-scenes glimpses where Anderson demonstrates some of the research he did for the film, including a near 100% accurate model of the town (probably the most realistic looking Roman city since Rome) and the lightning flashing in the eruption column. Then he immediately explains why he added moronic excess to that reality because it just wasn't 'cinematic' enough. Thus the very fine looking Plinian column spouting from the volcano is spoiled by the giant fireballs that seem to pop out of nowhere. The ground caves in opening vast and inexplicable caverns underneath the beautiful looking town. Oh, and we get to see all our leads magically petrified by the blast, turning into the famous frozen bodies formed in the 19th century by archaeologists pouring concrete into the holes left by decayed corpses. Audience can sense this unreality. The ground does not just fall away conveniently whenever it seems dramatically convenient and the the flaming balls of fire feel like the absurd addition that they are. In fact, the efforts at realism make the absurdities even more unreal since they do not blend together well. Any attempt at creating a sense of real danger is lost by making the destruction so conveniently over the top.

If it were possible to see beyond that you would notice the wonderful sets, the beautiful costumes, and the inventive camerawork. But the filmmakers don't want to give people a moment's pause to savor such things. The only thing that matters is the plot and this is so melodramatic as to be unwatchable. I was filled with a sense of sadness watching the obvious passion put into such a wasted film and I feel very sad at all the wasted opportunities. If it had picked one of those three styles to go for then it might have been alright (I don't think Anderson has it in him to make a film that's better than alright) but in trying to match three completely separate styles he managed to make a film that is tonally jarring and lifeless.

There were a few fun scenes and while the destruction is so overdone as to feel generic it can occasionally provide entertainment value. And of course there is also the camp value of the whole affair, though if you truly want camp you're better off seeing the films this is based on.
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