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Pompeii (2014)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/20/2014

All Ratings out of




Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/19/2014

When we buy a ticket to see a movie, purchase a Blu-ray Disc, or rent the film in some form, an unstated contract is being carried out. This agreement says that in exchange for money, the movie will provide us with, at the very least, entertainment. But, we sometimes ask for more. If the movie is based on a true event, along with that entertainment, it's not crazy for the viewer to ask for some education as well. We expect to gain some knowledge about the person or event being portrayed in the movie. When I'm watching a movie like this from the director of three of the Resident Evil movies, I'm not expecting a full-blown documentary. But, with Pompeii, other than the fact that there's a volcano, I'm not sure that the movie cared about getting anything right.

As Pompeii opens, we are introduced to Milo (Kit Harington), a slave who is being taken to the titular city in ancient Italy. He is part of a caravan which is escorting Cassia (Emily Browning) back to Pompeii. She has been to Rome on some sort of goodwill trip. Once in the city, she is reunited with her father, Severus (Jared Harris), who oversees Pompeii, and her mother, Aurelia (Carrie-Anne Moss). She is very disheartened to see that Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) has followed her from Rome to Pompeii, as the man clearly made unwanted advances to her while in the capital. Meanwhile, Milo is taken to the dungeons, where he meets Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and learns that he must fight in the games. Atticus and Milo become fast friends and decide to become allies in the games. However, their plan is short-lived as nearby Mt. Vesuvius suddenly erupts, sending ash and fire hurling towards Pompeii. Will Milo be able to find Cassia and rescue her?

Allow me to easily summarize by reaction to Pompeii: Like most people, I knew that Pompeii was an ancient city which was destroyed by a volcano. Additionally, I was aware that almost fossil-like remains of the victims had been found in the city. Other than that, I didn't know much and was anxious to learn more. The second that the movie ended, my wife and I began scouring the Internet in an attempt to find a true documentary about Pompeii, as the movie told us nothing. And I mean nothing to the point of lunacy. Basically, Pompeii is a lot like Titanic, in the sense that we are presented with a true story where we know how the tale ends. All that the movie has to do is give us an impression of what was happening right up until the famous incident. And like Titanic, it presents us with a pair of star-crossed lovers who just met, but that's about it.

The remainder is a truly stupid movie. (And I don't bring out the "S" word very often.) While watching Pompeii, I could only imagine the powers that be saying, "Gladiator was a huge hit and people dig things like Game of Thrones, so let's focus on stuff like that and we'll bring the volcano in at the end." So, we get a movie which focuses on Milo and Atticus training to fight and the struggles between Cassia's family and Corvus. The volcano and the impending threat of an eruption remains way in the background and doesn't come into focus until the disaster actually begins. I learned from the documentary which I eventually found that experts believe that a severe earthquake hit the area a week before the eruption and that half of the city's population left the area. This could have made for a film in which the people debated over the danger and whether or not to leave, with a dash of "It's the Gods!" thrown in, but instead, we get this sword and sandals epic which just happens to have a volcano.

The sad thing about Pompeii is that many of the special effects are very good and the destruction of the city is certainly detailed. Unfortunately, as we don't care at all about the characters or what is happening, it's all for naught. The movie makes no attempt to build any sort of suspense surrounding the eruption -- it simply happens. Thus, we have over an hour of a gladiator movie which suddenly becomes a disaster movie, and neither of them work. Anderson approaches what should serious material, which a Saturday matinee serial approach and then caps it off with a down ending. With movies like Event Horizon and (yes) Mortal Kombat, I once though Anderson showed real promise as a director, but his work has rapidly gotten worse over the years and Pompeii may be even worse than the Resident Evil films, because it can be excused for being brain-dead.

Pompeii offers little to lava on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 24 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The image is never overly bright or dark (although it comes close to being dark in one scene involving a horse) and the colors look fine, although they do skew towards Earth tones. The level of detail is nice, as we can make out textures on objects, and the depth works very well. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.2 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As with many Sony products, we get great sound here. The volcanic explosions give the subwoofer a supreme workout. The crowd at the games fill the rear speakers, and the fireballs which fly by show great separation in the rear. The stereo effects are equally good, as we are constantly treated to sounds coming from off-screen. This also includes a Blu-ray 3D, where the film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc carries a MVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 24/13 Mbps. The depth here is very, very impressive. In daytime scenes, there is undeniable distance betweens the actors and objects in the foreground and the background. This is some of the best depth that I've seen from a Blu-ray 3D -- very few shots look flat. However, I did note a lack of things "coming at us". The fight scenes offered opportunities for this which were not taken.

The Pompeii Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Anderson and Producer Jeremy Bolt. The Disc contains twenty DELETED & ALTERNATE SCENES which run about 23 minutes. These are all mostly very brief. "The Assembly" (7 minutes) examines the film's cast. We get comments from the actors who talk about their characters and their work on the film. The production design and the work to make the film look authentic is looked at in "The Journey" (8 minutes). "The Costume Shop" (7 minutes) obviously takes us behind the scenes to see how Costume Desinger Wendy Partridge dressed the cast. "The Volcanic Eruption" (7 minutes) shows us how actual shots of Mt. Vesuvius were used to create the visual effects in the film. The stuntwork and the fight scenes are discussed in "The Gladiators" (6 minutes). "Pompeii: Buried in Time" (24 minutes) looks like it's going to be a documentary on the real-life event, but it still focuses more on the movie's portrayal of the disaster. There are some details about the event and some shots of the real Popeii excavation site, but it still doesn't teach us very much.

Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long