Saturday, 1 March 2014

A Pinoy At The Movies: Pompeii

                                                 (The movie's official poster)

When I was little, I read all the volumes of the encyclopedia our parents bought for me and my brother (my sister wasn't born then).  I remember reading about a buried city called Pompeii in one of pages, which narrated the history of the city and had pictures showing what was excavated at the ruins. Pompeii was showered with molten lava, rocks and everything that Mount Vesuvius spewed out on that day in 79 AD.

Remembering my reading of this city actually drove me to watch the movie. In a way, since I already read the 'book', it was time I saw the movie.

I have always been fascinated with period movies, especially those that tell the story of the olden times, and especially if the production design, costumes and actors are topnotch. Gladiator, Cleopatra, Troy, Elizabeth, Elizabeth: Golden Age and The Other Boleyn Girl are just a few I watched and could remember.

But this one was, well, good enough. Good enough to put faces and stories into what I remember from the encyclopedia, plus a couple of lessons on volcanology: one, do not build a city next to an active volcano, and two, you can never outrun a megaton of an explosion.

I wonder if gladiatorial combats were the only pastime during the Roman Empire. Why? Because the lead actor, Kit Harington playing Milo, was a gladiator from a Roman province of Britannia.  His character immediately reminded me of Gladiator, while the dialogue and accents of the actors reminded me of the TV series, Spartacus, whose language was so very contemporary Hollywood.

And not to be outdone, Kiefer Sutherland, playing a Roman senator from Rome, spoke with a British accent! Maybe because, in the movie, he spent most of his political career in the ancient Britannia?? I just couldn't shake the image of Jack Bauer every time Kiefer Sutherland is on the screen all dressed up looking like a very rich and powerful senator with bodyguards around him. In his hit TV series 24, he always fought bad guys alone and wore affordable work clothes. Ha-ha-ha! He also fought with swords this time, no guns.

The lead actress, Emily Browning, played Cassia, the daughter of the rich Pompeii mayor Severus and his wife Aurelia. Cassia was returning from a one-year vacation in Rome (yes, she could afford staying in the one of the world's most expensive cities for a year without any obvious employment!). Severus was played by Jared Harris, whom I recognized as Professor Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes, while Aurelia, Carrie-Ann Moss, was Trinity in The Matrix series.

Well, if you're familiar with the history Pompeii, this movie doesn't have a happy ending. While the story of Milo, Cassia and everyone else revolved around power, forbidden love and an occasional horseback-riding and gladiatorial entertainment, the ending was actually the highlight for me. 

The narration I read in the encyclopedia when I was little came to life in the last minutes of the movie. This was the reenactment on how Pompeii was buried by Mount Vesuvius and it cost me KRW9,000 at CGV Yongsan for this continued education. Ha-ha-ha! 

The visual effects of the final hours of Pompeii were realistic enough for me: dark ash clouds, molten lava flows, tsunami flowing into the city, fiery boulders landing everywhere, and the most painful scene of the sea swallowing the villa where Severus and his family lived. Painful because that villa not only was huge and could be owned by a billionaire in these modern times, it was spectacularly seated by the sea with a stunning view of the ocean at the front and Mount Vesuvius at the back. It could be a holiday resort by now.

I wonder if Milo and Cassia were among those excavated among the ruins of Pompeii. Though my childhood education of Pompeii only included photos of nameless frozen bodies buried in ash, I think I can now include these characters whenever I remember Pompeii. Or when I visit this historical city in Italy someday. :-)

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