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Last Days of Pompeii
I have to admit that when I saw a new version of Last Days of Pompeii,
released in Region 2, on the screener list, I jumped on it. I assumed
it was one of the silent versions of the movie. I was a little surprised
when it turned out to be the 1984 mini-series that was shown on ABC.
Is there really that much of a market for American TV series in Europe?
In any case I popped the disc into the player and sat down to see what
this show was all about. I was in college when it first aired and
the only TV I made time for was Hill Street Blues, so I missed the original
broadcast. Still, I enjoy long movies and spectacles are always fun,
I figured this could be enjoyable. Well, it was to a point.
The production is certainly grand with an all star cast and a huge budget
for what boils down to be a made-for-TV movie. Ultimately it is weighed
down by its own excesses and though the cast does a good job this TV event
plays out like an upscale soap opera.
on the novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton printed in 1835, this Victorian era
romance story is filled with a myriad of characters who populate the Italian
city of Pompeii just before the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, which caused
its famous destruction in the year 79 AD. Playing out over four hours,
this is the tale of the Athenian Glaucus (Nicholas Clay), who is in love
with Ione (Olivia Hussey), a ward of Arbaces (Franco Nero), the Egyptian
priest who is using the Temple of Isis for his own advancement. Arbaces
is after the money that Ione (and her brother Antonius (Benedict Taylor))
possess, and devises a Machiavellian scheme to get it.
But wait! There's more. The hunky gladiator Lydon (Duncan
Regehr) risks his life in the games but is in love with the blind slave
girl Nydia (Linda Purl), but unfortunately she's really in love with Glaucus.
Meanwhile the poet Claudius (Gerry Sundquist) has a thing for Juila (Catriona
MacColl) but he thinks she's in love with Glaucus, even though she isn't.
Diomed (Ned Beatty) is a nuvo-riche merchant of common background who
has the gall to consider running for political office against the city
magistrate Quintus (Anthony Quayle). What Roman historical epic would
be complete without persecuted Christians too? This one has Olinthus
(Brian Blessed) as the leader of the persecuted group. His flock
contains Chloe (Lesley-Anne Down) a Christian prostitute and the slave
that loves her Petrus (Malcolm Jamieson). Whew.
If the plot sounds convoluted, confusing, and muddled, that's only because
it is. Screenplay writer Carmen Culver was pretty much between a
rock and a hard place when it came to adapting this novel. There's
only so much you can do with a Victorian era historical romance and still
stay true to the source material. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, when read
today, isn't exactly exciting. He's most famously remembered for
the opening sentence to his novel Paul Clifford, which begins "It was a
dark and stormy night" and has been immortalized by the annual "Bulwer-Lytton
Fiction Contest" which gives an award for the "opening sentence of the
worst of all possible novels." Culver tried, but the result is a bloated,
stiff, and melodramatic mess with some horrible dialog that sinks beneath
its own weight.
The stereo soundtrack, in the original English or a German dub (which
is the default on this German release) is adequate. The range is
very limited, especially the bass, and the destruction at the end sounds
very anemic and weak. The dialog is fine. This sounds about
par for an unrestored TV special from the mid 80's.
The full frame image is also about average. The picture is soft
but the colors aren't faded though they aren't particularly vibrant either.
The print used is a bit rough though. There are spots and scratches
throughout the film and while it's never distracting it is a common occurrence.
The only extra is a 50 minute documentary of the film. This is
in German without subtitles, so I can't comment on its quality.
This $19 million spectacle fails because of its huge scale. Instead
of paring the story down to its elements, the sprawling story is bloated
and it has a leaden pace. Though many of the actors do a fine job,
they can't overcome the wooden, and often unintentionally hilarious, dialog.
If you have fond memories of this show from when it was first aired in
1984, it would be worth a rental, but prepare to be surprised at
how poorly it has aged.