Sanctum


Sanctum

Richard Roxburgh is taking his toys and going home.

(2011) Adventure (Universal) Richard Roxburgh, Rhys Wakefield, Ioan Gruffudd, Alice Parkinson, Dan Wylie, Christopher Baker, Nicole Downs, Allison Cratchley, Cramer Cain, Andrew Hansen, John Garvin. Directed by Alister Grierson

The exploration of caves is one of the last great adventures left to us on Earth. Most of the planet has been completely mapped and has been seen by human eyes. It is only when we go belowground that the exploration really begins…as well as the danger. 

Josh (Wakefield) is the son of noted cave explorer Frank (Roxburgh) who doesn’t share his father’s enthusiasms. He is constantly in his father’s doghouse, forced to spend summers with him that he’d rather spend doing anything else but. Frank, for his part, pushes Josh mercilessly, expecting far more than Josh is willing to give.

Frank is exploring a cave in Papua New Guinea’s Esa Ala cave system, one of the largest in the world. Josh has gone to pick up Carl (Gruffudd), a nascent caver himself who is funding the expedition. Carl has brought along his girlfriend Victoria (Parkinson) who has almost no caving experience. Josh escorts them to the massive cave opening and leads them down, although Type A personality Carl prefers jump off the edge and ride his parachute down.

In the meantime Josh’s forgetfulness about bringing down the spare air tanks has led to a terrible mishap in the caves. It becomes a heated argument between Josh and Frank and Josh prepares to leave. However a sudden storm turns into a cyclone, causing the cave to flood, leaving their only way out cut off. With the water level rising, Frank, Josh, Carl, Victoria as well as members of Frank’s support team Luku (Cain) and Crazy George (Wylie) must figure a way out of the caves before they all drown.

This was shot in 3D and to be honest, I’m not sure it really needed it. Much of the movie has little or no foreground to speak of, causing the director to have to use creative ways of framing the action in order to generate the 3D imagery. As a result, the movie has a curious lack of depth considering that it’s filmed in 3D (utilizing the same camera technology that executive producer James Cameron used for Avatar). It is also made darker because of the polarized glasses needed to view the 3D and quite frankly, the movie is dark enough to begin with. Some movies lend themselves to the 3D visual experience and some don’t and to my mind, this was one of the latter sort.

The actors are mainly not well known in these parts, although Gruffudd did get some notoriety as Reed Richards in the Fantastic Four movies. Most of the rest of the cast is Australian (much of the movie was filmed there) and for the most part do credible jobs. Roxburgh is the main eventer here, gruff and hard as nails, particularly on his son. The dynamic between Josh and Frank is at the emotional center of the movie, and if it doesn’t work, neither does the movie.

Fortunately for the filmmakers, that dynamic does work and is one of the things about the movie you come away with. That, the breathtaking visuals of the caves which are partially location shots, some sets and some CGI. The scenes are appropriately claustrophobic where they need to be, and grand vistas where they need to be. This makes for an excellent setting for the adventure.

The critics have been pretty rough on the movie and I can see some of their points although I do think they were being a little bit harsh overall. The general consensus is that this is Ten Little Indians in a cave and to my view that’s lazy writing – most survival movies, regardless of location, have that element to them as characters get picked off one by one by the elements or whatever disaster they’re dealing with. The killing off of characters gives you a sense of the danger that they’re in; without it, that sense of impending danger isn’t there and you don’t feel any sense of fear for your characters and your emotional investment in the movie then goes spiraling down the drain.

In the end, this is a fairly pedestrian adventure movie with some nice visuals that would have been nicer if they hadn’t been further darkened by 3D. Also, the language is a bit on the foul side to the point that the movie got an “R” rating here in the states, a rating that it didn’t really warrant considering there was little violence, not much gore and no sex. However, if you’re looking for a bit of fun and an escape from the ordinary, you could do much, much worse.

REASONS TO GO: Some stunning cave photography. Some of the perils are quite well done.

REASONS TO STAY: Script a little hackneyed. Language should have been cleaned up.  

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of coarse language, a bit of violence and several images that might be disturbing to the sensitive.  

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film bills itself as being based on actual events; co-writer Andrew Wright had a similar situation in which a cave he and 14 others were exploring had the entrance collapse, forcing them to find another way out.

HOME OR THEATER: Although some of the film is claustrophobic by its very nature, the magnificent caverns should be seen on a big screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Company Men