Sanctum strives to be the Titanic of spelunkers. But actually being stuck in a remote waterlogged grotto might be more tolerable than enduring this disaster of an adventure movie. Claustrophobics beware: 95% of the action takes place trapped in stony underground confines. And cinephiles take note: The influence of executive producer James Cameron— his cringingly bad dialogue most of all — lurks around every watery corner.
Thanks to a flash flood, a crew of explorers becomes trapped within a labyrinthine mass of unexplored South Pacific caverns. No run-of-the-mill caves, they are the largest system of underwater caves in existence. And they`re mighty treacherous.
It certainly sounds like a workable setting for terror and thrills. But as the survivors get pushed into the cavernous depths, the story lacks the tension of even a middling thriller.
Leading the pack is Frank (Richard Roxburgh), the world`s premier cave explorer. Impressive as he is probing stony masses, he`s not much of a father. Still, his estranged teenage son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) agrees to take an expedition with the father he resents. Along for the ride is the playboy/adventurer financing it all, Carl (Ioan Gruffudd), and his girlfriend, Victoria (Alice Parkinson).
The characters are essentially types, and stupendously uninteresting ones at that. There`s the gruff master explorer who has little use for smooth Mr. Moneybags and his adventure-loving babe, and there`s the aggrieved son, who just tries to get along. The ancillary characters are even more one-dimensional, but they get dispensed with quickly.
Had Cameron directed, it might have been worth watching at least for the visual splendors. But director Alister Grierson is no Cameron. Sanctum utilizes the 3-D camera techniques Cameron used in shooting Avatar, intended for use in extreme environments. But the 3-D in the opening scenes is a muddy waste — particularly in IMAX. Rather than fully conveying the power of fearsome cliffs and crevasses, natural formations get obscured by human backs or jutting shoulders partially blocking the frame.
And what spectacular shots do occasionally emerge are quickly dampened by the tedious tale.
One of last year`s best films —127 Hours— centered on a man trapped in a cave. Now we have one of this year`s worst focused on a group stuck in a cave. Both are based on actual ordeals, but they couldn`t be more different when it comes to artistry, acting, storytelling and suspense.
A documentary on the formation of stalagmites would have been more compelling.
Ratings: Just one cheer for this one!