Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Where's my Pompeii movie??

My wife and I went to a very disappointing exhibit yesterday at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), which featured art of Pompeii and the Roman Villa.

There were a number of reasons it was disappointing, but the one that hit me long before entry was the price for admission: $25 a head. Add in the fact that we purchased our tickets online (which proved unnecessary), and the thing came to $54 for the two of us. When did a casual Sunday afternoon stroll through the museum get so expensive?

With that kind of outlay, we felt we had the right to expect a real multi-media assault, something we could accurately classify as an "experience." But the Pompeii exhibit was little more than a bunch of paintings hung on walls, and busts of statues in glass cases. We didn't have to pay any extra for those audio devices where you push the button and listen to the curator talk about the pieces, but often times I didn't even feel like they'd selected the correct pieces to talk about, leaving more interesting ones tantalizingly undiscussed.

I later on joked on facebook that for $25 a head, they should have given us an actual erupting volcano.

And then that got me thinking:

Where's my Pompeii movie?

In an age when Roland Emmerich spends a kajillion dollars every couple years to create ridiculous fictitious disasters to try to knock our socks off (the Statue of Liberty buried in snow in The Day After Tomorrow, ocean waves crashing over the Himalayas in this December's 2012), why doesn't someone sit down and devote a blockbuster budget to one of the planet's great real disasters? (I'm also still looking for the film about the hurricane that wiped out Galveston, Texas in 1900, but that's a story for another time.)

It plays terrifically in my mind's eye: You have the ornate period architecture of a movie like Gladiator, pelted with raining volcanic rock and washed away in floods of lava. Plus, the whole thing took place by the Bay of Naples, meaning you could have the A.D. 79 watercraft trying vainly to escape in the roiled sea, giving the chance for some cool shipwrecks.

With that kind of budget, you might have to tack on a Titanic-style love story to push the audience beyond just young males. But then again, most of these disaster movies try to have Titanic-style love stories anyway, so this isn't much of a concession. Plus, those interested in Italian antiquity would also have to see it, wouldn't they?

It might even be a good project for Robert Zemeckis, whose motion capture animation style is getting more sophisticated all the time. Zemeckis' technique wasn't perfected yet for The Polar Express, but it did wonders making Beowulf such a memorable experience. (Zemeckis' next test will be A Christmas Carol, also out this December, starring Jim Carrey as Scrooge).

When I can think of an obvious idea, I feel pretty sure that thousands of other people have already thought of it before me, and that some of them would have the wherewithal to actually start production on a film like this. So naturally I turned to IMDB.

It turns out there actually is a movie in the works called Pompeii with a tentative release date of 2011. It's an adaptation of a novel by Robert Harris, and it is briefly synopsized thus: "A dramatic thriller set against the backdrop of Mt. Vesuvius just before and during its eruption." I'd have to have IMDB Pro to get more information, but I can see that Roman Polanski was once attached as director, so I doubt this is the F/X extravaganza I'm looking for.

However, researching more about Harris' novel on wikipedia tells me that it could be. The plot itself seems to involve aqueducts and water flow and period-appropriate science that doesn't necessarily sound like the stuff of a popcorn movie, but it does also contain a fictitious Roman character (interacting with some real Roman characters) returning to rescue his daughter during the eruption of Vesuvius. More tellingly, it also reveals that the film version had been greenlit with a projected $150 million budget, but that the threat of strike by the Screen Actors Guild had put the project on hold.

I still don't know what Polanski would have done with a big F/X budget. Maybe when I see Roland Emmerich slotted in to replace him, I'll know we're on the right track. (In a manner of speaking, anyway -- Emmerich will get the volcanic eruptions, but he'll ruin everything else).

So I'm looking forward to 2011, or maybe 2012 (though not 2012). Maybe then I'll feel like I finally got my money's worth from yesterday's exhibit.

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