A bad cave-diving movie is a bad cave-diving movie, no matter who you get to produce it. Such is the case with Sanctum, the James Cameron produced, 3D cave adventure, which may have some nicely photographed interiors and a few moments of solid tension, but also suffers from a horrible script and some bad pacing. What could have been a fairly exciting disaster/adventure movie aided by the use the latest 3D technology, turns out to have been a wasted of a lot of good underground spelunking potential and nicely filmed underwater scenes. I would have rather watched The Planet Earth version of this movie.
The story surrounds Master diver Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh). He has explored the South Pacific’s Esa-ala Caves for months. Due to a storm, the cave is forced shut, leaving Frank’s team, including his 17-year-old son, Josh, (Rhys Wakefield) and the financier, Carl (Ioan Gruffudd), on their own and faced with the task of finding another way out. The solution is to explore deeper into the uncharted caves, hoping to follow the underwater river into the ocean. With dwindling supplies, the crew must navigate the underwater labyrinth, while dealing with various life or death decisions. Within this story of people struggling to survive, the core of this film happens to be about a father and son learning to bond, despite having an uneasy relationship with one another.
Given that this film relies heavily on its 3D technology, much of the money for this modestly budgeted film apparently did not go towards hashing out a more interesting script. It certainly does not help that none of the actors seem to be trying very hard. The worst person here is easily Ioan Gruffudd as Carl. Everything he does in this film just feels wrong. It is one of those times where you can easily tell who the weak link in the cast is. None of the other characters are really developed that much either, which does not help in a film dependent on you caring about having these people survive.
The problem this film has is its pacing. A film about characters fighting the odds, underground, with little to help them along should not be boring, yet this film is, in many spots. Towards the end, things start to move along a bit better, but the journey to get there is a long haul. With its bad dialogue, along with poor handling in regards to its pacing, Sanctum really suffers in two major areas.
Fortunately, the film does have some redeeming qualities. The 3D looks good. Given that this is a film produced by James Cameron in a post-Avatar world, that seems like it would be a given, and that is the case here. It was shot in 3D, and some of the wide shots really do a good job at selling the depth (hey-oh!) of certain sequences. Seeing the underwater photography is quite good as it mixes the use of actual locations with some pretty solid looking soundstages and sets. There are sequences involving the reveal of the cave these people are exploring from the outside and another cave opening later on in the film that I found to be quite effective. Also, while Sanctum is no Buried when it comes to capturing the sense of being trapped in a confined space, it did a decent job when forcing the characters to do some crawling.
The film is loosely based on a true story, experienced by screenwriter and famous Australian underwater explorer Andrew Wight. While it is nice to know that Wight is actually a really great guy, and managed to overcome a pretty big struggle during his lifetime, and co-write a movie about it, the script really could have used some work to make it turn out better. As it stands, this film gets no favors from its writing and only has its photography and moments of decent thrills to stand on. I am happy that Cameron was able to turn this Australian import into a nice enough looking outlet for some of his 3D camera technology, I just hope that much more worthwhile movies come from this eventually, as well.
2 out of 5