The plot sounds familiar enough: A slave-turned-gladiator finds himself in a race against time to save his true love, a woman who has been betrothed to a corrupt Roman senator.
Didn’t Russell Crowe win an Oscar for something like that?
The difference here is that the story is set against the backdrop of the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
And it’s in 3D.
That’s the main draw of “Pompeii 3D” watching lava and volcanic ash spew out of the screen thanks to life-like, you-are-there, three-dimensional special effects.
Why would moviegoers seek the near-death sensations that killed some 16,000 people in this port city on Italy’s Bay of Naples?
Perhaps for some of the same thrill-seeking reasons we ride roller coasters or sky dive.
We have to admit the CGI S/F are pretty good in “Pompeii 3D,” not the cheesy variety of some earlier versions of this story (1913’s “The Last Days of Pompeii,” 1959’s same-named movie, 1979’s “Up Pompeii”).
And 3D is the trump card.
“Pompeii 3D” is the fourth movie that director Paul W. S. Anderson has shot in 3D so he’s getting pretty good at it. Anderson is the British filmmaker best known for those action-packed “Resident Evil” and “Death Race” movies.
“This was the kind of movie that 3D was built for,” notes Anderson. “I didn’t want it to be a movie like '300’ or the 'Immortals.’ They’re both very stylish films, but they’re not real; they operate in a kind of comic book world.
“And 'Pompeii’ is a real, historical disaster, and I wanted it to look real. So the visual effects have to be to a much higher standard.”
Here, amid the erupting volcano, we have Kit Harington (TV’s “Game of Thrones”) as Milo, the slave who becomes a gladiator. And Emily Browning (“Sucker Punch”) as his imperiled love Cassia. And Keifer Sutherland (TV’s “24”) turns up as the Roman senator to whom Cassia is unwillingly betrothed.
Carrie-Anne Moss (“The Matrix”), Paz Vega (“Spanglish”), and Jared Harris (TV’s “Mad Men”) round out the cast.
Anderson spent six years researching the disaster of Pompeii to make it as historically accurate as possible.
What he found is this (took me about six minutes on Wikipedia): With an eruption that released a hundred thousand times more thermal energy than Hiroshima, Mount Vesuvius shot plumes of gas and pumice more than 20 miles into the air, raining down molten rock and ash onto the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum at the rate of 1.5 million tons per second. A mile-wide lava flow rushed down the mountainside at almost 80 miles per hour, destroying the cities in just 12 hours.
Ironically, the destruction of the two cities occurred on Aug. 24, just one day after Vulcanalia, a festival devoted to the Roman god of fire (including volcanoes).
Covered with thick layers of ash, Pompeii and Herculaneum were abandoned and eventually their names and locations were forgotten. Pompeii was rediscovered in 1599, when workers digging an underground channel unearthed ancient walls covered with paintings and inscriptions.
“The idea of a city that was lost in time for 1,700 years and then rediscovered — it just fascinated me,” Anderson says of his obsession with Pompeii.
For Anderson it’s just an ancient version of a “Death Race.”