Since I believe in analyzing what makes a book/ movie/ exhibit excellent and/ or popular,
I decided today’s focus would be the 2014 movie version of “P0mpeii” by Constantin Film International. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting an outstanding exhibit of the destruction of Pompeii at Discovery Times Square in New York City. Soon after, PBS aired the excellent presentation “Secrets of the Dead-Pompeii and Herculaneum.” I recently viewed an interesting and well-done documentary DVD “Pompeii: The Doomed City” released by Arts & Entertainment Network and The History Channel. I so looked forward to the release of the new “Pompeii” imagining the great special effects –especially in 3D. To say the least, I was greatly disappointed. The movie got terrible reviews but I had to see it for myself to analyze the problem.
Let’s take a look at the facts of the historic volcanic eruption. In August of 79AD, Mount Vesuvius, located in the Bay of Naples, Italy, erupted, killing thousands of people who died a horrible death. Pliny the Elder ( a Roman general, naturalist and author of a complete set of encyclopedia on the natural world) and his nephew, Pliny the Younger sailed their naval vessels to investigate the volcanic disturbance at Pompeii. Taking notes throughout the ordeal, Pliny the Elder was overcome by smoke and ash and died on the spot–some accounts say while attempting to rescue victims of the cataclysmic event– leaving his nephew to complete the account of the chaos.
The people of Pompeii were asphyxiated by piles of ash and pumice which completely covered them. This debris hardened, encasing their bodies for eternity in the throes of death, capturing facial expressions as they struggled for air and outstretched hands as they reached for their loved ones. A few miles away, in the city of Herculaneum, a pyroclastic blast of intense heat sent a superheated wave of gas, ash and pumice which vaporized the flesh of its victims and sent poisonous gases into the air. So, an earthquake, volcanic eruption and a pyroclastic blast combined to create havoc.
These cities were buried and eventually forgotten until accidental discoveries in the 1700’s. Everyday objects, including food and furniture were amazingly preserved. Experts believe that Vesuvius is long overdue for another serious eruption. Now, about 3 million inhabitants of the region plus the countless daily visitors walk in the footsteps of an ancient people seemingly unconcerned about the inherent danger. How will they escape? Is their fate already sealed?
You would think this story alone would serve as the plot of a movie entitled “Pompeii.” For some reason, it was decided the story should revolve around gladiators fighting each other to the death with Milo ( played by Kit Harington, Jon Snow of “Game of Thrones”) , a slave turned fierce gladiator attempting to save his new love, Cassia (the beautiful daughter of a wealthy merchant) from the hands of the evil, corrupt Roman senator, Corvas (played by Kiefer Sutherland, Jack Bauer of “24”) in a chariot race through fires, flowing lava, falling buildings and clashing swords aided by a fellow gladiator, Atticus (played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Give me a break! These characters are so cliché. The actors are out of their comfort zone. The female actors did a much better job. Cassia and the slave girl delivered believable, appropriate performances. The dialogue is sophomoric. What should be a sub-plot is elevated to plot status undermining the integrity of the movie.
Also, anyone who is familiar with the characters of Jon Snow and Jack Bauer knows these two actors don’t emote. Neither one is particularly good at delivering lines. Kit Harington was stiff and expressionless which he gets away with in the frozen wasteland of The Wall or playing cat and mouse games with the Wildlings. Kiefer Sutherland needs to learn phraseology. His speech is choppy, pausing in the wrong places with the Jack Bauer mumble. Gestures? Kiefer doesn’t know how to use them. He mostly gestures after the line is delivered. Oops.
Special effects? Not so special. It reminded me of the movies of my childhood: “King Kong”, “Godzilla” and “Mothra.” Remember how the Japanese-made “Godzilla” used toy trains and pretended they were life size as Godzilla made his deadly attack on its passengers of who tumbled into the abyss below– if they weren’t eaten by the flying monster first? It was obvious to the viewer that the set was pretend but we accepted it since that was as good as it got–in those days –but not now! No fewer than six special effects companies contributed to this disaster of a film. Is this the best they can do?
A few weeks ago, my blog post was on the importance of narrators in audiobooks. The narrator cannot be separate from the success of an audiobook. I conclude now that special effects and actors cannot be separate from the success of a movie.
“The medium is the message” as proclaimed by the communications philosopher, Marshall McLuhan, still holds true today.
Therefore, special effects and actors are the movie.
Next week’s blog… “Think Twice-Lisa Scottoline: Why It would Make a Good Movie”
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Watch this video for another review of this movie.
Watch this video for a sample of special effects from this movie.
Watch this 58 minute documentary about the eruption of Mt.Vesuvius in 79AD.