Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is the latest studio to bring to audiences a bombastic costume spectacle with "Pompeii." With cast members such as Kiefer Sutherland, Kit Harington, Jared Harris and Carrie-Anne Moss in tow, the film has now arrived on Blu-Ray Disc for you to experience at home.
In 79.A.D. Mount Vesuvius exploded in a dramatic eruption that has gone down in history alongside with the volcanic eruptions of gigantic proportions, such as Krakatoa and Mount St. Helen. Burying the antique city of Pompeii twenty feet deep under its cloak of ash and lava, the fate of Pomeii was sealed within minutes.
It is always hard to make a movie in which the outcome is built-in and audiences know what will happen. Just like with the sinking of the Titanic, we know that a film like "Pompeii" cannot have a happy ending, so the only way to make this work is to construct some kind of story around the events to create an emotional attachment that os coming to a head in the inevitable climactic and destructive finale.
In this case the story is about Milo (Kit Harington) who is enslaved as a child and turned into a gladiator in the provinces where he makes an impression slaughtering every opponent, no matter what the odds. One day he taken to the city of Pompeii where he is scheduled to fight the final match of the champion Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) before he is released into freedom - provided he survives. But Milo also catches the eyes of Cassia (Emily Browning), the daughter of the city official. They instantly fall in love and when Milo finds out that Roman Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) will attend his fight, he is determined to take revenge. Corvus not only killed his family and clan but also forced Cassia to take his hand in marriage.
Just as the gladiatorial games get underway, the earth begins to rumble and within hours Mount Vesuvius, the massive volcano looming over the city, begins to spout fire and rain death.
As computer generated effects have become a lot more affordable and convincing, spectacles such as "Pompeii" are certainly tempting for filmmakers, but at the end of the day, there is only so much you can do with bad material.
The problem with "Pompeii" is its contrived script taking plot points that range from ridiculous to absolutely nonsensical and then throwing them together in a hotchpotch that has no really identity or purpose. A love story between a gladiator and the daughter of a city official, really? After seeing each other once, they are ready to give their lives for each other, really? A man who has been captured by the age of five and held a captive gladiator is a master horseman and a horse whisperer, no less? Really? As the film goes on, more convenient events and plot devices pile up, dragging the film down.
When the volcano finally erupts in a spectacular display of fire and ash, it resembles a meteor shower hitting the Earth, somehow missing all the key characters by mere inches. And yet, despite all the visual effects magic, the volcano somehow never manages to create the same kind of dread the way "Dante's Peak" did. Somehow the inevitability of it all, combined with the banal plotting and the lack of any real sense of emotional attachment prevent viewers from fully getting engaged and "buying it."
Kit Harington is best know to viewers as Jon Snow form the "Game of Thrones" TV series, and he does a decent job, playing his character with a mix of brawn and charisma. Sadly everyone else around him is truly flat. Kiefer Sutherland is not only annoying, he's not even acting, really, just saying his lines, wearing a costume pretending to be in a movie, somehow. And as Sutherland, everybody else is really just staffage with no real impact or relevance.
On the good side, I was pleased to see that despite its gladiatorial nature, the film was never overly graphic. While there is violence, obviously, its is never show in detail and serves more to bring home the story than for mere effect. As a result "Pompeii" with its PG-13 rating is perfectly suited for age-appropriate family vieweing.
Sony is dashing out a top notch high definition transfer on this disc. It's a brand new film, massaged in its entirety in the digital domain, so the transfer is free of any blemishes or defects, coming straight off the digital master. Colors are abundant and rich and the film's solid black levels give the image firm depth.
The audio on the release comes as a DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio track that is aggressive and makes constant use of the surround channels. With a wide frequency response and dynamic range, the track is perfectly emphasizing the bombast and action of the film with its often thunderous sound field.
As extras you will find a commentary track on the release, as well as cast and crew interviews, as well as a special effects featurette. In addition, twenty deleted scenes can be found on the disc, along with with a selection of behind the scenes featurettes on a variety of subjects.
"Pompeii" is pure popcorn movie without any depth or import. Turn your brain off when putting this disc in, and enjoy the production. If you keep your expectations to purely be entertained with a mindless special effects spectacle, "Pompeii" will serve you well, but if you're looking for more than that, you may want to pass on this film.