Pompeii Science

As the purveyor of such thrill rides as Mortal Kombat, the Resident Evil series and The Three Musketeers, director Paul W. S. Anderson is clearly unafraid to take virtually any creative license necessary to make his movies more dramatic.

But with the new film Pompeii, the filmmaker faced the challenge of bringing a story to life that was actually based upon real events. And even though Anderson definitely exaggerated a few details in his retelling of the epic eruption, according to CBS News it turns out he was probably a lot more accurate than anyone expected.

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In terms of the characters, Anderson evidently based them on some of the actual victims of the disaster, insofar as he created fictional narratives based on people frozen in their dying poses, such as an embracing couple and a large man whom scientists hypothesized that he may have come from North Africa. (These characters are played in the film by Kit Harington, Emily Browning and Adewale Aninnouye-Agbaje.)

At the same time, archaeologist Sarah Yeoman said that the movie departed significantly in its portrayal of women. “Upper-class women would not have been roaming around the streets on their own,” Yeoman said. “And would certainly not have been involved in political activities, nor would they have had bare arms and slits up their dresses.”

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Geologically speaking, Anderson evidently got much right in terms of the sequence of events leading up to the eruption, including earthquakes, explosions and ash flows. But he apparently exaggerated the force of the explosion to the extent that there were no “lava bombs” in real life, where they destroy the city in the film. Rosaly Lopes, a volcanologist at NASA’a Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, indicated that Vesuvius didn’t experience that kind of eruption, evidenced by the lack of damage to the city.

Additionally, a tsunami depicted in the film would have been much smaller, not carrying ships from the harbor into the streets of Pompeii. But at least the streets themselves were accurate, said Yeoman.

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