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Sanctum is an action thriller involving exploration of an extensive,
world-class cave system in Papua New Guinea. The movie is inspired by
an actual flood event in an extensive cave in the Nullarbor Plain of
Australia in 1988. It is not a documentary, but designed to be a
realistic, albeit embellished, account that includes non-stop action as
the team is faced with its deadly situations and decisions. Although
released in 2-D, 3-D, and IMAX formats, Sanctum is not a science
fiction or horror movie. There are no monsters, weird creatures, on
humanoid inhabitants, such as are found in the recent films, The Cave,
The Cavern, and Descent (Parts 1 and 2). And it is not a fantasy
underground adventure like the recent remakes of Journey to the Center
of the Earth and Alice in Wonderland. Sanctum is about caving, an
adventure sport that is practiced by knowledgeable and safety-minded
people throughout the world.
Most movie goers may not recognize the authenticity of the techniques and equipment used in the film. As one who has spent over 45 years exploring and studying caves in over 35 states and several countries, I am familiar with modern caving in some of the great cave systems on the planet and I personally know many of the cavers who are making new discoveries every year. Therefore, I can attest to the great care that the director Alister Grierson and writer-producer Andrew Wight have taken to provide realism to the cave setting. In fact, Wight was a survivor of the Nullarbor event and is an experienced caver and diver. That having been said, Sanctum takes some liberties to create an exciting story. Nearly every activity in caving is included in this epic, such as climbing, rappelling and other rope work, squeezing and negotiating tight passageways, and of course cave diving. This story shows what can go wrong with each of these if care is not taken or if safety is ignored. Sanctum is an adventure thriller that consists of a long string of incidents, dilemmas, and solutions. Each situation is believable on its own merit and has happened at one time or another in caving. But in Sanctum, all of these have been combined, one after another, and continually pose challenges and demand solutions. It reminds me of the classic and entertaining cliff- hanger movies of old. This makes for an exhausting tale in which the audience feels the tense and claustrophobic situations. It is unlikely that such a string of events would ever be encountered by a single caving expedition. However, individually accidents do happen, although they are relatively rare because cavers strictly abide by established safety rules.
What disturbs me is that many of the reviewers of the movie to date miss the point of the film and show an ignorance of what caves and caving are like. Here are some typically unfair remarks and why these are so.
"There is little character development." Caving is very focused. When you are underground, you only think about your surroundings and mission. You do not think about the outside world and your life there, much less about your interpersonal relationships with your fellow cavers. It is true that when caving, you learn a lot about your compatriots and their personalities (just like in the movie), but you do belabor interpersonal relationships. Team members are selected based on their proved track record underground. If there are challenges and threatening conditions, you focus on those as a team, as in the film. Many reviewers apparently wanted more psycho-drama among the protagonists.
"The dialog is terse, unrealistic, and too loud." I disagree. Under the emergency conditions such as shown in the film, the dialog of the characters would be similar. There would be a leader and a plan would develop, just as we witnessed in 2010 in the case of the trapped Chilean miners. As for loudness and screaming, this is the only way to make yourself heard in the presence of running water in the echoing confines of cave passages. I know this from experience. One's senses in a cave are very much focused on sight and sound and the immediate surroundings.
"It is a tedious tale." Yes, trying to escape through a cave system that is flooding could easily be tedious and, given the extent of the cave in Sanctum, finding routes and traversing them would take considerable time. Cave exploration is not a fast process.
I have been on hundreds of caving trips, including some grueling ones in long and complex cave systems. For me, the representation of the features in the cave and the techniques of exploration are portrayed quite well in Sanctum. Again, this movie is an adventure story that accurately shows what caves are like, even though it combines many of the dangers into a thrilling series of unfortunate events. It is a fictional tale, but realistically portrayed.
