Saturday, February 26, 2011

What could possibly go wrong diving in caves?

 Hello I am the movie encyclopedia and if no one else will see it, I will.

James Cameron and I have an interesting relationship. Cameron the director, has made some of my favorite movies (Terminator 1 and 2, True Lies, Aliens) and created one of my favorite short lived shows ever made (Dark Angel). Cameron the person however pisses me off to no end and I will be quite happy the day he retires. That said I want to still see his movies so it's kind of an odd situation. His latest movie, which he neither wrote nor directed but executive produced the hell out of (and oddly does all the promotion for), is Sanctum, a cave diving adventure shot using the 3D tech that they used for Avatar. It's written by two first timers and based on the "true life story" of co-writer Andrew Wight, who dealt with the same obstacles as this movie did. It's directed by newcomer Alister Grierson and stars only one actor I've heard of (Richard Roxburgh of Moulin Rouge).

So needless to say it has a lot of new blood working on it. But does Cameron's executive producing and help make this a Cameron worthy film? Simply
 The story follows Josh, the seventeen year old son of famed explorer Frank McGuire. Josh, along with a rich couple looking to live it up a little, travel to the Esa'ala Cave in Papua New Guinea, where Josh's father happens to be, along with a small group of other explorers. They dive down into the caves and things seem to be going fine until Frank and Judes (a female diver) go exploring deeper into the caves and Judes accidentally drowns when her breathing tube snaps. Josh blames Frank, saying he murdered her, but Frank blames Josh, saying he forgot to get back-up tanks. Soon after Judes death a storm hits and water starts rushing into the cave, forcing the group to dive in and find a way out.

One of the biggest faults with this film is it's story. I have no doubt that Wight and John Garvin (the other co-writer) are talented people but this film really does not showcase it. Besides Josh and Frank it lacks any character development besides the usual stereotypes we see in almost every action/horror movie. Even Josh and Frank are barely developed compared to what we are expectant of in a feature film. We need to care about these characters and really we don't. When and if the characters die we could care less because we barely knew their names. Also the dialogue can be really cheesy and heavy handed at times, causing some groan worthy moments and almost enough eye rolling to sprain an eye. It's near painful to listen to.
 And for a film that boasts great 3-D, I'd like to know how it warranted that. The 3-D adds maybe a little depth and feels off centered for the most part. While films like Resident Evil Afterlife and Dreamworks/Pixar films give you depth up front and sometimes throw stuff to the side to cause our eyes to keep moving making us more engaged in the film, this film has a weird hackneyed approach making the depth off to the side and barely throwing anything to the side, almost forcing us to stare at the corner of the screen. I don't claim to be a film expert but aren't we supposed to look straight into the screen? On top of it being off centered it is DARK. The reason I didn't see Clash of the Titans or My Soul to Take in 3D was because of how dark everyone said they were. And after watching Alice in Wonderland in 3D I knew what they meant. Sanctum takes that to a new level. It looks grimy at times and for every beautiful landscape shot towards the beginning, once you get into the thick of things, it's a very dark, ugly film. Add off centered and you have an almost unwatchable film.

It's saving grace though is the acting. Honestly that is the only thing that kept me going. While I had only heard of Richard Roxburgh (who plays Frank), I hadn't heard of any of the other actors. That said, they all did a really good job. Granted the script caused them to work in a tight, confined acting space both physically and metaphorically using mostly stereotypes as their entire character development for the film, but each actor, Rhys Wakefield especially, did a great job making me believe they were really the characters they were portraying. Sometimes in a movie that outright fails at everything else, the actors can come off as "So and so playing the character" and not lose themselves in the character like they are supposed to. Even the smallest accomplished that goal and for that I tip my hat to them.
Sanctum is a film that could have been a lot better, had it not been shot in 3D and hired different writers to do the script...that or at least a new writer to give the characters some depth. While the landscape can be beautiful at times, the murky, dark and off centered 3D makes it impossible to really enjoy it. Had it not had the quality acting from the entire cast, I very well could have walked out of this movie. It's not fun to watch, the dialogue is cheesy, the plot is rushed and it's full of head scratching moments. Honestly it's hard for me to recommend this movie to anyone, but if you must see it, see it in 2D and don't expect much.


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