About The Production
In 79 A.D., the city of Pompeii, a glittering pleasure dome on Italy's Bay of
Naples, was buried by a cataclysmic eruption of the Mount Vesuvius volcano. In
just 24 hours, the bustling international port and its residents were
obliterated in one of the ancient world's worst natural disasters. Hauntingly,
the city and its inhabitants were preserved virtually intact by the ash and lava
showered down by the volcano.
The story of a glamorous metropolis destroyed in less than a day has stayed
with director Paul W. S. Anderson since he was a curious schoolboy. In his
latest film, Anderson turns a lifelong obsession with Pompeii into an epic
action movie, complete with gladiatorial competition, political intrigue,
star-crossed lovers and a terrifying fight for survival as hell seems to rain
down on earth.
"I've been interested in the Roman Empire since I was a child," says
Anderson. "I grew up in the north of England, where there were a lot of
archeological digs. I became quite interested in Roman civilization and, in
particular, Pompeii. The idea that a city and the people who lived in it have
been frozen in time still fascinates me."
Anderson and his longtime producing partner Jeremy Bolt, best known for their
evocative explorations of a bleak future world in the Resident Evil series,
spent over six years researching and developing Pompeii. They have created a
meticulously detailed portrait of a lost world, as well as an iconic adventure
that harks back to the age of the classic disaster films.
"When 3-D started to explode in the mid-2000s, Paul and I decided that the
genre best served by the technology would be the disaster movie," Bolt says. "He
suggested we put together a movie about Pompeii. We decided to make the biggest
sword-and-sandal movie ever, but with a volcano."
It seemed a natural fit for Anderson, who has pushed the envelope technically
throughout his career, with pioneering work in both 3-D and CGI, all while
crafting taut and tension-filled storylines. "He combines an extraordinary
visual ability with a tremendous technical knowledge and an interest in
history," says Bolt. "And he has also an innate understanding of what the
audiences will respond to. This is not a documentary, but it is firmly grounded
in reality while also being exciting, exhilarating and highly emotional."
In its time, Pompeii was the most fabulous holiday resort in all of the Roman
Empire, according to Anderson, adding, "It was like the Las Vegas of the Roman
"The city was filled with brothels, bars, taverns and lots of holiday
activities," continues Bolt. "Because it was a seaport, people came from all
over the Empire and it was a hive of colorful activity. Imagining who these
people were and how to tell their stories was the genesis of the project."
Just after midday on August 24, Vesuvius, which had been dormant for
centuries, released a gigantic cloud of volcanic ash estimated to be 19 miles
high. Ash, rock and other volcanic debris poured down on Pompeii, gradually
covering the city and causing the roofs of many houses to collapse under the
weight. Avalanches of hot ash and gas sped through the city, instantly
destroying every living thing in their paths. The city was completely buried and
the vast majority of its inhabitants were killed.
Although there is a lot of archeological evidence as to what happened, says
Anderson, with so few survivors, there are almost no first-hand accounts.
"Historians have relied on the accounts of Pliny the Younger, who actually
witnessed the explosion from a distance," says the director. "He wrote a series
of letters detailing the disaster, but people didn't take him seriously. No one
believed that a catastrophe of this magnitude was possible."
In just 12 hours, the city suffered an earthquake, a volcanic eruption and
the final deathblow, a tsunami. The top of Mount Vesuvius blew off with such
force that the volcano lost more than 2,000 feet in height. The effects have
been compared to that of a nuclear blast.
But the ash that enveloped the destroyed city also preserved it for
posterity. "The images are unforgettable-loaves of bread perfectly preserved
underneath the ash, a dog still on a chain-these are images of Roman life that
have survived for two thousand years," says Anderson.
Pompeii remained lost for almost 1,700 years, until 1748 when the Bourbon
kings of Naples started excavations, uncovering villas and public buildings. By
the early 1800s, visitors to Pompeii could wander along its streets and explore
its preserved buildings. Archeologists began creating plaster casts of the
victims from the voids left in the ash by their bodies, enabling visitors to the
site not only to walk through the streets of the legendary city, but also to
view the likenesses of the people who had inhabited it.
"When you visit now, it's an inland town a mile or more from the shore," says
Anderson. "In Roman times, it was a port. The eruption filled in a mile and a
half of extra shoreline.
The filmmakers made a concerted effort to keep the film as historically
accurate as possible, bringing in an expert in the era to vet the production.
Amid all that historical authenticity, Bolt promises the audience a spectacle
worthy of a Roman Amphitheatre. "You're going to see lava bombs," he says.
"You're going to see a blizzard of ash and a river of pyroclastic flow, which is
essentially boiling steam, traveling at a high speed and incinerating everything
in its path. You're going to see a tidal wave. You're going to see an
earthquake. And that's just the last act. Even before that we have sensational
gladiatorial combat and war in Britannia, all of it seasoned with big emotions
and a huge love story."
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