Reviewers who expected Sanctum to be a high-culture movie or one that explores interpersonal interactions among the characters have missed the point completely. Unless they have gone on trips into extensive and wild caves, they have little idea of what caves and caving are really like and what this movie is all about. They can not possibly understand the dynamic among cavers under adverse conditions. I find more faults with the reviewers' logic and understanding than they can legitimately find in the film. The movie stays true to what extensive caves are like and the techniques used to explore them. Given that, it is also one heck of an adventure thriller.
This movie, although not James Cameron's best, is visually exciting and
suspenseful. A gripping expedition becomes a race against time and
human nature, when a group of explorers navigating an immense cave in
Papua New Guinea during a cyclone find themselves trapped in what
threatens to become a watery tomb.
The sometimes melodramatic acting and clichéd dialogue tries too hard to construct the nature of each character before the action scenes start to set in, the uncompromising and experienced leader, the rash and cocky business man, the young kid with father issues. There were plenty of chances to let these traits become apparent naturally throughout the script.
The acting gets more bearable as the number of characters starts to dwindle a little. What saves this movie is the sense of scale in the scenery, the beauty of the natural caves, and the realism with which situations become volatile and unmanageable.
Overall, if you want to see a decent, action driven film about of one of the world's last remaining unexplored landforms, then Sanctum will (probably) not disappoint. It could have done without the 3D, which seemed unnecessary overkill. Not as good as The Abyss, but a similarly excellent visual experience to Avatar, unfortunately it comes with a similar level of acting and, with momentary exceptions, emotional depth.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The script hovers around B-movie level; the characters are fairly one
dimensional. That said, the leads do the best they can with the
material. Roxburgh is the shining light in this dark cavernous movie.
Relative newcomer Wakefield deserves kudos for getting through some
physically grueling scenes while giving the stereotypical "son with
absent father" some dimension. Gruffudds character rapidly deteriorates
from charming daredevil to crazed selfish psychopath which is boring
and predictable. He deserved better.
The old standby kills are easily telegraphed. "Sanctum" is particularly harsh to women. "Females best beware taking on the oh-so-manly task of cave diving; you WILL fail" is the message. The only moment of extreme gore is at the half way point. It was the only time there was much response in our packed theater. Do not expect to be moved or feel much connection with the characters or story.
On the upside, many of the underwater scenes are remarkable. The 3-D is not necessary but does add to the claustrophobia and disorientation the characters must battle. The cinematography and editing are fantastic and easily the best part of the film. Would have loved more panoramic establishing shots of the underground environment so that the audience could get a real feel for why these daredevils risked so much.
Many of the cave shots and renderings are breathtaking, but ultimately there is no heart and soul to either the characters, dialogue or plot. There is a reliance on bombastic music to force emotions, leaving "Sanctum" as cold and airless as the caves being explored. In the few scenes where the music was cut and all one could hear was water and breath, a larger sense of drama was invoked.
"Sanctum" is inspired by a true story. It would have benefited greatly from a more documentary perspective instead of spiraling into melodrama. The poor script and characterization are ultimately anchors that weigh the film down. "Sanctum" boasts Cameron, but this is no Avatar, it's more like the sinking of the Titanic.
Final Verdict: Skip this and see Cameron's superior "The Abyss" instead
This movie entertains from start to finish. Are the characters "two
dimensional"? To me not in any sense (ha ha, yes the movie is 3D, lousy
But seriously, for two hours you are taken on a brutal subterranean adventure. I liked the fact that it IS believable. It isn't just action - it is a true human drama and shows the good and bad that can come from people in a life or death situation. And I didn't think it was predictable (for the most part, anyway). I am guessing that the reviewers just didn't like the characters, but that is no fault of the actors; the characters were quite realistic, which I considered a huge plus, while others might have preferred something else. I do need to give a disclaimer that I did not research the "true" story and watched purely from the perspective that it is 100% fiction, so I'm not saying this is an accurate depiction of real events. But it sure seemed like something that could happen.
