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Film Study: Fire Then and Now

Movies are a wonderful way to see the world - and to see a world you could only otherwise imagine. Whether you prefer science fiction, romantic comedy or a good old-fashioned natural disaster epic, Hollywood has something for you.

In recent years though, it is the natural disasters that have stolen the spotlight and overwhelmed audiences. In particular, films based on or inspired by actual events have become popular.

For example; two box office hits made either side of the millennium depict very real examples of what would (and has) happened in the event of a major volcanic eruption in a heavily populated area. These films - Pompeii and Dante's Peak - each show the catastrophic effects of such a disaster, in great detail. They are made all the more intriguing as they show the similarities and the differences of experiencing a large scale eruption centuries ago (then) and in modern times (now).

From the perspective of a fire and flood restoration company, we can say that the idea of dealing with a clean up and restoration project the size of Pompeii sounds unimaginable, but we are sure you'll agree that the films are an interesting and thought-provoking take on the power and destruction of fire (and larva, and earthquakes...).

Read on for more about how these films look at the way the world dealt with such disasters then and how they'd deal with them now.

Then: Pompeii (2014)

Pompeii is a historical action film, depicting a dramatized version of the famous and cataclysmic eruption of Italy's Mount Etna. The film is based largely on the writings of Pliny the Younger and his account of the Pompeii disaster.

The first half of the film is heavily focused on the backstories of the main characters; one of which is a Celtic slave made to fight as a Gladiator, the other is a privileged young lady from Pompeii itself.

Once their paths converge in Pompeii, the film starts to paint a picture of everyday life in the city. Pompeii life is covered in great detail and the atmosphere of this historically and culturally significant Roman resort is captured superbly. Then disaster strikes.

It is not so much what happens that is so arresting - after all, everyone already knows how Pompeii's story ended. The great impact of the film is how it depicts the human experience of the world's greatest volcanic eruption and the different ways in which the eruption destroyed the city, the promise the city held and the worlds of all those living in the jewel of the Roman Empire.

The fear and the lives lost are very much a focus of the film, as is the great fight to stay alive. What is also interesting and at times distressing is what happens to the town itself; the buildings that crumble, the valuable scrolls and artefacts that perish in fire and lava and the way civilisation is buried beneath layers of ash in just a few short hours.

The effect of this eruption was phenomenal and to see it depicted on screen makes it all the more real and all the more terrifying. How would modern civilisation and the great cities of today deal with the kind of catastrophe faced by Pompeii?

Now: Dante's Peak (1997)

Dante's Peak is an American adventure film starring Pierce Brosnan (James Bond) and Linda Hamilton (Terminator).

The story is set in the fictional town of Dante's Peak in Washington State, USA. Based heavily on the idea of the unexpected and catastrophic Mt St Helen's eruption, it follows a selection of scientists and townspeople before and during the event.

Brosnan plays Dr. Harry Dalton - a volcanologist studying seismic activity in the area, with particular focus on the (supposedly) dormant volcano beneath Dante's Peak. His co-star is a Dante's Peak local (Linda Hamilton) who also happens to be the town's mayor.

The idyllic setting of the mountain town looks to be a dream location for the families and businesses in the film, but soon after audiences get a feel for the quiet life of the town the situation quickly turns dire and the volcano begins to wake up.

Chaos ensues as lakes turn to sulphur, ash falls from the skies, fire balls rain down and eventually, lava flow destroys the town. Homes, businesses, roads and lives are all lost in the course of the film and the effect a volcanic eruption would have on a sleepy American town is shown in great detail. The special effects are stunning, but the after effects of the event as pictured on screen are harrowing.

Imagining the scale of such an event and the cost - both financial and emotional - is somewhat of a reality check and at the time of the film's release, sparked great debate as to the likelihood of such a disaster and the plans in place to deal with it.

One thing is for certain; even extensive clean-up operations like those conducted after some of the world's worst firestorms (Australia, California) would not touch the kind of recovery required for disasters like a volcanic eruption.

Though fictional, Dante's Peak was certainly an eye opener.

Both of these films do well to give a very human view of disastrous events and the destructive power of fire. It is easy to get lost in the story and wonder how you would have dealt with the eruption back then in Pompeii, and how would the people of Pompeii have fared in a 21st century eruption. You can also get caught up in imagining what it would be like to see your sleepy town or village get destroyed by a volcano that nobody thought was a threat. Just how would we handle a volcanic eruption on these scales, both then and now?

Now, it goes without saying that fire damage from volcanic eruption isn't a common problem here in the UK, for which we are all grateful. Unfortunately though, there are 101 other ways a fire can start and that does have a big impact on UK homes and businesses. In fact, you don't need a volcanic eruption because even small fires can be physically and emotionally damaging. Luckily there are all sorts of plans, bodies and services in place to help the victims of fire.

Whether you need preventative measures like alarms and safety equipment, peace of mind from insurance cover or a helping hand from emergency services and specialist fire restoration companies, there is help at hand.

So enjoy these films for the emotional rollercoaster they put you on and their entertainment value, but appreciate how they demonstrate the destructiveness of fire and remember to be prepared and ask for help should the worst every happen to you.