STARRING Allison Cratchley, Christopher Baker, Rhys Wakefield, Richard Roxburgh DIRECTED BY Alister Grierson SCREENPLAY Andrew Wight, John Garvin MPAA RATING Rated R RUNNING TIME 103 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY Universal Pictures
I admit it.
Trashing James Cameron films, or even simply films associated with the "king of the world," is a guilty pleasure.
So imagine my near orgasmic pleasure at sitting through Sanctum, a 3-D action thriller produced by James Cameron following a group of underwater cave divers on a dangerous expedition to the largest, least accessible and most beautiful cave system on Earth. When a tropical storm forces them deep inside one of the caverns, they must fight their own panic, raging waters and deadly terrain while searching for an unknown escape route.
Will they find it or will they perish?
Master diver Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh) is leading the expedition, with his 17-year-old son (Rhys Wakefield) and his financier, Carl (Ioan Gruffud), joining him.
Had director Alister Grierson settled for, perhaps, simply turning Sanctum into your typical voice-over narrated IMAX undersea adventure there's a pretty decent chance the combination of the incredible scenery and Cameron's utilized technology would have given the film a modest niche' audience that would have appreciated it. Unfortunately, this is not your typical IMAX adventure. It's a 3-D adventure constructed utilizing Cameron's 3-D camera and, in all likelihood, a good portion of his undersea technology wrapped around paper-thin characters and ridiculously silly dialogue co-penned by John Garvin and Andrew Wight. When Sanctum is quietly following our adventurers through hypnotically beautiful scenery and dangerous waters, it's not quite a captivating film but it's at least an interesting one. However, whenever a character starts talking it's hard not to chuckle at the pseudo father/son bonding, the disappointingly non-suspenseful thrills and the kind of self-important dialogue that suggests that, perhaps, Cameron himself had quite a bit of influence here.
I've never really fancied myself a fan of Cameron's work, perhaps a massive understatement and a "Mr. Obvious" statement for those who know me. Even his highly acclaimed box-office winners have struck me as badly acted, weakly written films getting by on their technical prowess and big budget Hollywood muscle. Yet, it's hard not to admire Cameron's ability to identify projects that will do monster biz. I mean, seriously, how many filmmakers would have had the balls to even attempt an Avatar type film? So, it always strikes me as a little bit odd when Cameron associates himself with what is obviously a really weak project and, quite simply, Sanctum is likely a film that would have gone straight-to-video without Cameron's involvement.
It's even disappointing that Sanctum is a 3-D film, because the few "ooh" and "aah" shots hardly justify the use of the technology and, for the most part, the darkened grainy consequences of 3-D technology make the scenes that are supposed to be quite thrilling not play out in such a way.
The cast is uniformly weak, likely a combination of being forced to mutter words that shouldn't even be thought in silence and their own cinematic inadequacy, though one must single out Welsh actor Ioan Gruffud for at least having a bit of fun as Carl, a bit of an a**hole and the financier for the entire project. Richard Roxburgh, on the other hand, plays one note not particularly well and rising Aussie soap star Rhys Wakefield isn't going to see his American box-office breakthrough come with this flick thanks to a performance that makes Taylor Lautner look spirited and promising.
It's difficult to label Sanctum a massive disappointment, because other than having James Cameron's name attached to it it's hard to imagine that anyone at Universal Pictures really had any expectations for this mid-January throwaway. Occasional decent use of 3-D and fleeting beautiful photography aren't nearly enough to justify the extra expense of viewing Sanctum in 3-D or, for that matter, viewing the film at all before it hits home video.
If you combine Titanic with this film, you get a sinker and a stinker.