It isn't "The Black Swan". It isn't "True Grit". It won't be sweeping the Academy Awards. But was it entertaining and worth the price admission? Without question - I actually found it more enjoyable and gripping than anything I have seen in some time. Highly recommended - give it a fair chance!
I was expecting this film to be a lot worse but it was supported by my
JC - James Cameron as executive producer and it does have some of the
best 3D visuals out there. I praise Alister Grierson for using proper
3D cameras and not only that, the ones JC prefers and created. It was a
joy to actually watch a proper 3D film and not the hideous post
production 3D I have bitched about on numerous occasions. I think the
utilizing of JC written everywhere will definitely help this film
immensely and to some extent it truly deserves it.
Some of the scenes in this film are poetic artwork and sheer beauty and provide some mouth agape splendor. And the 3D really does immerse you in the environment, there were moments of vertigo and a constant claustrophobia suffered by myself. The only thing I have struggled to do that I have tried is scuba diving - I chewed through the mouthpiece and kept wanting to rip my mask off - not a cool way to dive . If you can see this one in IMAX 3D then do it - would be totally worth it.
The film also has a really worked out plot, the story is great, although it has been done to death before in different settings, it's an escape film like Towering Inferno. In fact think of The Poseidon Adventure minus the boat . If you don't work out who will survive in the first ten minutes then good for you . It is extremely clichéd with some obvious flaws - for example, the one lady who doesn't wear a wetsuit but wears this huge red outdoor storm gear thing nearly dies of hypothermia and shivers the whole time and yet all the guys are wearing wetsuits, although all sleeveless so we can see some flesh and they are always nice and cosily warm. What this film really lacked though was a decent script - some of the lines in this film had me laughing and cringing in equal parts. It really needed someone like Roberto Orci and/or Alex Kurtzman from Star Trek fame to flesh it out and make it justifiably awesome. But the script brings a lot of the film to B grade level.
Then the other thing that let this film down was one actor, Ioan Gruffudd - I could not believe how bad he was in this film. This guys is a lead in Fantastic 4, was in Titanic, King Arthur and numerous other films but in this he plays this over the top, heavily and badly accented American and it was so badly played he brought the film down a few notches - there were scenes I was hoping he would die so he would be gone from the film. It was shocking.
I will say thank god for the two main leads, Richard Roxburgh and Rhys Wakefield, playing his son. When I first saw the trailer I wasn't too impressed with Roxburgh - he always puts on a silly accent in films and in things like MIssion Impossible 2 he was this hideous bleach headed idiot. But in this film he really pulls it off and I preferred him as a leading man than as a supporting cast member. I found his role very believable and a strength in the film.
Then there was Rhys Wakefield, I found him great in the film and see a strong future for him following that Australian to US market. He is incredibly attractive and has smoother skin that Just Bieber after a buffing. Josh (Wakefield) has a superb relationship with his father in the film, Frank (Roxburgh). It is a love hate, make them tough relationship and it developed nicely and made Josh a man by the end of the film. His good looks were quite distractive in some scenes - as Josh is holding someone dying both Paul, my viewing partner, and myself were going oooh - nice arms. LOL. I am sure this is not what they were after in this scene . He holds the camera well and I look forward to his next role - those Hemsworth boys need to watch out - this guy is coming for all your parts.
I think this film will do OK. It is a guilty pleasure action film that requires limited thinking. It will be a teenager's dream film . I think with the combo of JC, some great direction in a difficult environment by Alister Grierson and the acting of Roxburgh and Wakefield really made this film a pleasure for me. If Gruffudd was never in this film and the script got a work over this could have been a much much better film. It is out this Thursday Feb 3rd in Australia and I recommend a big screen in 3D. Worth 6/10. Suss all my reviews at SaltyPopcorn.com :)
After reading many negative reviews here, I thought I would add my spin
on the movie. I loved it..
The scenery is great, you believe as though you could be there trapped, a long way underground and hoping you can hold your breath..
