Blu-ray Review: Pompeii

Pompeii Blu-ray boxSTUDIO: Sony | DIRECTOR: Paul W.S. Anderson | CAST: Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Keifer Sutherland, Carrie-Anne Moss
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 5/20/2014 | PRICE: DVD $30.99, Blu-ray $35.99, Blu-ray 3D $45.99
BONUSES: deleted scenes, featurettes, commentary
SPECS: PG-13 | 105 min. | Action adventure | aspect ratio 2.40:1 | audio 5.1 DTS-HD | English, English SDH, Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

PompeiiImagine a really cheesy Titanic mixed with Gladiator and a giant volcano thrown in and you’ve got Pompeii. I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Pompeii and was looking forward to this movie, but unfortunately, this is just another film with great visual effects and little else.

The story is poor boy Milo (Kit Harrington, TV’s Game of Thrones) meets aristocratic girl Ariana (Emily Browning, Sucker Punch), whose parents (Memento‘s Carrie-Anne Moss and Lincoln‘s Jared Harris) need money. Rich man Corvus (Keifer Sutherland, Melancholia) can provide said money and he’s got his eye on Ariana. He’s also an ass to Milo, who has the eye of Ariana. Sound familiar? The movie swaps Titanic‘s sinking ship for a burning city and even makes Titanic‘s biggest mistake in sending the heroes back to the danger zone for no real good reason.

Since this is ancient Italy, poor boy Milo is a slave and a gladiator. And that part of Pompeii‘s story has plenty of similarities to Ridley Scott’s much more brilliant 2000 film Gladiator. Producer Jeremy Bolt (Resident Evil: Retribution) even points out the similarity in his commentary with director Paul W.S. Anderson (The Three Musketeers), who quickly says that Pompeii is very different. Well, yes, it’s got a volcano and isn’t as good.

Despite the rehashing of other movies, Pompeii could have still been a decent film if it had a much better script. The cast has some quality actors, but there’s only so much they can do with the cheese they’ve been given. It’s so bad, it’s hard not to lose a little respect for Keifer Sutherland when he says in one of the Blu-ray’s featurettes that he thought the script was good, but who knows, maybe an earlier draft was better.

Despite the lacking of the movie, the Blu-ray is packed with enthusiastic special features. The featurettes are the most interesting. There is some gushing of how wonderful this person or that person was, but there’s also plenty of fun tidbits about filming and the real Pompeii.

Pompeii is a pet project for director Anderson, who says he’s been obsessed with the dead city since he was a kid. In the featurette “The Assembly,” Anderson and others talk about the efforts they went to to make Pompeii as authentic as possible, in its look and staging, at least. I’m no historian, but the movie does look good, from the sets, to the costumes, to the wonderful visual effects.

One of the more interesting featurettes, is “The Costume Shop,” which delves into the history and uses of color to convey character and remain authentic. We even learn that Emily Browning had her ears pierced for this role, because the women of Pompeii were blinged out with all kinds of jewelry.

In “The Volcanic Eruption,” Anderson gives some interesting facts about the real Mount Vesuvius, including that the top of the volcano collapsed during the eruption. What’s a shame is that we don’t hear from or see the visual effects artists who created the volcano. We hear from the people who did practical effects, and they’re good too, but it’s the visual effects that are the best parts of this movie. The volcano is the reason we gave the film a score of 3 out of 5; without it, Pompeii would have been a 2. It’s sad that Hollywood’s dismissing of visual effects artists continues on this disc.

Our Blu-ray had a glitch and I couldn’t get the featurette “Pompeii: Buried in Time” to play, which is a shame. If, as the title suggests, it’s really about the real-life city, the featurette could have been good.

The Blu-ray also offers a horde of deleted and extended scenes, some of which are worth a look. There was a whole storyline with an oracle predicting the ruin of the Pompeii, and it all ended up in the deleted scenes. Some scenes don’t have the visual effects in yet, and one scene provides an unintentional comedic moment: After a character (I won’t spoil who) dies tragically on some steps, the camera pans up to … the film crew wandering around props and craft service. Ahh, the magic of filmmaking.

Rounding out the Blu-ray’s special features is the commentary, which is good. Anderson and Bolt keep their conversation going and provide lots of behind-the-scenes production factoids.

If you like history filmmaking and good visual effects and don’t mind some cheese, you might want to check out the Pompeii Blu-ray for the featurettes and commentary if nothing else.

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About S. Clark

Sam Clark is the former Managing Editor/Online Editor of Video Business magazine. With 19 years experience in journalism, 12 in the home entertainment industry, Sam has been hooked on movies on since she saw E.T. then stared into the sky waiting to meet her own friendly alien. Thanks to her husband’s shared love of movies, Sam reviews Blu-ray discs in a true home theater, with a 118-inch screen, projector and cushy recliners with cup holders.