Thursday, February 19, 2015

DVD of the Week: Pompeii

I sometime wonder if I'm too hard on films that are essentially good old-fashioned B-movies. I mean, for all it's big-name cast, The Expendables series are B-movies at heart, as was Wolfpunching fiasco The Grey. There is part of me that says you need to critique movies based on what they are, and where they come from, and what would be a terminal failing in a $200m summer tentpole may just be par for the course with quarter of the budget. Its especially true when special effects are a big part of your film, where the bar is constantly being raised by the latest extravaganza and you're still, ultimately, competing with them to an audience that has raised expectations, no matter what you're budget. But the B-movie tradition is all about that challenge, right? Which brings us to the Romans vs Volcanos festival that is Pompeii.

We all know why Pompeii is famous, right? There was a volcano, and it erupted,and destroyed the town. Pompeii does not want you to forget, as it constantly pans towards the mountain and lets characters get all ironic about how it'll all be fine, and it just does that, OK? So the story is pretty simple - Jack and Rose from Titanic as transplanted to Ancient Rome, except that they're a Celtic Gladiator and a local Noble Girl, and the villainous fiance is a Roman Senator asshole, rather than an American Industrialist one. They fall instantly in love despite all the obstacles, although he can't paint, but can kill people quite effectively and thats pretty hot when you're a Roman woman. Also, it's Kit Harrington taking time out from Game of Thrones, looking broody and unhappy in a way only he can. 

Poor Kit Harrington. He seems doomed to be surrounded by older, more experienced actors who steal scenes from him. On Game of Thrones he has to compete with Sean Bean, James Cosmo and Ciaron Hinds and here he gets Jared Harris and an a fabulously hammy Kiefer Sutherland, who know exactly what sort of film they're in and act out accordingly. Pompeii may want to be a mix of Titanic and Gladiator but if they were classed up b-movie stories this is back to the root source. Anyway, just as our star-crossed lovers get all overwrought and things are about to really kick off, what do you know by the damn iceberg hits volcano explodes and everything turns into a Disaster Movie. 

So here the special effects take over, as the town is destroyed by fire balls, more fireballs, a tidal wave, earthquake and finally a wave of ash and lava. This takes a surprisingly long time, and the characters get to run through a lot of crowds in both directions for a bit, and then all the crowds sort of vanish so they can go chariot racing. I mean, you can't set a film in Roman times without a bit of chariot racing, right? 

I enjoyed Pompeii more, perhaps, than I should have. I mean, it's totally daft, over-wrought in some ways and not wrought enough in others. It has a totally, laugh-our-loud final moment that seems to think its showing us a love for the ages. But it is, on the whole, a lot of fun, and it deserves credit for that; it's what B-movies are for