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The 3-D action-thriller Sanctum 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 has explored the South Pacific's Esa-ala Caves for months. But when his exit is cut off in a flash flood, Frank's team-including 17-year-old son Josh and financier Carl Hurley are forced to radically alter plans. With dwindling supplies, the crew 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?
Release Date: 4 February 2011
Deep in the forests of Papa New Guinea, in some of the last untouched wilderness on Earth, there is a great gaping hole in the Earth just waiting for someone to try and venture down inside, so that it can swallow him whole. Famed cave diver Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh) is just that someone, and for extra kicks he's bringing his rebellious son (Rhys Wakefield) and less experienced financial backer (Ioan Gruffudd) along for the ride. Dive. Whatever.
The pace and story of "Sanctum" will come as no surprise to anyone whatsoever. Things naturally go wrong when an unexpected storm traps the divers in the cave, forcing them to find an alternate route in a classic tale of man against nature where the pressure of the escape will force their deepest fears and personality defects to the surface, separating the men from the boys. And presumably separating the boys and women from the boys as well.
Inspired by a real life cave-diving near-death experience by co-writer Andrew Wight, it's impossible to think that a film based directly on that would have been genuinely dramatic and interesting in the way the filmmakers think "Sanctum" is. There seems to be a great deal of doubt in the inherent drama of that sort of life-death struggle, probably because real life tends to be banal and dull even when its interesting, which is why we have movies. They're the sexier version of real life.
So in the place of anything remotely real or relatable we get the worse sort of adventure movie clichés jammed together one after another. It would be charitable to call the characters archetypes, from the carefree billionaire playboy to the out-of-her-depth girlfriend to the taciturn explorer and his strained relationship with his son. And just to make sure you understand the extremely broad strokes used to create the characters, they spend the entire first half of the film with the characters restating their main qualities in every line of dialog.
It's part of the impossible anchor "Sanctum" can't get away from, which is slowly but surely drags it down to a watery grave. For any forward steps the film makes, it takes two more backwards due to an aggressively bad script that sounds as if it were written by people who had only ever seen 80s era action movies. The characters initially only speak in macho clichés and show that they are deep by occasionally quoting Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 'Kubla Kahn.'
It seems as if the filmmakers have decided that the script was just an unavoidable appendage that had to be dealt with in order to get viewers into the action and drama and eventually lost in the 3D. Except that because the script is so lacking the drama isn't very dramatic and the action and thrills are tepid, ranging to unbelievable once characters start freaking out and braining each other with rocks.
The 3D is, unfortunately, not much to write home about either. Despite being shot with actual 3D cameras, instead of simply post-processed, "Sanctum" displays the limits of the technique rather than expanding its capabilities. Simply, when used in a real world setting with a minimum of CGI the 3D is all but invisible, adding little in the way of depth. Only the rare computer generated vistas of huge caverns or the odd helicopter shot early in the film does the technique add anything, otherwise you might as well not bother. All it does is expose the modern film business' need to add a tremendous premium to its ticket prices in order to make any sort of profit, even from middling-to-low budget work like "Sanctum."
The only really redeeming quality the film has is Richard Roxburgh, who remains true to his character's taciturn ways while gradually revealing more and more of why he is the way he is and how necessary (if brutal) that mindset is to surviving in the world he has chosen to live in.
It's not enough to salvage a terribly predictable script turned into a terribly predictable film. If nothing else, "Sanctum" does serve as an excellent example of how repeating elements you like from other movies does not make for an actual movie. It's not bad as much as terribly, terribly boring. They should have changed the name of the movie to "Tedium."