The story of Pompeii is one of the most incredible tales in history. The idea of a city of tens of thousands of citizens being utterly destroyed by a volcano during the height of the Roman Empire is simply so dramatic that it reads like fiction. And this only makes one think of the following question: why has there been so little fiction adapted from the story?
Really, there are only a few examples of Pompeii making its way into modern pop culture. In 2003, Random House published Pompeii the novel, written by Robert Harris. It combined historical accounts with fictionalized characters and events to create a compelling tale that was nearly adapted as a film in 2007 before the threat of an actors’ strike canceled production.
Aside from the Harris novel (which received fairly positive reviews), the closest thing we have to a Pompeii adaptation in pop culture is a casino slot game. The game is available on multiple forums, on mobile devices in the Android app store and online with real money gambling at the Betfair Arcade. It latter essentially uses themes and artwork relevant to the infamous volcano eruption as the backdrop to what’s ultimately a fairly ordinary, albeit distinctive, slot machine.
All in all, we’ve seen a fairly shocking lack of focus on this wildly dramatic history. But at long last we now have a major film, Pompeii, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson and starring Kit Harrington (of Game Of Thrones fame). So how does the film come across? Here’s our brief review.
The simplest way to describe Pompeii is that it’s Titanic meets Gladiator. The movie begins in a distant British outpost of the Roman Empire, where a young Celtic boy survives a massacre on his people inflicted by the Roman Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland). We then jump ahead to see Milo/The Celt (Harrington) as a young man starring as a fearsome gladiator in “Londinium,” before he’s sent into the heart of the Empire.
On the road, Milo’s company is made to stand aside while a noble Roman woman and her attendants ride by. When one of her horses is wounded in a carriage crash, Milo earns the affection of the noble Cassia (Emily Browning) by putting the horse down in the most humane way possible.
When Milo’s company arrives in Pompeii, the real story begins. Senator Corvus is back on the scene, courting Cassia while negotiating politics with her father, and all the while Milo is introduced as a gladiator at the Pompeii arena and befriends the established champion, Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). As tensions grow high between Corvus and Cassia’s family, and between Romans and gladiators, the great Mount Vesuvius quakes and rumbles, foreshadowing the eruption that winds up taking up the final third of the movie. And in the face of doom, Milo pursues Cassia, taking out his enemies in the process.
So what’s the verdict? It’s hit and miss. The most exciting aspect of the movie is undoubtedly Kit Harrington’s performance that, despite largely uninteresting dialogue, holds up quite well. Harrington is a budding star, and he makes the most of his opportunity. In fact, his entire romance with Cassia plays out nicely, though it likely reads horribly on paper. Similarly, Milo’s relationship with Atticus is a strong point, as the two form a sort of gladiator alliance that’s entertaining, though not particularly deep.
Where the movie falls flat is in its action and in the character of Senator Corvus. The action is largely cheesy (and oddly enough, lacking blood to a nearly awkward extent), and Corvus is nothing short of a ridiculous villain. He’s pointlessly sinister and too far removed from the core of the film to be appropriately detestable.
Ultimately, it’s certainly a step further than a semi-popular novel and a popular slot game adaptation in bringing the history of Pompeii to life. However, one is left wanting more. The movie had just enough Gladiator in it to make you wish for a more serious and intelligent approach, but in the end it was a fairly forgettable action accompanied by an equally bland script.