Paul W.S. Anderson- I quite liked his Event Horizon movie. Sure, it was a b-movie that was blatantly obvious regards its influences (it was mostly part Alien, part The Shining, amongst others) but it was pretty effective. It looked great, had a few genuine jumps and scares, had a great sense of mood and dread. It marked Anderson as a genuine talent, someone to watch. Well, so I thought at the time.
Alas, he never quite lived up to that, and has never -in my mind at least- come even close to replicating what he achieved with Event Horizon. In hindsight, maybe that film was an indication of what lay ahead, because while he may be technically proficient he’s like a poor-man’s Jim Cameron, with the same lack of writing skills or originality to give his films that extra spark, but lacking the ability of Cameron to marshal huge budgets and production values to hide those faults. I still return to Event Horizon– I bought the DVD, the Blu-ray…. I still find something rewarding in it. Its like an Alien sequel that we never had, in that its almost emphatically set in that same Alien universe (perhaps more so than Scott’s own Prometheus funnily enough). As if Fox was daring enough to think Alien films could be about horrors other than the titular Alien (if only Hollywood were ever that brave with franchises, eh?). I’m a fan of Event Horizon, but regards Anderson’s subsequent films, I always hope for the best but suffer the worst, and only ever watch them once. Once is always enough, and I face each successive film with ever mounting apathy.
So here we have Pompeii, and sadly it lives up to every cliché you could imagine- even for an Anderson picture, this one’s on Autopilot throughout. Its not that its bad, its just so blatantly obvious regards what it is, so patently lazy in its disregard of trying to be anything new or original. Akin to Olympus Has Fallen being a Die Hard movie in all but name, Pompeii, is, well, its Gladiator, complete with its hero being stuck in the arena with a personal grudge against his Roman masters (even to the point of avenging his family), and its Titanic, its star-crossed lovers from different worlds doomed to find love amidst some larger disaster (replacing an Iceberg with a volcano in this case). Its simply no more than its original pitch to the studio “hey- Gladiator mixed with Titanic! Can’t fail!” and if that wasn’t the pitch to the studio, if the scriptwriters just put the damn thing together and sold it as something original, then more shame on them.
The sad thing about director Anderson is that he apparently hasn’t moved away from the Event Horizon method of making his movies- in the absence of any original ideas, just combine two or more earlier movies to make something ‘new’ (“DNA recombination”, as a certain Dr.Tyrell would put it). Its okay to start your career like that but to maintain your career like that? Maybe Anderson needs to start working with a new producer, one able to promote new ideas, search for new properties. Maybe Anderson just can’t get anything else greenlit other than something with a simple pitch like ‘Gladiator meets Titanic’. I hate the word ‘competent’ but thats just what Anderson is- he’s a competent director. He can handle set-pieces, effects, can work well with actors, handles technical productions. He just needs something new to channel his abilities into. I was certain, years ago, that he had it in him, but now I’m not so sure. In his defence, maybe its more to do with how Hollywood works these days, and what films get greenlit, rather than Anderson himself.
Pompeii is just lazy and tired with an ill-judged concept from start to finish. You watch it feeling sad for all involved (there’s quite a cast marshalled here for such a poorly executed script). There’s clearly a great film in the central premise about Pompeii and the disaster that befell its people, something dramatic, heartfelt and tragic, something touching and valid regards the human condition and our fragility in the face of Nature, our place in the world, but this isn’t it- Pompeii and its fate seems almost incidental to the entire enterprise, which is shocking really; it might as well have been an alien invasion that totalled the city in this film for how cartoon-like it seems with its overblown cgi and stunts. No character feels real, nothing ever raises itself above the mundane and familiar and predictable. One to avoid really.