Friday, May 30, 2014


Such an enigmatic city Pompeii seemed when I first read about it as a child. I was enthralled by the bodies encased in ash: a young slave girl protecting a baby, husband and wife holding hands, families sealed in their centuries' old tombs imprisoned in the ash that had turned to concrete, and wall painting as fresh as the day they were painted 2000 years ago.

I have since learned a great deal more about what really happened in Pompeii and how so many people died as their city was covered in volcanic ash and sealed with fireballs spewed from Mt. Vesuvius. Hidden history is revealed as we become more advanced and can understand what we are seeing.

And then there is Robert Harris's novel, The Last Days of Pompeii, and the movie made from his book, a movie that highlighted early Christian beliefs. I read the book after I'd seen the movie and was taken back to ancient Pompeii to walk its streets and mingle with the crowds at the coliseum where the gladiators fought and died. I thought I'd have a similar experience when I watched the new movie, Pompeii, last night with Kit Harington playing Milo, the gladiator who loved Cassia, a wealthy young woman far above his station as a slave.

One thing I didn't see in this remake was the Christian element so central to The Last Days of Pompeii. There was no sign of a Christian or lions, just anger, hatred, revenge, and moments of love.

There were echoes of Gladiator in the movie as Milo, known as the Celt, the last of his tribe, fought in the arena and faced down a Roman senator Corvus and his general, Proculus. Corvus  was intent on having Cassia as his wife, his cowed and obedient wife. Corvus had to deal with the slave gladiator and Cassia who had fled Rome to return to Pompeii because she loathed Corvus.

The movie is lavish with special effects as Mt. Vesuvius seethes and rains down fire and mud and ash on teeming Pompeii, a spectacular end as fireballs and ash rained in a day made night by the massive column of ash forked with lightning from the heat and static electricity and lovely in a deadly way. There are gladiatorial battles and poignant moments where Cassia and Milo bond over horses, one injured and the other terrified as it goes mad with the impending doom. The supporting cast is just as good and Harington is somber and dour and has abs chiseled from marble, all the more to enjoy.

I see elements of Russell Crowe in Gladiator throughout Pompeii as Milo bonds with a giant of a gladiator in Atticus, played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as he waits for the last bout in the arena that will make him a free man. The relationship between Atticus and Milo is similar to the friendship between Maximus and Juba, played by Djimon Hounsou. When Maximus is set against Joaquin Phoenix's Commodus and Milo against Corvus. Commodus sends Maximus and the gladiators to their death in a spectacle where history says they will die and Maximus rallies the gladiators to beat their opponents.

In the same manner, Milo and Atticus stand against the Romans re-enacting Corvus's destruction of Milo's Celtic horse lord tribe and kill their opponents.  Corvus sends his troops to kill Milo and Atticus just as Vulcan in the guise of Mt. Vesuvius extends a fiery godly hand and tears the ground from beneath their feet, razing buildings and toppling the citizens into the abyss that opens beneath their feet.

Pompeii is long on special effects, but the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius 2000 years ago was a spectacular display and deserves the effects. The story is simple and sad and there are beautiful moments immortalized in falling ash and lit by volcanic fires. Kit Harington is suitably buff and beautiful and the villains cowardly and evil. There are no gray shadings in this epic movie.

The movie deserves 5/5 stars for its special effects and 3/5 stars for the story line and acting, so I'll rate it 4/5. Not a bad outing for Kit Harington after his brilliant turn as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones on HBO and well within his skills as an actor, but I would like to see Harington try something a little more complex that gives him less time to brood and glower.

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