Quick, what was the last great volcano movie? Now, just as fast, what was the last great Roman Polanski movie? The second question is easier to answer, but that doesn’t make it much easier to get excited about the fact that Polanski has taken on Pompeii as his next project.
Based on the book by Robert ‘Not the Hannibal Lecter guy’ Harris, Pompeii is the story of the last three days of the ancient city, focused on an engineer trying to repair the 60-mile aqueduct that irrigated the urban area. All his hard work is fruitless in the end, of course, as Vesuvius takes a legendary dump on the city, the aqueduct, and pretty much everything else in a 15-mile radius.
This is (no surprise) to be an independently-financed European production, albeit one to the tune of $130 million. That’s a lot of cake for a guy whose last big hit was a thirty million dollar picture about a mild-mannered pianist.
Before you think i’m too cynical for casting aspersions so early, I will allow that admitting disinterest in Polanski is difficult for me to do, even now. From 1965 to 1976 he had an amazing run; Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown are remarkable, and The Tenant remains among my favorite films.
But massive epics have never been Polanski’s forte. Even his relatively large scale films like Chinatown and The Pianist have hinged on very personal stories. And while the engineer at the center of Pompeii may provide that same sort of figure, the last act will necessarily be a spectacle more suited for Bruckheimer than a guy whose best films take place in apartments.