Big Screen Review: Sanctum 3D

February 9th 2011

Sanctum 3D is an Australianish production made with immense resources, technology, and talent. ‘Avatar’ director James Cameron has gotten behind it as a Producer, and the 3D technology he pioneered has been used to film it. It has a lavish budget by Australian standards, and even a pretty good cast, led by Richard Roxburgh and Mr Fantastic himself Ioan Gruffudd. Its a great mystery then as to how it has turned out so dreadful, greater even than the mystery as to why its called ‘Sanctum’. ??This is about a bunch of cardboard cutouts who travel down into a cave system accessed by a huge butthole out in the middle of Papua New Guinea. They get trapped due to a storm that I was under the impression they were aware of, but apparently not. Despite Gruffudd playing a billionaire, Roxburgh explains there will be no rescue party only body recoverers because everyone will assume that they all died. What’s the difference so long as someone comes? Seems to me that body recoverers would be just as good as rescuers. Anyway movie logic dictates that there only possible course of action is to try and follow the cave through its unexplored regions and out to the sea. Sounded like a pretty good setup to me. Unfortunately it has been cursed with a script that needs serious serious work.

When the movie isn’t busy using Andrew Hansen from The Chaser to dump huge chunks of literally pointless exposition, it is failing to explain what its characters are attempting to do, and why they are being prevented from doing it. There is nothing quite so frustrating as watching a character obviously in peril, but not being sure how they got there, what the danger is, and what they need to do to get out. Then, they either escape (offscreen) or get their face smashed to bits, and we are left none the wiser. Despite the script constantly talking about the dangers of getting the bends, when a character does get it you don’t know what it means for them, and why he was the only one who got it. He starts coughing and we are supposed to just simply understand. Nobody told me that coughing means The Bends. I just figured the air was shit down there. Not only that, despite its nearly 2 hour run time, the movie never adequately explains how they got into peril in the first place, or why they make the decisions they do to get out of it. Anyway, I’ve spent too long picking apart this script, because there wasn’t much else to occupy me during the runtime. My point is that the movie never sells the peril, either in the scenario, or in scenes meant to generate suspense.

Roxburgh and Rhys Wakefield play a father and son barely on speaking terms. Who thinks that they will reconcile, and grow to love and respect each other over the course of the adventure? I don’t know. You will have to watch the movie to find out. They are both good actors, but not good enough to sell this dialogue or breath life into these characters. The cave system occasionally looks stunning, but frequently looks like the treasure cave from The Goonies. Setting a 3D movie in a cave was never a good idea either, because the glasses dim the image anyway. When the only light is supposedly from torches (even though the filmmakers clearly cheat this – see image above), the whole thing looks like a murky mess. As far as I’m concerned shooting a 3D movie in a cave is about as counter-intuitive as shooting a documentary about the Great Barrier Reef in black and white. James Cameron understood this problem in ‘Avatar‘, its why he made the palette so bright. Its surprising then that his name is on this disappointing mess.


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