I think with the name James Cameron attached to this project clearly branded ‘SANCTUM’ to be one of the year’s most anticipated films. UNIVERSAL started airing their trailers back in the fall, and I think cleverly done seeing as they presented tidbits of the film (obviously, because it’s a trailer) followed by a ‘Based on true events’ mention. Once one sees that the film’s based on actual events, I know it entices ones’ interest and immediately research starts. Caves, Divers, Darkness, Panic-stricken segments and comments like “I’ll see you on the other side” by one of the actors doesn’t leave quite a pleasing swirl within your system. It opens you up to uncontrolled thoughts of placing yourself in particular situations, and makes you wonder about those who actually risk their lives for simultaneous purposes of thrill-seeking and education.
After his a$$-kicking success with ‘AVATAR’ (2009), Cameron has proceeded to create his miracle touch as Executive Producer along with Director Alister Grierson, and piecing a unique film linking darkness and water to a degree of mind-twisting intensity.
‘SANCTUM’ gives us a group of underwater cave explorers on a dangerous expedition to the largest, most breathtaking and the very least reachable caverns (The South Pacific’s Esa-ala Cave) on the planet. Master diver Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh) HAS explored the Esa-ala Caverns for a bit, however when his exit is shut down in a flash flood, Frank and his team—including his 17-year-old son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) and financier Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffudd)—are pressured to drastically change plans. Adding to their complexities which include dwindling resources, and a stringent time-frame, they must get through an underwater labyrinth to really make it out. Before long, they are up against the inevitable issue: Can they all stay alive, or will they be stuck for good?
Shot in the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia, ‘SANCTUM’ utilizes 3-D digital photography techniques Cameron developed when producing ‘AVATAR.’ Created to perform in severe conditions, the engineering employed in the action-thriller provides viewers on a breathless quest throughout crashing cliffs and towards the furthermost reaches in our subterranean earth.
I was lucky enough to have obtained an IMAX screening which doubled my viewing pleasure. Considering I have bad eye-sight, something about modern technology has a magical touch which not only allowed me to view this film with the utmost of visual pleasure, but also made it feel as tangible as any cave dwelling documentary I’ve seen over at The Museum of Natural History’s IMAX Theater. From edge to uneven footing, from darkness to disorientation… the abyss (no pun) to an unknown world is clearly depicted.
Many of whom I screened the film with, as well as friends question the authenticity to the film’s story. Well, for starters, one of the co-writers of the film—I read the actual cinematographer of the real expedition—was one of several divers caught in the underground cave system. Everyone has been very tight lipped about what happened under water during the events of ‘SANCTUM.’ I also know that the co-writer, along with Cameron, wanted to keep the film as close as possible to the true events of those horrid 2 days. There were segments that were manipulated, but they were far in-between, and as little as possible. They did not want to change much to make it more exciting, and wanted everyone to know what happened, what they went through and how (if) they all survive. There’s also a National Geographic documentary which aired regarding the actual event which took place in 1998. They really broke down the story from beginning to end, and presented an in-depth feeling of what those explorers experienced. To much avail, sometimes these special documentaries are a lot more informative and less dramatic as say anything Hollywood produces, but ‘SANCTUM’ is one of those rare films which does keep you on edge wondering what will transpire once in that cave.
At the start of the film, there’s a deep scene which sets a creepy pace tied in with some pretty good music, however, after that, there’s 30 minutes which might have you wondering what the hell it is you’re watching. Lots of cuts between those in the cave and those prepping to go under while on land speeds the film’s character breakdown. Between wise cracks, planning, arguments and establishing who’s new at the game and who isn’t, once this crash course of characters is presented, what follows from there is a roller-coaster ride of wonder, and journey of sought out punishment—seek trouble and you’ll find it! A lot within the film clearly states Cameron’s touch. I’m not too sure how much difference this film would be in 2-D versus 3-D, but scenery in this film was totally enjoyed by me. Although 90% of the film is pretty much dark, the way this film was shot was crafted pretty well. It generated lots of feeling, and no matter whether you’re an explorer or not, when leaving this film, something about it will resonate and generate wonder. There were many scenes which I found myself emotionally tangled in their web of despair. Most of the film’s setting was inevitable to a degree considering their rough interactions, and what followed through—mainly with Frank—set forth how far one would go in order to keep sanity, strength, stamina and WILL!
I think the score could have been a bit more intriguing. During the second act, there’s a scene which sets the divers seeking a way out after having their only exit jammed, where it was really driven by moment, survival and wonder whether someone would make it or not. At that point, the music was quite intense and played along well. The rest was simply okay, as it really didn’t help elevate a group of people trapped within Earth’s closets. In the end, there’s a lot to this film which I feel can be appreciated and admired. I always find myself taken by those who risk their own lives at the cost of making sure they educate people like you and I about what we don’t know regarding this big blue marble we inhabit. Setting aside some of the music downer and a rushed form of character build up, kudos to everyone involved with this film. I, however, recommend watching this at a movie theater—IMAX if you can! Otherwise, you’re reaping yourself of an expedition which cannot be enjoyed in the same matter when watching it on your flat-screen. ‘SANCTUM’ delivers in lots of ways!
GRADE: B+ / GENRE: Action/Adventure, Drama and Thriller / ROARS: 4 out 5
RATED: R / RUN TIME: 1 Hr. 43 Min.
STARRING: Alice Parkinson, Richard Roxburgh, Rhys Wakefield, Joan Gruffudd
DIRECTOR: Alister Grierson