Paul W. S. Anderson’s Pompeii film – marketed as Pompeii 3D – has been released in the UK after all (how did the dubbing from English into English take so long…?). In the aesthetic tradition of the peplum films, Pompeii tells the story of a young man from Britain who, as a child, had to witness how his entire tribe was butchered by the Romans, then became a slave and, eventually, a gladiator.
Too quick and too good for spectacles in the British province, Milo – the Celt, a skilled fighter and horseman – eventually ends up in Pompeii, to fight Atticus, an experienced gladiator, who is hoping for a life in freedom after one last fight.
Matters get more complicated as Milo becomes infatuated with a girl of the local elite. The girl shares his feelings, but also is hoping to escape marriage with Corvus, a Roman senator, ‘arranged’ by the girl’s ambitious father, who is hoping to build a new Pompeii, funded by either the Emperor or Corvus himself. Needless to say that Corvus was responsible for the slaughter of Milo’s people in Britain.
Matters find a dramatic ending when Pompeii, already plagued by constant earthquakes, eventually gets to experience the eruption of Mt Vesuvius.
Classical scholars and historically-minded amateurs alike find great pleasure in pointing out historical inaccuracies in sword-and-sandal films, and Pompeii is an open invitation to that exercise. (With regard to that, has anyone pointed out yet that Romans typically spoke Latin, not, in fact, English? And why does Atticus, the heroic, somewhat condescending black gladiator, have to be portrayed with a thick accent, whereas all other barbarians seem to cope with English pronunciation just fine?)
No, this is not what Pompeii looked like. No, this is not what the eruption of Vesuvius looked like. No, this is not a historic tale.
This is Gladiator meets The Horse Whisperer meets Sharknado, with added fire and a lot of gratuitous violence, told with sadly rather too little tongue-in-cheek irony.
Rather more worrying than the levels of historical ‘accuracy’ (what is that, anyway?), one must take issue with the thin story line, the wooden acting (and epic over-acting – is there no better way to assert an epic nature of a film), and absolutely cringeworthy dialogues, all designed in such a quality that they do not unnecessarily distract attention from the state-of-the-art CGI.
Is it worth getting riled up about the misrepresentation of what we (seem to) know about what happened during Pompeii’s final hours?
No, it is not.
Is it worth getting riled up about the way in which this film wastes an opportunity to explore the fantasy space and the fascination of the audience when it comes to disasters such as Pompeii’s dramatic demise, related to the primordial fear that nature will ultimately always control us (and not the other way round)?