Wednesday, 17 August 2011


Sanctum [Review]

Opinion: C+
Sanctum is in fact an Australian production that is assisted by the technical advantage invested by James Cameron, which turns out to be a misleading marketing advantage instead. A thriller that attempts to explore what nature holds over mankind, it somewhat fails with considerably lacklustre production values in the form of its script, set, and cast. Despite so, it makes a relatively engaging home video to indulge in on the couch.

The 3-D action-thriller Sanctum, from executive producer James Cameron, 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) 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 (Rhys Wakefield) and financier Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffudd)--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?

Shot on location off the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia, Sanctum employs 3-D photography techniques Cameron developed to lens Avatar. Designed to operate in extreme environments, the technology used to shoot the action-thriller will bring audiences on a breathless journey across plunging cliffs and into the furthest reaches of our subterranean world.

If you've seen the featurette, you'd know the fundamental intentions of the filmmakers as well as the Executive Producer, James Cameron.

A cave exploration film.

We all know that Cameron is infatuated with underwater photography besides his latest passion for the third dimension in the film industry. Here in Sanctum, it is probably the underwater opportunities that attracted Cameron to come on board. It's commonly known that Cameron here to provide his 3D expertise, but it's likely the subterranean aspect that's the main draw.

It may seem serene and naturally stagnant on screen, but underwater shooting is a difficult aspect of filmmaking. Not only are there considerations of lighting, there's also the operation of the camera as well as its movement when submerged. The crew will also need some way of effective communication, so it's pretty much hardcore stuff and Cameron is in love with it.

Much like the above mentioned, the lead cave explorer Frank seems to be a dominating Cameron-inspired character who is really obsessed with hanging out in caves and performing exotic explorations.

Frank seems to be the only memorable character here, who also incidentally inspire several others in the film. But that's all there is to character-depth in this film, especially much desired when it's a film about nature versus mankind. There's just too much lifeless characters in this film.

With poor characters comes poor dialogues. The script was full of unwanted cliches and plot-piecing.

We get the epic idea of how vastly powerful the element of nature is with the visuals of the large earth surface opening of Esa'Ala in Papua New Guinea, along with the CG schematic design portrayal of how deep and complex the cave system is like down underneath. What fails the premise here is the non-underwater scenes of infinite mud-coloured rock surface that engulfs the cast, as it seems unnatural and man-made (you get what I mean - low production set values).

The underwater scenes were fascinating, thanks to some second-unit shooting in actual caves located in coastal Australia to instill some sense of realism to get a good mix of footage between real caves and studio set. However, there wasn't a lot of visual guidance as to where exactly are the characters at at any point of the film. After much consideration, I thought perhaps much like how the onscreen characters felt, we are also supposed to be uncertain of our exact location.

The only way out is to follow the river flow.

The second half of the film is the true redemption that catches attention with certain controversial themes like shortening a dying man's agony by ending his life manually. It adds some sense of cruelty to mankind's survival in the wild. Doing everything that mankind is capable of in order to survive, it's every man for himself and it certainly leaves no room for "leave no man behind". This is also noted when two or more persons find themselves having to dive with only one rebreather apparatus among them.

Some amount of gruesome sight of gore also helped the audience to cringe at cruel reality.

The thrill comes mostly from mankind's unpredictability when facing the pressure of life and death, which is a revelation when we've always thought the merciless nature was the most unpredictable. But with cheap production sets, a lacklustre script, and mediocre cast members, Sanctum doesn't seem to have what it takes to survive in the film genre industry.

But it's a good effort, nevertheless.

You never give up.


  1. I was a bit more generous than you on this one. I didn't think it was great, but I enjoyed it for what it was, plus it tenseness ekpt me on the edge of my seat the whole time. The location was WOW.. I was really impressed by it.

  2. @Nebular Yes, I think Sanctum is really all about the caves and underwater diving. For that it was not bad. But I factored in more of the cliche script and average characters, maybe that's why.

    Nice to hear about it from you, thank you! :D

  3. Agree with you on this one, J!
    Though the underwater cave setting was breathtaking but the script and characters were so cliche and average.


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