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'Pompeii' Review: Eye-Rolling Dialogue, Eye-Popping Special Effects

An Nicholson An Nicholson
February 20th, 2014 9:35pm EST
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Pompeii

'Pompeii' will not break Shakespearean records or win the Oscar for best script. Considering I spent the film's first half rolling my eyes at its terrible, hackneyed dialogue, I will wholeheartedly admit the amazing special effects saved it from Razzie nominations.

'Pompeii,' directed/produced by Paul W.S. Anderson ('Resident Evil'), surrounds the burgeoning gladiator friendship between Celtic horse Warrior Milo, Kit Harrington ('Game of Thrones'), and African warrior Atticus, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje ('Thor 2', 'Oz'). The subplot incorporates Kit's growing attraction to Cassia (Emily Browning), the daughter of a wealthy businessman, even as an evil Roman senator, Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), relentlessly pursues her.

I went into 'Pompeii' with low to middling expectations. The advanced trailers constructed the film as a big budget blockbuster with little intelligent dialogue and, that's exactly what I got. Even though respected writers Julian Fellowes ('Downton Abbey', 'Gosford Park') and Michael Robert Johnson ('Sherlock Holmes') touched the script, I blame Lee and Janet Scott Batchler ('Batman Forever') for the terrible dialogue. Like 'Batman Forever,' the WORST 'Batman' ever, the script's first half contained awkward, stilted, groan-worthy dialogue. Milo and Atticus spewed redundant frenemy one-liners ('I don't like you'/'I don't like you either') while Milo and Cassia played watered down, Disney versions of Romeo and Juliet connecting over a horse's corpse.

Surprisingly, the film's strength emerged from its silences. When dead-eyed, bare-chested Milo unflinchingly mauled a series of larger men, I swooned. When Cassia first entered the lush inner courtyard of her domus, I drooled at the architecture. When Milo and Atticus traveled their world's crumbling infrastructure together; I high-fived the CGI. When Cassia's groom rode through the trembling clear night air, I saw beauty. But, whenever the actors spoke, I heard crap. If the writers stuck to minimal dialogue and pure visuals, the film would've proved more interesting. Instead, the first half provided a cheap re-make of 'Gladiator' and 'Spartacus' with an even thinner underlying storyline. 

Luckily, the second half's volcanic special effects realistically portrayed a culture trapped by unwieldy natural events. Production designer Paul Austerberry, set decorator Jeffrey Melvin, costume designer Wendy Partridge, and the entire art and visual effects departments deserve applause. While the 3D was nothing to speak of, the level of detail in the houses, the delicacy of the women's gowns, Cassia's amazing jewelry and the scientific portrayal of the nautical effects of volcanic eruptions amazed me. I suspect the filmmakers spent more time constructing geologically realistic CGI effects than anything else.

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Photo Credits: Pompeii