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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts

Cinema in Focus

Cinema in Focus: ‘Pompeii’

By Hal Conklin and Denny Wayman | @CinemaInFocus |

2 Stars — Shallow

If you remember the days of the “Spaghetti Western” or low-budget romantic films from the 1960s, then Pompeii is an updated version for you.

The story is still basic: the Romans are evil, a slave falls in love with a beautiful uptown girl, the gods get angry, the volcano erupts and everyone dies. The only saving grace is that computer-generated graphics have improved immensely in the last 50 years, and watching this fictionalized version of the last days of Pompeii is a lot more interesting.

Milo (Kit Harington) is a Celtic slave brought to Pompeii by his Roman owner to compete as a gladiator in the annual festival. Although now in his 20s, Milo recalls vividly the murder of his parents and his villagers by the evil Roman warrior who is now the Roman Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland).

Corvus has shown up at the games in Pompeii and is interested in convincing a beautiful young lady named Cassia (Emily Browning) to become his wife. Cassia is the daughter of one of the leading citizens of Pompeii who sponsors the festival and gladiator games. Predictably it doesn’t take long before Cassia has fallen for the handsome young slave who has a kinder heart than the pompous Roman senator. The senator, being a man of little ethical or moral fiber, is blackmailing Cassia’s parents into giving their blessing to this union.

And then Mount Vesuvius erupts. There isn’t much here that is factually accurate about what really happened during this disaster, but we are lead to believe that Senator Corvus, slave Milo, and young Cassia all manage to escape certain death long enough for a lot of fights to occur over her honor and love.

Pompeii provides little on the spiritual life of the citizens of the Roman Empire or the slaves who were in captivity. Their only cries for help in the midst of dying centered on “why are the gods doing this to us?”

Pompeii is not a lesson in history, a lesson in justice, or a lesson in compassion or love. It does make for a basic afternoon or evening of entertainment about on par with watching the HBO series Game of Thrones, of which Kit Harington, our young slave Milo’s actor, is a star. If that is all you are looking for, then this film will get you through a bag of popcorn.


» A human characteristic is to try to find meaning in a catastrophe as seen in the cry of “why are the gods doing this to us?” How do you respond to natural disasters? Do you look for meaning, take it as fate or see it as serendipitous?

» The subplot of many love stories is the forbidden love of contrasting classes, or feuding families or other distinctions. Why do you think this is part of the love stories as it is in this film? What common human characteristic does it uncover?

» It is difficult to imagine an entire civilization destroyed in a moment. If our nation were destroyed in a moment and memorialized among the ashes, what would the future say about us?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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