Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Pompeii 2D / 3D Blu ray Review

Action, romance and the most famous volcanic event in recorded history collide in the epic adventure Pompeii, is now available on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Kit Harington (TV’s “Game of Thrones”), Emily Browning (Sucker Punch), and Kiefer Sutherland (TV’s “24”) star in this heroic tale of a young slave-turned-gladiator in a race against time to save his true love during the cataclysmic eruption of Italy’s deadly volcano, Mount Vesuvius. Pompeii is directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil: Retribution, The Three Musketeers). Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix series), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Thor: The Dark World), Jessica Lucas (Evil Dead), and Jared Harris (TV’s “Mad Men”) co-star in the film.
Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
A young man known as “the Celt” (Kit Harington) was just a child when we witnessed the brutal murder of his family and his entire village. He was quickly sold into slavery and now competes as a gladiator. Traveling from Rome to Pompeii, he helps an injured horse, catching the attention of a beautiful young woman named Cassia (Emily Browning). Cassia is returning home after an unpleasant stay in Rome. Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) is there to broker a deal between the emperor and Cassia’s father Severus (Jared Harris) but it seems his end game is to make Cassia his wife. Cassia’s mother Aurelia (Carrie-Ann Moss) is concerned that something bad happened in Rome.

The Celt makes an unlikely friend in a fellow fighter Atticus (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje). Atticus is preparing for his final fight. Roman law states that if he wins he is to be set free. The Celt, whose real name is Milo warns Atticus that their captors cannot be trusted. During all fighting between slaves in the coliseum and between Cassia’s family at their villa, smoke rising from the nearby volcano is overlooked. Smoke turns to fire and eventually fireballs traveling at immense speed. As the ground beneath them shakes and crumbles, the skies above them turn dark. The ocean retreats and crashes back delivering devastation on the people of Pompeii.

After recently being underwhelmed by The Legend of Hercules, I’m not yet ready to give up on the entertainment value of gladiators in sandals. The director, Paul W.S. Anderson, is the man who brought us the Resident Evil franchise after all. Before watching this, I was concerned because sure he knows his zombies, but could he take on Pompeii? When I saw the cover art, even more doubt set in when I saw Kiefer Sutherland. Don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of Kiefer Sutherland but as far as I’m concerned Kiefer Sutherland is basically Jack Bauer and Jack Bauer doesn't (and shouldn't) wear tunics and/or sandals. I really hope I'm wrong because I would love to add a new film to my disaster collection. Pompeii could go in the rotation with The Day After Tomorrow and 2012.

But after watching the film, I've discovered that Pompeii follows the usual formula for how to create a disaster film. The instructions have been set by numerous films over the years. 1) Boy has a rough life. 2) Bad boy meets good girl. 3) Boy and girl fall in love. 4) Boy then risks life and limb to save the girl he barely knows. I’m sure many critics have knocked this film for adhering to this tried and true formula but there's no denying that it works. Unlike The Legend of Hercules, this film had a believable love story to hang on to and offered characters to care about. While Kiefer Sutherland plays the bad guy (as he does so well) I still don't think he doesn't belong in a tunic, and I could never tell if he was attempting a foreign accent of some kind.

I also wouldn't be surprised to hear people criticize the realism of people spending so much time running away from the destruction. Its more likely that everyone went up in smoke very quickly and that there was little time to attempt to flee, but that wouldn't make for nearly as exciting of a movie. Not me though. I don't need my destructive movies to be based in fact, I just need them to be entertaining. Pompeii had very good special effects and you never feel like you're just watching a miniature of the city burn, just like you can't pin-point where the CGI starts or ends. This was my kind of movie! It kind of felt like the lava version of The Day After Tomorrow, which is a compliment in my book.
Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Both the 2D and the 3D versions were visually impressive. The color and detail are only slightly better in the 2D version. In the 3D version, the characters have more weight to them but they didn't resort to the typical 3D gimmicks you’d expect. In other words, the fireballs erupting from Mt. Vesuvius do not fly directly at the viewer. It seems like I’ve been getting a lot of 3D movies all of a sudden, but it makes for a nice comparison. Pompeii offers an impressive 3D transfer when compared to the 2D version and other 3D films recently released. There are a lot of dark moments in the cells beneath the coliseum and later in the burning city. In both settings, detail and especially texture are evident. The viewer can feel how dirty the cells are and can imagine the length of a bath it would take to get those prisoners truly clean. The rock and stone used to create the coliseum and surrounding buildings appears authentic and weighty. As the city collapses, there are no obvious foam blocks painted to look like stone. In the 3D version I took note of the shots looking down into the volcano. In 3D the lava really comes alive and flows naturally.
Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Pompeii’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is an excellent compliment to the video presentation. This is exactly what you want to hear from a disaster film. You can hear the tiniest sounds of the earth cracking and can feel the explosions and collapsing structures.  Without the proper sound effects this film would be a complete failure. With all the pandemonium, the details are not lost. Dialogue is even and intelligible throughout. Additionally, the music is well thought out and placed appropriately finding a place amongst the chaos.
Extras (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The special features are interesting overall and do not feel like you’re just re-watching clips of the movie. They all have purpose. In addition to the list below, the film offers an Ultraviolet digital copy. The 2D disc contains all of the following special features, with only the commentary and previews found on the 3D disc:
  • Audio Commentary: Producer/Director Paul W. S. Anderson and Producer Jeremy Bolt offer a worthwhile commentary discussing the film and it’s elements as well as the history of Pompeii.
  • Deleted and Alternate Scenes – Twenty scenes lasting over twenty minutes total.
  • The Assembly - An overview of the characters, lasting more than seven minutes.
  • The Journey – A look at the set design and how the film blends authentic details to achieve modern day entertainment value.
  • The Costume Shop – A look at the costumes with Designer Wendy Partridge.
  • The Volcanic Eruption – An overview of the real-life disaster and a look at the CGI effects that brought it to life.
  • The Gladiators – A roughly six 1/2 minute look at the battle scenes and the training the actors underwent to prepare. 
  • Pompeii: Buried in Time – A lengthy look at the film as a whole – characters, effects, real life elements, digital effects and more. This is the most comprehensive of all the extras.
  • Previews – Previews for That Awkward Moment, The Monuments Men, Afflicted, A Fighting Man and Stalingrad.
Summary (4 out of 5 stars)
Pompeii holds its own with its brothers and sisters in the disaster world – 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Twister, etc. This film combines the disaster world with the gladiator genre which is something you don’t see every day. The emotion is manufactured and it is clear from the beginning where the plot is taking you, but I didn't mind that. Pompeii has a believable (because of chemistry) love story to root for and big fiery explosions at the end to wreck it all for everyone. This is one of those turn your brain off and enjoy it popcorn movies. It has an excellent audio/video presentation in either two or three dimensions and has earned itself a place near the top of my movie shelf. My enjoyment of this film will likely increase with repeated viewings. I wanted to like this one and went into it thinking “please don’t suck” and am happy to say that it doesn’t.

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