Sunday, February 23, 2014

Pompeii [2014]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars) (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune (R. Rodriguez) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

I think the key to understanding Pompeii [2014] (directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, screenplay by Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler and Michael Robert Johnson) is the PG-13 rating, that is, like in his "kinda crazy" rendition of The Three Musketeers [2011], Anderson was aiming for a teenage, and perhaps younger teenage audience (13-15 year olds).  When do we normally take "World History" in high school in the U.S.?  Freshman year (when we're 14-15 years old).

And here I have to give director Anderson credit.  Just like IMHO he captured _the spirit_ of The Three Musketeers (intended originally as an _adventure novel_ for young teenagers) and expressed it, yes, "crazily" but for teens of the modern day, I think he did it again with regard to teaching some basic Roman history / culture with this current film Pompeii [2014] INVOKING SOME "MEMES" FROM CONTEMPORARY CULTURE that every teenager (at least in the U.S.A. today) would know.

The destruction of the seaside city Roman city of Pompeii in 79 AD was an enormous tragedy for that civilization comparable to the destruction wrought by recent Tsunamis particularly the Tsunamis of 2004 in the Indian Ocean and 2011 in Japan.  Just about every high school student in the country (and perhaps across the world) will have images of those two tsunamis burned into his/her memory.  So, even though there's no historical mention of a tsunami associated with the eruption Mt. Vesuvius that completely buried the city of Pompeii in ash in 79, it's BOTH NOT an impossibility (both Pompeii and Vesuvius were close to the sea) AND including a "tsunami scene" in the film during the course of its depiction of the cataclysmic eruption HELPS VIEWERS APPRECIATE FROM THEIR OWN EXPERIENCE THE MAGNITUDE OF THE DISASTER THAT THEY WERE WATCHING.

Then, the discovery during excavations at Pompeii of eerily hollowed out remains of some of the victims (basically holes left in the ash where they would have fallen as they died) of the tragedy has over recent decades added a uniquely human dimension to the disaster that happened nearly 2000 years.  At excavations have found at times entire families huddled together (and killed and buried by the burning ash).  Thus though the tragedy took place nearly 2000 years ago, we today can actually "see" some of the victims, or at least what the ash left of their forms as they died on that day.

So I understand Anderson and his screenwriters' decision to explain the disaster in Pompeii using a similar story-telling technique to that used by James Cameron in Titanic [1997], which also sought to put a human face on that disaster.  James Cameron created "a doomed love story" between one who survived the Titanic's sinking and one who did not.  In the case of Pompeii [2014], with the hollowed-out remains of those who had died now having been found across various parts of the excavated city, Anderson and his scriptwriters basically created a story around two of the victims found in an embrace.  "Awww...." BUT THAT'S A STORY THAT A 14 YEAR OLD COULD BE HOOKED INTO: "They were in love, but then came this disaster and ..."

Then, to tell the story of the "whole" of Pompeii (or even of the "whole of Roman civilization of the time") it behooved Anderson, et al, to CHOOSE to make the two lovebirds found in that embrace OF WIDELY DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS.  Again James Cameron did the same in his telling of the "whole story of the Titanic."  In Cameron's Titanic [1997] Rose was from an upperclass family traveling firstclass to the U.S. on the Titanic while Jack was essentially a stowaway from the lower decks in steerage.  In the case of the current film, Milo (played by Kit Harington) was a Celtic "gladiator slave," while Cassia (played by Emily Browning) was a young woman from a reasonably wealthy (but still "provincial") family from Pompeii.  Further, like Rose from the Titanic, Cassia had an unwelcome yet powerful suitor, here amusingly named Corvus (played by Kiefer Sutherland) from Rome (amusingly named because "Corvus" literally translates to "Raven" or "Crow" from Latin).

Now how would the "gladiating" slave Milo ever meet the sweet and somewhat rich girl with a problem?  Well, go see the movie ;-).  And once they do meet, well, the rest of the story follows...

Certainly this film is not a documentary, nor an Alistair Cooke [IMDb] / PBS Masterpiece Theater [IMDb] quality piece.  However, I do think that a 14 year old would be entertained and would learn actually quite a bit about life in the Roman Empire at the time of Pompeii's destruction.  All the social strata are there, the cosmopolitan nature of that Empire (one could run into "anyone from anywhere" on its streets, highways or byways) and even some of the abuses of power and corruption that eventually brought the Empire down were shown.  And this was all done in a manner that a teenager could easily understand and even be hooked into seeking to go out and learn some more

So I have to say that like director Anderson's The Three Musketeers [2011] before it, I enjoyed this film and can not but be impressed by his willingness to "risk" in bringing these stories to life in a way that teenagers today could appreciate.  Good job!

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