A Tale of Two Hacks – Pompeii

I took a mental health day to clear my head and went to the movies. Unfortunately I had seen most of what was showing so off to Pompeii.




PompeiiĀ (2014) – Rated PG-13

A slave-turned-gladiator finds himself in a race against time to save his true love, who has been betrothed to a corrupt Roman Senator. As Mount Vesuvius erupts, he must fight to save his beloved as Pompeii crumbles around him.

One Line Review: Jon Snow should have waited for winter.

I hardly know where to begin with Pompeii. I was very fortunate to have visited Pompeii some years ago and the ruins are absolutely fascinating. In this movie, and others depicting this event, Mt. Vesuvius is shown dramatically towering in the background. When I was there, you could barely see Mt. Vesuvius in the distance so it is no wonder that people weren’t alarmed by the early stages.

Although director Paul W.S. Anderson claims a rather lavish reconstruction of the city, Pompeii had no such harbor as depicted in the movie. Nearby Herculaneum (also destroyed) was the harbor city though I guess it doesn’t have the name recognition. Women in Pompeii, particularly Aurelia and Cassia, are portrayed ahistorically, as viewed through modern sensibilities.

Paul W.S. Anderson has a flair for visuals, particularly special effects. Mortal Kombat was a fun albeit dumb movie. Event Horizon was a fun but dumb movie. Resident Evil was a fun but dumb movie. Unfortunately as he is given higher and higher budgets, the special effects go up but the fun goes down.

Two of the three scriptwriters, Janet Scott Batchler and Lee Batchler, are best known for the execrable Batman Forever. I’m not kidding. They also haven’t made a movie in a decade. The third writer, Michael Robert Johnson, was one of four credited writers on Sherlock Holmes (2009) but that is his only other credit.

The writing on Pompeii is just awful. Jared Harris looks pained at every line he has to utter. Unfortunately, Kiefer Sutherland seems to have chosen the Joaquin Phoenix route as a Roman ruler. The leads, Kit Harington (so good in Game of Thrones) and Emily Browning, merely look good. They don’t act well, aren’t charismatic, and have little chemistry on screen. You know nothing, Jon Snow!

The movie is clearly patterned off of James Cameron’s Titanic – so much so that it could be called plagiarism. Young man of the lower classes falls in love with bored, socially progressive, high society girl. Unfortunately parents have arranged her marriage to a very powerful, rich, and evil man. This evil man has a ruthless bodyguard with a weapon and knows how to quash his rival. Plans are set in motion and then calamity strikes. All they did was view this through a standard peplum gladiator plot.

The final act of Pompeii is the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and its impact on our players. The eruption and aftermath are quite well-handled and visually impressive. In reality, there were no fireballs raining down (that’s a different type of eruption) but there was a lot of eye candy. No spoilers but I did enjoy the way the movie ended, particularly as I’d been to the ruins.

Paul W.S. Anderson is currently at work on Resident Evil 6 with his wife, star Milla Jovovich.

Ghost Ship – Don’t Get on That Boat Week!

Sometimes it seems too easy to do a particular week on a genre or a particular star or director. This week is Don’t Get on That Boat! week. Ghost Ship is currently available on instant Netflix.

Ghost Ship

PASS: Ghost Ship (2002) – Rated R for strong violence, gore, language and sexuality.

“Dispatched to recover a long-lost passenger ship found floating lifeless on the Bering Sea, the crew of the Arctic Warrior salvage tug soon becomes trapped inside the mysterious vessel — which they quickly realize is far from abandoned. But just who — or what — is on board remains to be seen. Gabriel Byrne, Isaiah Washington and Julianna Margulies lead the cast in this high-seas horror film directed by Steve Beck.”

“Congratulations. You found a boat. In the middle of the ocean of all places.”

*Sniff* What’s that I smell? It smells good yet rotten at the same time. Yes indeed it smells like wasted potential.

The idea of a cursed or haunted ship is a good one all by itself. Watching the first scene in the movie, while heavy-handed, is very entertaining. Later flashbacks to events surrounding the first scene gave me the impression that the movie might have been much better if it had been about the original cruise and not the salvor’s voyage.

The story is written by Mark Hanlon and the screenplay is written by Mark Hanlon and John Pogue. The story is a good one with a fair number of really nice touches. The dialogue is almost jaw-droppingly awful. I’d quote some to show you but sadly this comes from the school of ‘let’s show how hip we are by dropping profanity in every other sentence’ screenwriting.

The cast is pretty good for a horror movie. Gabriel Byrne is largely wasted as the salvage captain. Julianna Margulies capably plays the tough heroine. Bizarrely out of place is Isaiah Washington whose character doesn’t seem to fit in at all with the rest of the crew. Ron Eldard, Desmond Harrington and Alex Dimitriades round out the crew.

While the opening sequence is almost a reason to recommend this film, the rest of the film doesn’t measure up. It’s not that the film is particularly bad (except the dialogue), it just isn’t very good either.

People Watch: Look for Karl Urban (Bones on the new Star Trek movie) as a crew member and Emily Browning (Violet from Lemony Snicket) as a young passenger.