Pompeii (2014) – reviewed by George

I see lots of articles where pundits say that such-and-such a movie failed to make the projected box office goal because of the marketing. And then most of the time they cite the supposed wrong-headedness of the marketing department’s effort. I always remain unconvinced because I think it is far more likely that, if marketing is at fault, it’s not what they did, but what they didn’t do.

Pompeii is an example. According to boxoffice.com the picture cost $115,000,000 , and according to boxofficemojo.com it made $97,646,700 worldwide. It was sold as a 3-D special effects disaster spectacle (which it certainly is), but I think they would have done better to use about half their promotional funds on letting us know who the actors in the film were. I knew Kiefer Sutherland was in it, and that is all. They had plenty of opportunities to trumpet the cast. After all, the lead is played by Kit Harrington, Jon Snow on Game of Thrones, and the second villain is played by Sasha Roiz, Captain Renard on Grimm. Further, Emily Browning has the female lead, and she played Babydoll in Sucker Punch, and Jared Harris plays her father and he was Lane Pryce on Mad Men for 35 episodes, the unfortunate guy who borrowed money from the company just before it went into free fall and then he couldn’t pay it back. Carrie-Anne Moss of the Matrix pics plays her mother, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje of Lost plays Kit’s gladiator rival-then-buddy.

Yes, I realize that the four gentlemen are all known for TV work rather than film, and that TV means as much to movie studio people as the evening newspaper in Bangkok means to me. Still, don’t you think it’s time Hollywood studio heads and their marketers started watching some television instead of features every night? Not knowing what we stay home for, how can they know what will get us out to the movie theater?

This is by no means a grade-A movie. But it’s a solid C+, or even a B-, depending on how you’re feeling the day you see it (so many critics have dyspepsia and the review depends on what they had to eat that day). It has a classic type of set-up: the boy whose family is decimated and the hate he feels for the killers, followed by revenge fantasies realized, all draped around a well-known horrific natural disaster, and for the first hour and 45 minutes I enjoyed it a lot. When the action shifted to the harbor and the fight for a place on a ship, I got bored, but soon we were back to the plight of the romantic leads, and I sat up to watch again. Plus, the ending was a surprise, and I always welcome that.

Today is the first day of the DVD release, and I watched in 2-D, but I don’t feel that I missed much, The trajectory of the fiery rocks expelled from Vesuvius did not look to me as if they were headed for the audience, but maybe that’s because I wasn’t watching in 3-D. At any rate this is a decent flick with a plot that really could exist without the volcano. Instead of Celtic slaves against the Roman oppressors and a volcano erupts, it could have been labor against management in Brooklyn and there’s a warehouse fire, or environmentalists against CEOs and there’s Hurricane Katrina. But only you can decide if you want to spend the time on this particular permutation.

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