Defending Paul W.S. Anderson probably isn't the most ideal way to start off my first post at Movies.com-- I'm not even a huge fan of the guy, but somebody has to stand up for him, right? Like Brett Ratner, Anderson is an easy target for fans to beat up on. Whether as a producer, a director or a screenwriter, he exclusively makes broad, commercially viable movies that have considerably more style than they do substance. There's little denying that, however, there is one thing that separates Anderson from the Ratners of the world, and it's something I will always bring up whenever his name is attached to a project.
Anderson's films all have amazing, practical production design. If his name is in the credits, you can bet it'll at least have fantastic sets and badass props. Mortal Kombat may be cheesy as hell, but at least Scorpion's hell lair looks awesome. Event Horizon-- who can forget that giant, spiked spinning sphere? The Resident Evil series may have lessened its already tenuous grip on reality with each new movie, but the Umbrella Corporation's facilities are memorable in each. AVP, a dreadfully disappointing mashup no doubt, but the geographically-shifting pyramid and creature work were both pulled off nicely. Pandorum has a creepy yet plausible sense of interior spaceship geography. Hell, even the straight-to-video Death Race 2 has bigger, better sets than most theatrical blockbuster wannabes do.
And that's precisely why I'm one of the few people who is actually excited at the prospect of Paul W.S. Anderson directing Pompeii, a period piece about the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago. Sure, it's already being sold as having a strong love story core that makes it easy to compare to other disaster pics like Titanic, but I don't really care about that. Yes, this plot description makes me want to never lay eyes on the movie, but I don't go into Anderson's film expecting dynamic storytelling, I go in expecting dynamic set pieces.
"Set in late summer 79 A.D., Pompeii revolves around the slave of a shipping tycoon who dreams of the day he can buy his freedom and marry his master's daughter. What the slave doesn't know is that she's already been promised to a corrupt Roman senator, while he's been sold to another owner.
Just when things can't get any worse, Mt. Vesuvius erupts with the power of 40 nuclear bombs. But the slave is trapped on a ship headed for Naples, separated from his love and best friend, a gladiator who is trapped in the city's coliseum. As fire and ash destroy the only world he's ever known, the slave is determined to get back and rescue them."
Primed for melodrama? Absolutely. But, again, I don't admire Anderson for the complex tragedies he makes.
Production design alone may seem like the wrong thing to get excited about; it may seem I'm just setting the bar low or coming up with excuses to defend a guilty pleasure filmmaker, but in an industry where directors like Roland Emmerich, Zack Snyder and Scott Stewart just shove actors in front of giant green screens, I get legitimately jazzed by a director who still hires teams of artists to make actual sets, who build actual props that the actors can interact with. Sure, Anderson uses plenty of green screens to extend and augment his sets, but his usage almost always looks better than the competition.
Now if only he could find someway to get this dude from the super silly Resident Evil: Afterlife to show up in Pompeii...