could choose to believe that the forthcoming strike by the Screen Actors Guild is responsible for Roman Polanski backing out of the $100 million Pompeii, but that would require buying producer Robert Benmussa’s excuse that he just now discovered the June 30, 2008 work stoppage might prove problematic for the production’s August 2008 start date.

It’s curious that Polanski would suddenly bail on the epic after allegedly working "non-stop" on it for eighteen months – especially when, according to Variety, he’s not been baited off by another project. It’s also curious that Benmussa would be so inflexible about the start date due to what we’ll term "meteorological verisimilitude" (Mount Vesuvius erupted on August 24, 79 A.D., and, apparently, you can’t visually replicate summer in Southern Italy at any other time anywhere else on the globe), but that’s what he’s claiming.

This is essentially a death knell for Pompeii, which author Robert Harris was adapting from his own historical fiction tome about a young engineer’s efforts to unblock an aqueduct (aqueduct unblockings are notoriously great theater). Orlando Bloom and Scarlett Johansson had been courted to star as, respectively, the engineer and a piece of ass, but their deals failed to close because no agent in town is looking to attach talent to movies starting in August 2008. That there were even discussions leads me to believe that a) Benmussa might’ve been eying an earlier start date, and b) Polanski vacated the film because he didn’t want to be the next great director stuck on a $100 million production with Bloom as his star. Considering that every other bankable actor has been booked through to June 2008, Polanski’s options were to quit or risk making his biggest box office disaster since Pirates.

So you could choose to believe the strike killed Pompeii, and you’d probably be right. It’s just not for the specific reasons stated by Benmussa to Variety.