Love in a Time of Disaster
Pompeii Blu-ray Review
The name Paul W. S. Anderson alone tends to conjure up a different kind of meaning to the term ‘disaster movie’, but his Gladiator-meets-Titanic is actually reasonably tolerable, even if it is still ultimately a throwaway romp.When he was a young boy, Milo (yup, his name is really Milo) saw Jack Bauer slaughter his parents and his entire clan. Growing up to look just like Jon Snow out of Game of Thrones, only with a 12-pack, he gets thrown into gladiator school where he turns out to be... surprise, surprise, a ninja. And when Senator Bauer turns up at the gladiator games, Milo sees red.
To confuse things, though, he happens to be really good at breaking horses’ necks with his bare hands. He even whispers to them sweetly beforehand. And the beautiful Cassia is in awe of his muscles when he snaps their necks... erm, by his tenderness at talking to the horses before killing them. Unfortunately Senator Bauer has his own designs for Cassia. But fortunately Mount Vesuvius has its own designs for the lot of them.The first half plays out as a watered-down, sped-up version of the excellent Spartacus TV series – utterly robbed of sex and violence. It’s troubling watching a film about gladiators which tries to be as violent and suggestive as possible, but doesn’t actually have any violence, and it leaves many of the battles feeling a little more like elaborate playground brawls. It borrows plenty of Gladiator elements – right down to the arena battle – but has none of the depth or characterisation. And then, a little too late, a mountain erupts and it turns into one long Roland Emmerich disaster scene (think the limo / plane escape in 2012). Sutherland has a silly accent but is about the best Anderson could hope for in terms of a villain, and Jon Snow is a sorrowful lead, basically being the same as he was in Game of Thrones (hence my use of the character name). But Anderson, famed for the Resident Evil series, still turns in a gladiator/disaster combo effort that’s almost worthy of Emmerich status, making it more watchable than you’d normally expect.
Pompeii Blu-ray Picture QualityPompeii comes to Region B-locked UK Blu-ray complete with largely excellent 1080p High Definition video, both in its 2D AVC-encoded guise and its 3D MVC-encoded counterpart. The former offers up impressive detail, showcases skin textures, clothing weaves and wear, frayed wood, and cracked pillars. All this with no signs of edge enhancement or other digital anomalies, beyond a hint of barely noticeable and utterly negligible banding. Black levels are strong and deep, allowing for excellent shadow detail, and colours are well-represented; obviously skewed to promote a more period feel suitable for the setting, but still with plenty of strong tones.
Anderson movies may not be famed for their quality, but the last few have been almost universally 3D demo titles.
Surprisingly the 3D counterpart is just as spectacular, with the inherently darker image still promoting largely excellent detail that is only a shade less impressive than on the 2D transfer. It offers up a superb amount of depth, throwing up a decent backdrop which appears to be fluidly layered without any signs of the kinds of cardboard cutout characters that some of the lesser 3D titles used to offer. Landscapes come alive with textures; the city walls strike out from the ground; and the volcano itself explodes out into the air. Characters are generally fully-rounded, and objects take shape and depth too, particularly in the final act as the film kicks up fireballs that veritably threaten to land on your sofa.
Pompeii Blu-ray Sound QualityThe accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is just as impressive, offering up a demo mix that will engulf you right from the outset, and outright ground-pound you by the end. Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently throughout, in spite of the ensuing chaos, largely emanating from across the fronts and centre channels although it takes a distinct second stage in terms of importance opposite the other elements on the track.
The score is bland and uninspiring, generic and meaningless, totally unmemorable – and yet strangely perfectly acceptable for such a watch-once disaster romp like this, seldom detracting from the proceedings, in spite of the fact that it frequently misses the opportunity to properly ignite the tension in the sequences (whatever little there might be).
Effects are the name of the game, however, and you’ll truly get pummelled by this track, which punches, slashes, explodes (although I don’t know how many exploding things they had on offer in the real Pompeii) and smashes you into submission. The surrounds are given a full workout, the LFE track plays a heavy part in the proceedings.
This is a veritable demo experience, immersive and impressive in equal measure.
Pompeii Blu-ray ExtrasIn terms of Extras, we get the same boat-load of supplemental material that adorned the preceding US counterpart, along with a single extra Featurette that doesn’t appear to be featured on the US disc. The Director’s Commentary has Anderson and his usual commentary cohort, Producer Jeremy Bolt, discussing the real history of Pompeii, the ideas they had for a ‘story’, the cast they put together and the more technical aspects of the production. It’s nothing new, but those who like Anderson commentaries should be satisfied. There’s a hefty swathe of Deleted Footage, totally over 23 minutes, much of which would have made for a more epic disaster effort, despite the fact that it would have only further lop-sided the affair into more ‘prelude’ and less ‘disaster’. The Featurettes include Buried in Time, The Weapons of Pompeii, The Assembly, The Journey, The Gladiators, The Volcanic Eruption and The Costume Shop, mostly running about 7 minutes in length but for the Buried in Time offering which is a more substantial look at the production, juxtaposing the real history with the film’s story, and taking an overview of the effects, sets and costumes. The rest focus on the specific elements as per their titles. The disc is rounded off by a series of Trailers.
Is Pompeii Blu-ray Worth BuyingPompeii could have been an outright disaster in more than just name only, but it’s actually a largely unobjectionable fare which ranks as one of the more watchable, less vacuous efforts from P.W.S.A. That, however, doesn’t mean a great deal really when you consider his canon (sure, I have a soft spot for Event Horizon and even Resident Evil 1 but the rest?). It’s a harmless, bloodless blend of gladiator films and disaster epics, put through a cut-and-paster and dished out with a shiny veneer.
The disc, however, is near-reference in every way, with excellent demo 3D, 2D and audio, and a large salvo of extra features..
Worth a watch, you’d probably have to be a dedicated 3D/Anderson fan to opt for a blind buy, so this may be better left on the rental list.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.