Pompeii

Rating:

THE OX AND THE ASH

Main Cast: Kit Harrington, Emily Browning

Director: Paul W. S. Anderson

Joseph, my manager, has been shopping the completed footage for my new holiday special, Dancing with the Star: MNM’s Salute to Holidays Around The World to various networks and reports that he is close to signing a deal with TLC. There is apparently a hole in their schedule after the sudden cancellation of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo! and my stellar work can fill it. I’ve been told that if the ratings are good, it can be considered the pilot for a new series entitled Here Comes MNM! but I’m not sure I want reality TV crews invading my inner sancta here at Chateau Maine. I’ll leave it up to my management and accountants to decide if it’s too good a deal to pass up. Just as long as I don’t have to refer to Normy as Sugar Bear on camera I suppose. We have one more major production number to film, a salute to the modern Japanese Christmas complete with a kick line of Santas and a lot of product placement from consumer electronics companies.

The authors of my new football musical, Any Given Sunday in the Park, have finally listened to reason and restructured the entire second act around my character. She now has to take to the field just in the nick of time to kick the winning field goal. The designers wanted me to do it in full football gear but I finally convinced them that a pair of athletic tap shorts in team colors with a midriff cutoff top would be so much more fetching. They can make a miniature football helmet into some sort of headdress for my elaborate hairstyle as long as it doesn’t obscure my face. We have hit one snag though, the NFL refuses to allow us to call the big game the Super Bowl so we have to change it. As I want it to be a terribly modern and up to date show, I have suggested we call it the E-Bowl and tie it in with E-mail and E-commerce and other such modern inventions. Perhaps we can get Apple to come in as a producing partner. I’ve heard Tim Cook is quite a fan of mine.

Joseph has also contacted Paper Magazine about my being their next cover model as a teaser for these upcoming projects. It could be quite wonderful but I’ll have to wear a little something more than Vaseline and a champagne glass. I once tried doing a tap number in a revealing costume for an avant-garde Warhol film back in the sixties and the results were an unmitigated disaster, especially the splits. Fortunately that film has long been suppressed and no copies are known to remain.

Pompeii Movie Poster (275x155)Disasters being a bit on my mind, I decided that there would be nothing better than the viewing of a good old fashioned disaster flick so I toddled off to Best Buy at the local strip mall and found a sale copy of the DVD of that granddaddy of all disaster stories, Pompeii, a film released earlier this year by Sony Pictures. There isn’t a person in the Western world who does not know the story of August 24th, 79 CE when Mount Vesuvius suddenly erupted destroying the small Roman seaside resort of Pompeii, a sort of imperial West Palm, entombing it in pumice and ash until it was rediscovered some 1500 years later after the Renaissance. The writing of bad novels and making of bad movies about the incident has been something of a cottage industry over the last few centuries and every few decades, another one turns up. (We filmed a lovely dream sequence in the ruins a few years ago for my movie Goodfollies but it was unfortunately cut from the final print.)

This time around, director Paul W. S. Anderson (not to be confused with Paul Thomas Anderson who directs good films) and a bunch of screenwriters of whom I had never heard take the plunge. They decided to use Gladiator as their model for a modern swords and sandals epic and create a leading man, Milo, a Celtic Gladiator (Kit Harrington). In a prologue, we learn that as a child, he is the sole survivor of a massacre of the Celts by the Romans and is taken prisoner and trained in the gladiatorial arts. His popularity in the arena of Londinium, of course, assures a one way ticket to Pompeii. Here he falls in with the daughter (Emily Browning) of the rulers of Pompeii (Jared Harris and Carrie-Anne Moss). Romance blooms between the star crossed lovers but first he has to survive the arena where he must fight with the Nubian Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) against the machinations of the evil Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) who was responsible for the massacre that killed Milo’s family (and who hasn’t aged a bit in twenty years). In the middle of all this, Mount Vesuvius, which towers over the town and the arena, decides to finally pop its top and soon the cast is dodging falling buildings, CGI lava bombs, back stabbing enemies, and the Bay of Naples rushing into town. Love is declared, characters die in various grisly ways and the ending is romantic, but bittersweet.

The movie’s biggest fault is bad casting. Kit Harrington may be bulked up with muscle but he projects no charisma at all in the central role. He essentially plays Milo as being the same character as John Snow, his role in the television epic Game of Thrones. Brooding and sullen only get you so far, especially in a special effects extravaganza. I think the appropriate word for his performance is bovine. Gladiator worked as a film due to the magnetic presence of Russell Crowe and the filmmaking skills of Ridley Scott. Pompeii doesn’t have these things going for it so we really don’t care what happens to Milo or whether he’s going to get either the girl or the evil general. Those in the supporting roles fare somewhat better. Both Jared Harris and Carrie-Anne Moss bring some gravitas and humanity to their roles as the girl’s parents and young Miss Browning, unfamiliar to me, has some spark as the love interest. As the villain of the piece, Kiefer Sutherland seems to be auditioning for one of the monsters in Where the Wild Things Are by doing little other than rolling his terrible eyes and gnashing his terrible teeth. I kept expecting him to appear in a Snidely Whiplash moustache.

The first hour of the film, the lead up to the volcanic explosion, becomes a lot of rather tedious exposition and not terribly well staged scenes in various arenas and villas. The swooping helicopter shots of a CGI Pompeii, pre-destruction, are kind of fun and you can tell the art department did their research. It’s all very detailed and to accurate historical scale, but we’ve all seen too much of this kind of thing for it to be overly convincing. Of course, the true mark of an epic disaster film is how well the disaster, with death, destruction and hordes of screaming extras is handled. I will say that the action sequences that finish off the movie are pretty decent. The authors have definitely read the eyewitness accounts of Pliny the Younger and used them for the general shape of the destruction. A lot of the effects shots are actually in camera work from a decent props and special effects department so it’s real fake ash filling the air, on a superimposition from post production. Unfortunately, the movie has done such a poor job at giving us characters to care about, that when the cast begins to be picked off in various ways, we don’t really care, we’re too busy rooting in the bottom of our popcorn bag for some whole kernels amongst the old maids.

The film is enjoyable for what it is, but isn’t going to be remembered in a few years other than as a blip in the filmographies of actors who have done better work elsewhere. With luck, it will also end Kit Harrington’s career as a film leading man, he’s just not up to it.

Hanging swords. Hanging Celts. Roman maps. Gratuitous servant swallowed by earthquake. Carriage rides. Seaside villas. Collapsing arena. Collapsing sense of story. Gratuitous drownings. Child rescue. Artistic ash casts.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

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