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‘Pompeii’ story is weak, but visuals are spectacular

By Gary Clift

If you go to see the new film “Pompeii,” pay the extra money and see the three-dimensional version. This is a visual movie first, foremost, and altogether.

And certainly the historic occasion gives the movie lots of opportunities for spectacular visuals. As you’ll remember, Pompeii was a small city in mid Italy during the Roman Empire days. In 79 A.D.., a nearby volcano erupted and buried the town.

Sound breathtakingly eye-popping? Takeallthe Roman town stuff—slaves and chariots and gladiator arenas, shake it with earthquakes, darken it with clouds of dust, lob flaming hunks of volcano crust in, and then roll the molten lava down into the streets.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson includes a tidal wave—he’s set the town on the sea. He hasn’t paid much attention to geography or history in other ways, too. But he has made a movie that looks like a million bucks. More, really, after inflation.

This is Anderson’s second movie in a row made primarily to show off what nobody else is accomplishing with digital 3D. His recent “Three Musketeers” was so 3D that viewers were aware of depth perception all the way through the movie. There are even more opportunities for the special photography in “Pompeii.”

The cast is interesting. Keifer Sutherland, apparently wearing tall dentures, Carrie-Ann Moss, and Melburnian Emily Browning (from “Sucker Punch” and the really creepy “Sleeping Beauty”) are the best-known members.

Kit Harrington, with the worst hair ever in the movies, plays the lead, a Celtic gladiator who wins a real estate developer’s kid’s heart.

The story, though, is pretty silly stuff. Coincidence brings talented fighter Milo to Pompeii on volcano weekend where he immediately falls in love, sees the Legionnaires who killed his family, and kills dozens of guys, partly because that’s his job description and partly because the guys are in his way as he’s trying to save Cassia and flee the city.

It’s a B movie story, something a little too unimaginative for American International to have made in 1960. But then Anderson, who is known for “Fifth Element” and the “Resident Evil” movies, makes it look great. He uses multiple camera angles and lots of color to show dozens of sets, interior and exterior, and all of them look great.

Because Pompeii was buried all at once in ash and lava, the town was preserved. For a couple of hundred years archeologists have been digging out the houses, streets, markets, temples, and so on, discovering watch dogs and horses and a few people frozen there in time.

Pompeii has become a tourist destination, too. Some of the tourists have been writers, and they’ve set stories in Pompeii. The famous novel set there is Bulwer-Lytton’s “Last Days of Pompeii,” but there have even been detective stories set among the ruins.

All of those plots are probably better than the one in Anderson’s movie “Pompeii.” But none of them can even begin to suggest the spectacle the director has made out of the event.

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