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Pompeii: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray Review

Pompeii (2014) movie poster Pompeii

Theatrical Release: February 21, 2014 / Running Time: 105 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson / Writers: Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler, Michael Robert Johnson (screenplay)

Cast: Kit Harington (Milo), Carrie-Anne Moss (Aurelia), Emily Browning (Cassia), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Atticus), Jessica Lucas (Ariadne), Currie Graham (Bellator), Sasha Roiz (Proculus), Jared Harris (Severus), Kiefer Sutherland (Senator Quintus Attius Corvus), Joe Pingue (Graecus), Dylan Schombing (Young Milo), Maxime Savaria (Biggest Thracian), Ron Kennell (The Weasel)

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"Gladiator meets Titanic" is probably how the pitch went for Pompeii, which turns one of mankind's oldest documented natural disasters into a popcorn movie.

The film opens in 62 AD with the "Rebellion of the Celtic Horse Tribes", a bloodless event in which Romans slaughter all but one young boy, who sees his slain family hung upside down from trees.
Seventeen years later, that boy has grown up a slave and is sold in Pompeii as a gladiator believed to be as fast and deadly as any. Refusing to give his name to any who ask, the bearded young man we come to know as Milo (Kit Harington) is put in a cell with Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), an aging champion who is one victory away from his freedom. We can tell right away that these two are destined to become best friends, despite their imminently scheduled death match.

With his powers of horse whispering, Milo catches the eye of Cassia (Emily Browning), a wealthy, eligible young noblewoman with compassion for horses. Cassia's father (Jared Harris), Pompeii's ruler, has real estate plans for which he hopes to secure an investment from Rome's new emperor. Imperial representative, Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), plans to back the project personally, seeing his support as a negotiating chip for Cassia, who he hit on in her recent year spent in Rome.

Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Milo (Kit Harington), two gladiators assigned to fight each other to the death, join forces against a common enemy in "Pompeii."

Pompeii's Festival of the Vinalia is marked by a number of earthquakes and tremors that only horses (and viewers who have heard of Pompeii) recognize as warnings. In the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, sand falls from a stadium's ceiling and one slave owner wants to postpone the gladiator games, which have been reimagined as a recreation of the Celtic Rebellion massacre for the benefit of the visiting senator.

With animosity mounting between Rome and Pompeii, the anticipated destruction arrives with a half-hour to go in the film. Fire balls resembling meteors from Armageddon blaze deadly trails into marketplaces and ancient buildings. The masses run and giant aftershock tidal waves descend upon them. The catastrophe forever buried the ancient Roman city-town and nearby Herculaneum, wiping out 80% of the population in the area, but here it's merely the backdrop to an unlikely romance between an enslaved gladiator and a ruler's daughter.

There are zero shades of gray to Kiefer Sutherland's performance as Quintus Attius Corvus, an evil Roman senator who killed Celtic rebels in 62 A.D. Cassia (Emily Browning) is just not that into you, Kiefer Sutherland.

Pompeii is full of violence, but none of it is graphic. Hence, the PG-13 rating. The film forgoes all the debauchery of Starz's "Spartacus" series, nixing comparisons that otherwise would have been obvious.
The raciest things get here is a scene of an elderly woman looking to pay for the sexual services of the gladiators (we see nothing).

Director Paul W.S. Anderson, who has spent much of this century alternately writing, directing, and producing installments of the Resident Evil and Death Race franchises, doesn't approach this project any differently than his other work, which is usually profitable internationally but not in the US. Historical and scientific accuracy seem of secondary concern to Anderson. Surprise and subversion are of similarly little interest. You can guess how every scene will play out at its start. None of the beats are original or engaging, but they all add up to something ridiculous and somewhat unintentionally entertaining.

The film relies heavily on overhead and long-distance shots, all of which stand to showcase what filmmakers are doing with CGI these days. It also frequently resorts to small bursts of slow motion. There's the occasional gimmicky effect for 3D, most noticeably a weapon swinging in our direction and approaching clouds of smoke. The artificial, not so splendid visuals have no trouble upstaging the human cast, which save for Sutherland's stagy villainy shows little emotion.

With an undistinguished cast and an opening in late February, you might assume this was a modestly-budgeted ancient epic. But reportedly, it cost $100 million to produce, not much less than big summer and holiday tentpoles. Most of that money is gone, never to be recovered, as the film floundered in theaters, opening in third place and grossing just over $23 M domestically to icy reviews. Even the foreign markets that usually buy into Anderson's brand of action (and big effects-driven spectacle in general) remained largely unmoved, contributing only $74 M to the far from profitable global haul.

