Last Days of Pompeii [1935]

Director: Ernest B. Schoedsack, Merian C. Cooper
Stars: Preston Foster, Basil Rathbone, Alan Hale, John Wood, Louis Calhern
Genre: Adventure, Drama
Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Runtime: 96 minutes

Ridley Scott's Gladiator is a great movie, but Colosseum: A Gladiator's Story has the distinct advantage of purely historical accuracy. The Roman gladiator whose story is told here is Verus (played by charismatic British hunk Robert Shannon), one of two victors in the only gladiatorial battle that was ever described in detail (by the Roman poet Martial in 80 A.D.). Using this factual record as its basis, Colosseum follows Verus as he is recruited from slavery, trained in gladiator's school, rises to favor among wealthy Romans, and ultimately battles his best friend, Priscus (Derek Lea), to a crowd-pleasing draw in the inaugural games of glorious, brand-new Colosseum, the construction of which is shown in fascinating detail. Combining authoritative narration with diary-like voiceovers from Verus's perspective, this riveting 50-minute BBC production is simultaneously intimate and epic in scale, employing the latest in digital compositing techniques to achieve its unparalleled (for TV, at least) visual splendor. With well-cast actors speaking authentic Latin, this sumptuous production is both dramatically involving and exacting in every detail. Just as convincing--and just as impressive in its use of cutting-edge CGI--is the 50-minute bonus program Pompeii: The Final Day, which chronicles the final 24 hours of Pompeii when it was decimated by the ultraviolent eruption of Mount Vesuvius on August 24, 79 A.D. Inspired by the written descriptions of Pliny the Younger (whose detailed observations were later vindicated by geological science), recovered artifacts, and the haunting remains of Pompeii citizens preserved under tons of pumice and ash, Pompeii is first-rate from start to finish, proving yet again that the BBC is now setting the standard in lavishly produced docudrama programming. --Jeff Shannon

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