Drones Over Pompeii: Cinematic Perspectives on Antiquity in the Digital Era

Paul, Joanna (2019). Drones Over Pompeii: Cinematic Perspectives on Antiquity in the Digital Era. Classical Receptions Journal, 11(3) pp. 274–295.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/crj/clz006


Cityscapes have always been an important part of films set in antiquity, but little attention has yet been paid to the way in which digital cinema uses the ancient city to offer different kinds of access to the past. This article explores how twenty-first century cinema sees the city and apprehends history in new ways in films including Pompeii (2014), Agora (2009), and Gladiator (2000). It focuses on how digital cinema affords the opportunity to ‘see’ the past from above, a quintessentially modern perspective which prompts a range of important questions about the viewer’s relationship to history. The aerial view of the cinematic city encourages reflection on our familiarity with an ancient city, by utilizing the imagery and techniques of digital mapping and virtual reality reconstructions; and it explores our ability to gain mastery over the past, privileging godlike omniscience over the immersiveness that usually characterizes contemporary film. Finally, adopting the perspective of the drone, it suggests a more disturbing, dehumanized version of the past – and future. The discourse around these cinematic cities prompts important and timely consideration of whether digital technology necessarily improves our access to the past, or rather compromises it.

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