Pompeii manages to hold your attention, but how is something of a mystery. Sure, the disaster movie elements and conventions employed in the screenplay by Janet and Lee Batchler (picking up their first major credit since Batman Forever) and Sherlock Holmes scribe Michael Robert Johnson are pretty sturdy. At the same time, there are a number of moments that are so terrible you've got to laugh.

A TriStar release, Pompeii is now available on DVD, Blu-ray, and the two-disc Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray set reviewed here.

Pompeii: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray 3D & Blu-ray Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS HD-MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: May 20, 2014
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50s)
Suggested Retail Price: $45.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone Blu-ray ($35.99 SRP), DVD ($28.98 SRP)
and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Pompeii may not be a terribly impressive film visually, but that is no fault of the Blu-ray's. The 2.40:1 transfer is sharp and pristine, allowing us to almost marvel at the CGI-heavy compositions. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is predictably potent, without the peaks and valleys that require you to watch with remote in hand.

Most significant among the deleted and alternate scenes section are this female character, seen here addressing Severus, who dies. The Costume Shop celebrates the film's ability to dress the cast flatteringly but with period authenticity.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

All relegated to the standard Blu-ray, the bonus features begin with an audio commentary by director Paul W.S. Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt. It defies my general opinion that a commentary is usually only as good as the movie it's attached to. The two display passion for the project, with Anderson confessing a long-held interest in the lost city.
They talk about working within the confines of PG-13, Harington's abs (not only real, but deemed important enough to reshoot some scenes for), the influence of Titanic on the love story, shooting in Toronto with a large cast of extras drawn from the city's Italian population, efforts taken in the name of realism (e.g. using overhead photography of the real Pompeii ruins as a foundation), and the hubris of humanity (as evidenced by the millions who continue to live in the radius of the still-active Vesuvius). The full discussion reveals more thought went into this than you'd expect and while one viewing of the film will be more than enough for most, this was a pleasant surprise.

The all-HD video extras begin with a whopping 20 deleted and alternate scenes (23:32). They offer more of every major character (and one character who's otherwise cut from the film), but nothing meaningful that would have changed the film as a whole.

"The Assembly" (7:14) celebrates the cast, overstating each of their contributions to the film. "The Journey" (7:42) discusses creating the ancient setting. As you can guess, "The Costume Shop" (6:52) turns our attention to the film's period costume design. "The Volcanic Eruption" (7:06) covers the visual effects needed to bring the disaster to life. "The Gladiators" (6:23) addresses the fight choreography and stunts.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson shows Kit Harrington how to fight like a gladiator in "Pompeii: Buried in Time." What volcano? Lovers embrace in front of an erupting Mt. Vesuvius on the "Pompeii" Blu-ray menu>

Finally, "Pompeii: Buried in Time" (24:06) surprisingly turns out to be a long featurette that provides general making-of material (with ample behind-the-scenes looks) in addition to considering the real history being dramatized.
It probably ought to be listed first.

The simple menu plays score over an eye-catching static shot adapted from poster art. As usual, Sony authors the Blu-rays to support bookmarks and resuming.

The Blu-ray opens with Sony's "Be Moved" promo and trailers for That Awkward Moment, The Monuments Men, Afflicted, and A Fighting Man. The Previews menu holds the same trailers plus one for Stalingrad. The Blu-ray 3D includes a trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Pompeii's own trailer is not found on either disc.

The two discs take opposite sides of a side-snapped standard-sized keepcase, which is fitted with a Digital HD UltraViolet insert and topped by a slipcover recycling the same artwork below.

Boom goes the dynamite! Mount Vesuvius erupts, sending smoke, ash, and fireballs to nearby Pompeii.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Pompeii is a very bad movie that you nonetheless should have little difficulty enduring and maybe even enjoying in some guilty fashion. Clearly not intended for history or science buffs, it's turn-off-your-brain entertainment that despite an abundance of stupidity and unoriginality almost somehow works on some level.

Sony's Blu-ray 3D edition boasts a strong feature presentation and a hearty supply of extras highlighted by an unexpectedly substantial audio commentary. I can't recommend the movie, but this release is certainly satisfactory.

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Jared Harris: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows The Curious Case of Benjamin Button | Carrie-Anne Moss: Disturbia
Spartacus: Blood & Sand (The Complete First Season) John Carter Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Disaster Movies: Titanic Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea The Impossible | Written by Michael Robert Johnson: Sherlock Holmes

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Reviewed June 12, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2014 TriStar Pictures, FilmDistrict, Impact Pictures (Pompeii), Constantin Film International, and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.