"Sanctum" was marketed as a 3D film event and it was heavily promoted that the film used the same technology as Executive Producer James Cameron utilized in "Avatar." The film wasn't given any heavy press for its plot, acting and excitement. Had the film not been in 3D, it probably would have been completely forgotten in two weeks. The Blu-ray release I received for review purposes was not the Blu-ray 3D release, but the two dimensional version and instead of having the opportunity to be impressed by its highly praised use of 3D technology, the Alister Grierson directed film would have to impress me with any semblance of story. Unfortunately for "Sanctum," there isn't quite enough meat to feast upon the film and it's as flat in storytelling as the film looks in two dimensions.
The basic premise to the film is based upon a ‘true story' from writer Andrew Wright's own experiences in underwater caving. Of course, what was a scary experience where all diving team members survived, "Sanctum" blows things way out of proportion and it becomes a survival thriller where mostly everybody dies and the film has little or no bearing on its ‘true' genesis. I've never believed these types of films should be mentioned as being ‘based upon a true story.' This would be akin to me being stuck in an elevator and writing "Devil" as having true elements. "Sanctum" is an absolute and complete product of Hollywood moviemaking and has little or no real-life elements in its 109 minutes of running time.
Rhys Wakefield is the star of the film as young Josh McGuire. Richard Roxburgh portrays his overbearing father, who is also one of the best underwater cave explorers alive. They are the primary stars of the film. Roxburgh may be remembered from "Van Helsing," "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" or "Mission: Impossible II." Australian actor Wakefield is a virtual unknown stateside. Ioan Gruffudd co-stars as project financier Carl Hurley and Alice Parkinson is a lovely lady who takes the role of Hurley's adventurous girlfriend. Hurley is probably the most familiar face in the film after starring as Mister Fantastic in the two "Fantastic Four" films and portraying Tony Blair in Oliver Stone's "W." These are the four primary characters in the film and none will be remembered for their roles.
The story is written by Wright and James Cameron must have seen something in the original story to have it adapted for the big screen. Although, he may have just visually imagined how good the story would look using his 3D camera technology. There is promise in the film as Frank and Josh must help their fellow survivors get out of the flooding underwater cave system after a massive story traps them deep underground and time is running short. There is always something to fear in dark and damp places and "Sanctum" takes place entirely in such a place. However, after the initial cave-in, the only danger is from the bends, supply attrition or human ego causing conflict. The imposing cave system isn't as much a character, but a backdrop for poor storytelling.
Much of the time of "Sanctum" has the four principal characters arguing as to how they should proceed through the cave system. Frank is the veteran and very capable explorer. Josh is his son and distrusts his father after what happened to Judes. Carl is your typical rich egotistical pain-in-the-ass personality who knows better and Victoria is the scream-queen eye candy for the movie. The minor characters do not stick around for very long, although George (Daniel Wyllie) does stick around for a while. Eventually, when the film concludes and it is revealed who has survived, I was happy the movie was over and didn't overly care who drowned and who swam to safety.
When the film first started moving along and the character of Judes (Allison Cratchley) perished under Frank's care, I felt there was good potential and the heavy critical drubbing the film received was perhaps unwarranted. However, daddy issues take front and center stage as much of the film has to do with Josh and Frank finding common ground and burying their family problems to help save the others. Perhaps Wright had some deep seeded daddy problems of his own, but it weighs the film down heavily and instead of concentrating on making a grand disaster film, ego and parental dysfunction are the key suspenseful devices used in the film. Adventure is lost and while there are some nifty sequences, nothing exists to applaud over.
The film is nicely made and I can imagine how good some of the scenes would look in three dimensions. There aren't a lot of moments where objects are forced towards the viewer and I can imagine the 3D imagery is used to show the depth and scale of the cave system. Aside from a few sequences, claustrophobia isn't an issue for anybody that may suffer from the fear of confined spaces. I would be almost tempted to sit down and witness "Sanctum" again in 3D, but I surely won't spend any money to pick up the title on Blu-ray. I'll wait till HBO has it available for me via On Demand. With no memorable faces, less than inspired acting and an overblown script, "Sanctum" didn't do much for me.
As mentioned previously, the copy of "Sanctum" is used for review is the 2D Blu-ray release and not the more expensive and visually complex Blu-ray 3D release. Framed in 1.85:1 widescreen, "Sanctum" nicely fills the television screen, but the imagery is not all that impressive. As a ‘dark' film, "Sanctum" looks flat and I doubt 3D glasses would help much with that. The whole movie looks murky and I thought the device of having the cave fairly brightly lit when there was zero light was confusing, but it was necessary as the poor black levels would have made this nearly impossible to watch. Detail is decent through most of the length of the film, but there were moments when the lighting caused issues with the amount of detail captured by the camera. When colors were presented to the viewer, they were bright and nicely saturated.
The audio quality of "Sanctum" is slightly more engaging than the visuals. Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound, the confined spaces of "Sanctum" show wonderful sound design and the score by David Hirschfelder sounded very solid. There are some very nice subtle sounds such as the echoes throughout the cave system and there are loud and thunderous effects in the form of waterfalls and a cave-in. The LFE channel is nicely utilized by "Sanctum." All the effects sounded very natural and all six channels were used throughout the film. Hirschfelder's score never overpowers the environmental sounds and dialogue and all spoken lines are anchored firmly in the center channel and come across loud and clear.
The bonus features begin with seven Deleted Scenes (9:23). They are combined into one collection and cannot be selected individually. Some are extended bits from existing scenes and none truly added anything more to the film. Sanctum: The Real Story (46:31) is the making-of documentary and was quite solid. It didn't feel as promotional as most of these documentaries tend to do and it is broken into three chapters: How It Began, Making the Movie and In the Aftermath. Nullarbor Dreaming (44:53) tells a true story of an underwater cave exploration that had lives jeopardized when a storm trapped thirteen divers in 1988. All survived and writer Andrew Wright was part of this expedition.
The Feature Commentary with Director Alister Grierson, Actor Rhys Wakefield and Co-Writer/Producer Andrew Wright is nicely done, but lacks any star power. Those that were very interested in either the film itself or filmmaking will find value in this relatively enjoyable commentary as the three discuss casually with good detail. I felt the three were good speakers and kept things interesting. A downloadable Digital Copy, My Scenes, D-Box Motion Code, Pocket Blu smartphone functionality and access to the BD Live Center are also included.
I was disappointed by "Sanctum" and while it wasn't an awful film, it was flat. Secondly, the movie was touted for its use of 3D photography and I had only access to the 2D version of the film. I'm not sure I can sit through "Sanctum" for another viewing to see just how good the 3D imagery is. The problem with the film is its acting is uninspired and the story isn't overly exciting. The Blu-ray release is visually inconsistent and much of this has to do with the lighting. Sound is quite good and I found the supplements to be more entertaining than the movie. There was a good forty-five minute documentary on the true story in which the film was based and good information on how to make this challenging production. For those with 3D capable televisions, if you are going to dish out the money, you want to get the 3D version. It may be good enough of a film to show live action 3D, but not sure of value beyond that.