Yes as others say, at the start you may not like any of the characters, but this develops pretty well along the way.By the end you are caring about who gets out alive/dies and watch a father/son relationship develop.
Rhys Wakefield is particularly great in this flick. Having moved well on since his home and away days to an established Australian film Actor.
A great afternoon spent.
A wonderful film. I had read a couple of reviews on IMDb and decided that it did not sound very good, but how wrong they were! I really don't know much about photography, directors, producers (or even many of the actors) so I always just base my reviews on whether or not I was entertained by the film and this time - three cheers! - I was! It was exciting - The cave scenes gave a claustrophobic feel to it and a couple of times I felt quite panicky myself! The photography was stunning enough to take my breath away. The plot was good enough to hold me enthralled right to the end. (Of course, it was not a particularly original plot but then again very few are and considering the numbers of films being churned out every day we can't be surprised if most of them use and re-use plots.) But this one was very well done. I felt sympathetic to the characters so I did want to know how it all turned out and although bits of it were predictable, it all made perfect sense (another plus for me!). To sum up, here's a film that I watched from start to finish and I enjoyed every bit of it.
Forget the critics, this is an awesome movie. It's fast-paced,
action-packed and spectacular. I was tense the whole time and came out
feeling like I'd been holding my breath for hours.
Seriously, most critics seem more interested in showing how cynical and cool they are than actually enjoying a great adventure film. I've read lots of reviews, so I'll address a few of the complaints made.
Bad dialogue: It's not Shakespeare, but it sets up the relationships between characters quickly and serves the action well. It also manages to explain the basics of caving and scuba diving (which most of the audience would be unfamiliar with) without seeming too preachy.
Bad acting: I thought everyone was pretty great with what they had to do. Again, it's not bloody Shakespeare.
Predictable: not to me. Yes, they're stuck in a cave so there's only so many things that can happen. But what does happen is really bloody exciting. I guess if you spend your whole life watching movies (as critics do) then any action movie would be predictable after a while.
Unlikeable characters: Um, since when did every character have to be likable? And even if you don't particularly like a character, surely you don't want them to die a horrible death down a cave. The truth is some of the characters you really like, some grow on you and some you almost want to drown with your own bare hands. So a good mix.
Weak roles for women: I disagree. The women are put in freaky situations and react in human ways. Though I didn't quite understand what happened to Victoria - that's one thing the film could have done slightly better.
I've also heard critics complain about too much swearing (seriously, if you've ever spent time around real-life explorers they're generally not too concerned with social niceties, especially in life-or-death situations). And some reviewers complained that there were no monsters in the cave - seriously! That was what was so great about the story - it was extreme but it all could have happened. Man vs nature and vs each other - much more interesting than another monster flick.
Anyway, Sanctum is excellent. Go see it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As an avid cave diver and friend of the late Wes Skiles, to whom this film is dedicated, I thought that the movie and the underwater scenes were done with accuracy and were visually amazing. The characters do lack some depth and I wish they would have stayed true to the real story, however the effects were amazing as was the cinematography. The opening scenes gave you a sense of what it is really like to be a cave diver. There were some things that bothered me in the movie, such as full face masks and the use of re breathers without a back up air source. Also the fact that the divers didn't have back up lights or line arrows with them. There isn't a "true cave diver" that would even think of entering a cave without proper equipment, however, to the general public, you wouldn't ever know the difference. All in all, a great movie that I will go see again! Ignore the other reviews, great movie!
first - Cameron is one of 9 producers. i can only imagine cameron was
interested in working under water. besides that, there is nothing jim
cameron in this movie in my opinion.
this movie is in 3d which is fun. scenery is great, caves, water etc.
however - there is no plot what so ever. at no point did i feel compassion nor connection to any of the characters.. those who died and those who survived. at no point did i identified myself with the plot, hoping these guys will make it out alive.
yeah - really poor plot and boring dialogs.
acting was good for whatever material was thrown on these poor actors..
seriously - don't bother with this film.
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