The spirit of Steve Reeves lives on. If you aren’t familiar with Mr. Reeves’ oeuvre, he was Hercules before Kevin Sorbo, a legend of beefcake historical drama movies. His movies were all about bulging muscles, swinging swords and damsels in revealing togas.
Which brings me to the spiritual cousin to the Reeves movies, Pompeii, which adds spewing lava, but not much else to the sword and sandal genre. Physically Jason Statham sound-a-like Kit Harrington is up to the heroic Reeves role but is slowed down by the thick layer of molten cheese covers almost every frame of this film.
Set in the shadow of the gurgling volcano Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii Game of Thrones heartthrob Harrington is the muscle bound Milo. His tribe, including his entire family, was wiped out by the vicious Roman Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) dooming him to a lonely life of servitude under the thumb of Roman masters.
Years later as a gladiator in Pompeii’s coliseum he sees a way to exact revenge and save Cassia (Emily Browning), the most beautiful girl in the lush resort town. As warriors Milo and Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) battle Roman soldiers in the coliseum the volcano erupts, causing havoc.
Will Milo get vengeance and save Cassia before a rolling mountain of lava and ash covers the city?
Harrington, Sutherland and Browning are the above-the-title stars here, but the real scene-stealer is Mount Vesuvius. Unfortunately it takes way too long for the volcano to to blow its top and when it does the special effects aren’t quite as spectacular as you might hope from a CGI extravaganza. As you might expect there are flying lava meteorites, bubbling lava and crumbling buildings, but it’s mostly just a bombastic CGI fest.
On top of that is muddy looking 3D that would make Steve Reeves squint. The film overall is dark as though the whole thing was shot through a cloud of volcanic ash.
I did get a kick out of a prison guard loudly waking up the jailed gladiators by shouting, “Wake up scum!” but by the time the credits started to roll I felt that slave trader Graecus was speaking directly to me when he said, “You dragged me from a perfectly good brothel for this?”
It’s said the people of Pompeii regarded the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. with “a response more of curiosity than of alarm.” The volcano had burped and belched as many as 50 times over the years, so most of the city’s 20,000 citizens didn’t pay attention when Vesuvius started to gurgle.
Perhaps they were too busy visiting one of the city’s many brothels — like a proto-Las Vegas, this was the richest city of ancient times, ripe with amenities and vice — or enjoying their lunches of broad beans, olives, dormice (plumped up by chefs in terracotta jars) or even garum, made from the first blood of a still-gasping mackerel, to detect the cloud of deadly volcanic ash headed their way.
By the end of the day the dust “poured across the land,” claiming 2,000 lives. Buried beneath, “a darkness… like the black of closed and unlighted rooms.” The remains of Pompeii and its people were preserved, left untouched for two millennia.
Today the ancient city of Pompeii is one of the most popular attractions in Italy, drawing almost three million tourists annually. But if you can’t make it to the Italian region of Campania, a new movie aims to recreate the experience for you.
Pompeii stars Kit Harington, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Browning and Kiefer Sutherland in a love story about a slave-turned-gladiator (Harington) who must rescue his beloved, Cassia (Browning), before a rolling mountain of lava and ash dooms her to the ages.
The big action adventure take on the story directed by Resident Evil helmer Paul W.S. Anderson has an ancestor in The Last Days of Pompeii, a 1913 silent sword-and-sandal movie based on the Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton novel of the same name. That book has been remade eight times.
The most famous version came in 1959. The big budget CinemaScope production was to have been directed by Mario Bonnard, but when he fell ill on the first day of shooting, screenwriter Sergio Leone (who would go on to make classics like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) stepped in. It’s big on pageantry, just as the advertising taglines would suggest. It’s a “Fiery Summit of Spectacle,” the posters screamed, promising an inside look at, “the City that Lived in Sin and Died in Flame!”
Certainly it’s more puffed-up than Up Pompeii, a 1971 Frankie Howerd comedy that featured a speech by emperor Ludicrus Sextus during Vesuvius’ eruption.
“I say, Lurcio, how did my speech go?” he asks his servant as the city crumbles.