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Sarah Day settles back to a stirring tale of swords, sandals and – er – tsunamis...

Considering the story’s universal popularity, it’s amazing there hasn’t been a big-budget disaster movie account of the destruction of Pompeii before now. But save a few docu-dramas, that mad episode of Dr Who with Malcolm Tucker and, of course, Up Pompeii, it’s never been done.

Perhaps the special effects have been prohibitive. If so, they’re making up for it now – not a trick in the book has been left out in 105 3D minutes of running, falling, exploding, flooding and general CGI mayhem.

The big question, of course, is have they got the volcano right? Geologists considering seeing Pompeii need have no fear – Vesuvius is by far the most believable character. Yes, there are some impossible fire bombs, an unlikely tsunami and some questionable subsidence issues, but the pyroclastic flow is spot on, and the 3D sensation of floating ash is suitably sinister. There’s even a few Pliny the Younger quotes to get us in the mood.

It takes a while for ‘The Mountain’ to take centre stage – first, you’ll need to sit through a good hour or so of gladiator fights, parties, political machinations and the assembling of your obligatory disaster movie cast – beautiful princess, evil fiancé, attractive yet penniless love interest and random cannon fodder best friends. Luckily, evil fiancé is played by Kiefer Sutherland, who’s having so much fun being bad you can’t help hoping his chariot really can outrun a pyroclastic flow (it can’t).

fghPicture:  Torso numero uno.

At the centre of the action are ‘Guy from Game of Thrones’ aka The Main Torso (Kit Harington - picture) and ‘Woman from Lemony Snicket’ (Emily Browning) - two people who, on meeting and realising they’re by far the most beautiful people in Pompeii, know they’re destined to be together.

Guy-from-Game-of-Thrones is a Gladiator, which is an excuse for some great action sequences involving horses, chains and a collapsing arena. There’s also a fun scene where the gladiators are paraded in front of leering women at a party (the objectification of the male torso being one of the film’s main themes).

Woman-from-Lemony-Snicket is the daughter of Pompeii’s ruler, and for reasons which are slightly unclear, has to marry Kiefer Sutherland even though he’s obviously not a nice man and keeps his torso covered. Throughout the film, she runs around in a dress made from silk scarves with a massive slit up the leg which I’m pretty sure would have been unacceptable for a Pompeian noblewoman and, despite having grown up in Pompeii and claiming to know every street, needs the help of Guy-from-Game-of-Thrones to find her way out, once disaster strikes. She is literally prone on the ground until he picks her up and drags her off, aided by his fellow Gladiator and ‘The Secondary Torso’, Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).

phwPicture: Torso numero due, clearly not having una buona giornata.

The key to enjoying this film is to see it as a kind of mix-tape of every disaster movie you’ve ever seen. It’s the disaster movie equivalent of Now! 95, but with an erupting volcano. That way, you can sit back and enjoy such lines as ‘he [The Torso] is everything that you are not’, such shots as random cannon-fodder friends flailing backwards over cliff edges in slow motion, their mouths wide open in shock, and such implausibilities as horses outrunning pyroclastic flows, everyone walking around on the ash in thin sandals without screaming, and two guys more concerned about having a fist-fight than the exploding volcano behind them.

This film has everything. There’s the Titanic love triangle. The Titanic ‘this ship can’t sink!’ dramatic irony. The Jurassic Park ‘upon further consideration, I have decided not to invest in your city’ understatement. The torsos from Gladiator, the volcano fleeing from Dante’s Peak and the doomed love affair/unfortunate handcuff scenario

And then there’s final shot. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s so ludicrous I defy you not to laugh out loud with sheer joy.

Pompeii Constantin Film Produktion; Don Carmody productions; Impact Pictures. Distributors: Entertainment One. Screenplay: Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler & Michael Robert Johnson . Dir: Paul W S Anderson. Cert PG-13 105min. UK Release: 30 April 2014.

Sarah Day attended a press pre-screening in London's West End, at great personal cost.