Sanctum (2011)

04 February 2011

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Sanctum. The 3D epic underwater adventure Sanctum, from three-time Academy Award®-winning executive producer JAMES CAMERON (Avatar, Titanic), follows a team of underwater cave divers on a treacherous expedition to the largest, most beautiful and least accessible cave system on Earth.  When a tropical storm forces them deep into the caverns, they must fight raging water, deadly terrain and creeping panic as they search for an unknown escape route to the sea.

Master diver Frank McGuire (RICHARD ROXBURGH of Moulin Rouge!, Mission: Impossible II) has explored the South Pacific’s Esa’ala caves for months.  But when his exit is cut off in a flash flood, Frank’s key team—including 17-year-old son Josh (RHYS WAKEFIELD of The Black Balloon, Broken Hill) and financier Carl Hurley (IOAN GRUFFUDD of Fantastic Four series, W.)—is forced to radically alter plans.

With dwindling supplies, the crew—including Carl’s girlfriend, Victoria (ALICE PARKINSON of Where the Wild Things Are, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), and Crazy George (DAN WYLLIE of Muriel’s Wedding, Chopper)—must navigate an underwater labyrinth to make it out.  Soon, they are confronted with the unavoidable question: Can they survive, or will they be trapped forever?

Shot on location off the Gold Coast in Queensland and in caves in South Australia, as well as at the Village Roadshow Studios, Sanctum employs stunning 3D photography techniques developed to lens Avatar.  Designed to operate in extreme environments, the Cameron/Pace Fusion 3D Camera System used to lens the action-thriller will take audiences on a breathless journey across plunging cliffs and into the farthest reaches of our subterranean world.

ALISTER GRIERSON (Kokoda) directs the film written by JOHN GARVIN and ANDREW WIGHT and produced by Wight, who helped Cameron road test and hone his 3D technology on the documentaries Aliens of the Deep and Ghosts of the Abyss, which they co-produced.

Grierson is accompanied behind the scenes by a talented group of filmmakers that includes director of photography JULES O’LOUGHLIN (Kokoda, I Am You), production designer NICHOLAS MCCALLUM (Kokoda, The Black Balloon), editor MARK WARNER (The Water Horse, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) and composer DAVID HIRSCHFELDER (Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, Australia).

Joining Cameron as executive producers on the film are Wayfare principals BEN BROWNING (It’s Kind of a Funny Story), MICHAEL MAHER (Ondine) and PETER RAWLINSON (It’s Kind of a Funny Story), as well as Relativity’s RYAN KAVANAUGH (Little Fockers).

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''James Cameron's name is practically the biggest thing on the Sanctum poster because without it this film would sink quicker than the Titanic...''

There is a reason that James Cameron's name is practically the biggest thing on the Sanctum poster. Because without it this film would sink quicker than the Titanic, as word of mouth and a confusing film name/indecipherable picture on poster combo is not going to get people to see this film.

Despite the fascinating topic of under water cave diving, which is apparently of great interest to the Avatar director, and the awe inspiring shots of these magical caves, the main problem with Sanctum is the acting. As predictable adventure/disaster films go, 127 Hours this is not, and along with the two dimensional characters and awful dialogue, Sanctum ends up in the Final Destination/Saw category instead. Which is actually an insult, because those films genuinely had me on the edge of my seat and spawned at least half a dozen sequels.

Sanctum is based loosely on the true story of a group of cave divers determined to explore the last unexplored cave system in the world (how the hell do they know that?) called Esa-ala in Papua New Guinea. (Except in reality it was a cave system in the Nullarbor Plain, Australia.) Led by Frank (Richard Roxburgh) and his team of highly experienced divers, what could possibly go wrong. Except coming along for the ride is the projects financier Carl (Ioan Gruffudd, who along with his girlfiend Victoria are determined to prove that Mother Nature is no match for them, along with Franks young resentful son who is trying to prove his Dad is a loveless, selfish bastard. Predictably when any character doesn't take a highly dangerous expedition seriously and ignores the weather warnings, Mother Nature normally gets a bit annoyed and in this case hurricane's the crap out of the local area pouring water into the cave and well you can guess the rest. Cue many grisly cave/diving related deaths, as tensions rise with the water and one by one the group of explorers make stupid mistakes, and screw each other over in a fight for survival.

There are definitely moments of real tension and horror, but they were unfortunately few and far between as apart from swimming around trying to escape, not alot else happens, and it is mostly a case of sitting back and waiting for each character to meet their grisly death. Each of these death scenes are entirely fictionalised, as all the members of the Nullarbor Plain team survived, which is probably why there is a distinct lack of believability to the film, in that each member dies one by one, and why the film feels more like a typical Hollywood disaster film, than a true account. Added to this the appalling acting, especially from Ioan Gruffudd towards the end of the film, and unfortunately no amount of 3D could save this film, or the characters. If you are an explorer or diver then this film will no doubt be of interest, but as pure cinematic entertainment for the rest of us, I doubt it will stay afloat at the box office.

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  • Release Date
  • 13 June 2011
  • Technical Features / Extras
  • Format: PAL
  • Language English
  • Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: 15