Some filmmakers wouldn't know a good plotline from a hole in the ground. But plenty of filmmakers have found a good plotline in a hole in the ground. Specifically: the superheated crater of Mount Vesuvius, which erupted in the year AD 79, incinerating the Roman city of Pompeii and bestowing upon it a kind of instant immortality - one that thousands of people could have lived without.
This week, two more entries in the lengthy catalog of Pompeii movies become available to viewers. "Pompeii," director Paul W.S. Anderson's technically ambitious, 3-D re-creation/ gladiator adventure comes to theaters Friday. "Apocalypse Pompeii," from the people who brought you "Sharknado," arrives on DVD and video on demand Tuesday.
Pompeii has entranced filmmakers for more than a century. Here are a few more examples of how some like it hot.
¦ "LAST DAYS OF POMPEII" (1913): Taking its title, as do all similarly named films, from the 1834 novel by the now largely derided Edward Bulwer-Lytton ("it was a dark and stormy night ..."), this black-and-white Italian silent was directed by cinema pioneer Mario Caserini.
¦ "THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII" (1926): This ambitious three-hour-long Italian production was colorized via the early Pathechrome process, and was also based on the Bulwer-Lytton book, which depicted the decadence of Roman culture and the tension between Rome and the Greeks.
¦ "THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII" (1935): An RKO production from directors Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper ("King Kong"), it boasted Hollywood stars like Preston Foster and Basil Rathbone, but was emphatically not based on Bulwer-Lytton's book. Rather, it conflates the stories of Pompeii and Jesus Christ - Rathbone, in fact, plays Pontius Pilate.
¦ "POMPEII: THE LAST DAY" (2003): A BBC dramatization of the destruction of Pompeii and the neighboring city of Herculaneum, featuring a plethora of familiar British faces, including that of Tim Pigott-Smith ("The Jewel in the Crown") and Jim Carter (Mr. Carson of "Downton Abbey").
¦ "SEX IN THE ANCIENT WORLD: PROSTITUTION IN POMPEII" (2009): History channel special examining the thriving sex industry in the excavated city, preserved in ash and dust. How did they know? We really can't say.