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Still shot from the movie: Pompeii.

Pompeii

Archeology can only tell us so much about Pompeii, but Hollywood is free to invent any story it likes. In this movie, set in the ill-fated city around 79 A.D., a gladiator (Kit Harington) takes on the greatest opponent of his life -- the erupting Mount Vesuvius -- in order to save his true love (Emily Browning).

Overall Grade: C
Violence: D
Sexual Content: B
Language: B+
Drugs/Alcohol: B+
Release Date: 21 Feb 2014
Run Time: 105
MPAA Rating: PG-13

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In-Depth Review

What happens when you take a historical event, which ends with an entire population being killed by an exploding volcano, and make it into a 100-minute movie? Well, you have to do a fair amount of postulating to fill in the details no one recorded. And that’s what the makers of the movie Pompeii have done.

In 79 A.D., the coastal city in the Italian region has become a kind of holiday resort for the Roman conquerors who’ve invaded the country. Severus (Jared Harris) and his wife Aurelia (Carrie-Anne Moss) are Pompeians hosting Senator Corvus (Keifer Sutherland) and his contingency of soldiers. Severus hopes to find favor with the Roman military leader and in turn the new Emperor. He’s made detailed plans for a new coliseum, bathhouses and brothels to be built in his city for the visiting Romans.

But Corvus wants something more. He desirers Severus’s daughter Cassia (Emily Browning) for his wife. The young woman, however, has just returned from a year’s stay in Rome and she wishes to have nothing to do with the cruel and corrupted commander. Instead, she has her eye on Milo (Kit Harington), a Celtic slave who fights in the stadium with the other imprisoned gladiators.

To allow for story development the script begins several days before the actual eruption—long enough for us to know that Corvus has had a previous encounter with Cassia and that it is unlikely she will be able to refuse the merciless Roman who is used to getting whatever he wants. There’s also a flashback to Milo’s childhood when Roman soldiers slaughtered his entire village in front of his eyes and left the little boy for dead in a pile of bloody corpses. (The scenes of stabbings, neck slitting and unrestrained killings during the attack are graphic and gruesome.) Now as a man, the gladiator recognizes Senator Corvus, and his right-hand man Proculus (Sasha Roiz), as the leaders of the massacre. That awareness sets the stage for repeated attempts to get revenge when Milo escapes his chains and comes face to face with the barbaric Romans.

Disaster movies follow a pretty predictable plot line. And Pompeii is no different. Audiences are continually reminded about the impending explosion with frequent shots of the imposing volcano. Meanwhile the citizens go about their every day lives—hosting parties, doing business, dealing with unwanted sexual advances and engaging in political intrigue—unaware each rumbling tremor is slowly crumbling the undergirding of the city.

When the mountain finally blows her top, blobs of fiery lava rain down on the buildings, starting fires and leaving bodies charred and burning. People are crushed by falling stones and milling crowds. A gigantic tsunami capsizes boats and crashes through the ancient streets, drowning hundreds, while nearby a man races his chariot down a road conveniently clear of debris and throngs of people. In the midst of it all, several characters still stop to settle old grudges with swordfights.

Unbelievable? Yes. A little disappointing? Well, sure.

In the 1970s movies like Earthquake, The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure were a dime a dozen. But special effects and a cast of big stars are no longer enough to please moviegoers. Now they expect strong storylines to build empathy for the characters and enough attention to detail that implausibly empty streets in the middle of a disaster zone don’t become a distraction.

Content Details: Beyond the Movie Ratings...

Violence: Characters are stabbed, shot, beaten, run over, pushed to the ground, tortured, lashed and impaled. Characters engage in frequent swordfights and hand-to-hand combat that results in the death of many. Characters have their neck’s slit, including a mother that is killed in front of her child. Corpses are piled up or hung from trees as a warning to others. A living child is buried in a pile of dead bodies. Characters are slapped, chained up and thrown in prison. Many are forced to fight to the death in gladiator competitions. Other characters are crushed, drowned, engulfed in fire or killed by poisonous fumes and flames. Scenes frequently depict bloody or gruesome wounds and deaths. The charred remains of a person are seen.

Sexual Content: A couple briefly embraces and kisses. A man is angry about being summoned from a brothel. A man makes unwelcome advances toward a much younger woman.

Language: The script contains one profanity, along with infrequent slurs and degrading comments.

Alcohol / Drug Use:Characters drink in homes and other social settings.

Discussion Ideas: Talk About the Movie...

How did the Romans treat those they conquered? What kind of reception does Corvus receive from the locals in Pompeii? Why does the Senator try to save face when Milo and a fellow fighter (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) defeat all the other gladiators by attributing their success to the will of a Roman god?

Why do the residents of Pompeii, as depicted in this movie, appear to be so indifferent to the increasing rumblings and plumes of smoke coming from the volcano? What historical information have archeologist gathered from ruins of Pompeii? Learn more about the history of this city.

Video alternatives

Roman society is depicted in The Eagle, The Robe and Ben-Hur. Another volcanic disaster is depicted in Dante’s Peak.

Home Video Notes

Home Video Notes: Pompeii

Release Date: 20 May 2014

Pompeii releases to home video (Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy) with the following special features:

- Pompeii - Buried in time - Behind the scenes of ancient history greatest disaster

- Filmmakers’ Commentary

- The Assembly - Cast and characters

- The Volcanic Eruption - Special Effects

- 20 Deleted and Alternate Scenes

- The Journey: Production Design

- The Costume Shop: Costume Design

- The Gladiators: Stunts

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About the Reviewer: Kerry Bennett

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