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Sanctum (6/10)

by Tony Medley

Run time 106 minutes.

OK for children.

This is a movie that is truly made better by being made in 3D. Directed by Alister Grierson, several divers/spelunkers, including Richard McGuire (Richard Roxburgh), a master diver, his 17-year old son, Jack (Rhys Wakefield), Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffudd), who financed the expedition, Carlís girlfriend, Victoria (Alice Parkinson), and an old friend of Richardís, Crazy George (Dan Wyllie), are trapped in a huge underground cave by a flash flood. They canít go out the way they came in, so they decide to try to find the way out by going deeper into the cave.

The film was shot on location in Queensland, Australia and in caves in South Australia. What sets this apart from a run of the mill survival adventure is the 3D photography, which captures the claustrophobia of the caves and the narrow passageways that must be navigated much more realistically than a two dimensional film would. But, to be clear, this wonít be a problem for claustrophobics, so if you have a weakness for it, you neednít avoid this film.

The story is derived from the 1988 experience of famous spelunker Andrew Wight, who led an expedition to dive and explore a remote system of caves under Australiaís Nullarbor Plain, when his team of 15 was trapped underground by a sudden storm. While everyone survived, Wight developed this film based on the ordeal.

To make it more cinematic, his longtime colleague, James Cameron of Avatar (2009) and Titanic (1997), and writer John Garvin wrote a coming-of-age story about the difficult relationship between father Richard and son Jack and how itís affected by the life-or-death struggle to survive.

Whatís impressive is that many of the stunts were done by the actors themselves. They all had to learn how to scuba dive and rock climb. While professional divers did the most difficult stunts, the others were done by the actors, including buddy breathing with a flooded full face mask (accomplished by Roxburgh and Allison Cratchley).

Production designer Nicholas McCallum did award quality work in creating the cave environment in which the entire film takes place, including underground rivers, waterfalls, stalactites, and huge caverns. Duplicating them on a small scale required exceptional talent.

The only thing controversial about the film is that it seems to countenance mercy-killing and assisted suicide. While few might argue with the killings as they are portrayed, they still present moral dilemmas that the film really doesnít address, but thatís probably real life instead of reel life, because there isnít much time for thought when the occasion for such a decision arises.

Cameron spent years developing the technology needed to film Avatar and this is the first film since Avatar in which it has been utilized. Cameron says, ďItís a system I was thrilled to use on Avatar and which Andrew utilized on Sanctum, the Cameron/Pace Fusion 3D Camera Systemóa stereoscopic HD camera system that delivers such incredible results that we can deliver flawless IMAX projection in 3D.Ē

While the story examines what happens to the human character when unexpectedly thrust into a disastrous situation, itís the cinematography and recreation of the environment that make this film worth seeing. Itís certainly not the characters because the biggest flaw of the film is that thereís not one person in it that inspires any sympathy.

February 3, 2011