Creating an interesting story that is capable of holding an audience, requires some means to generate conflict. The most traditional method is to juxtapose a hero and villain; the classic battle of right and wrong which permeate stories in literature, mythology, and religious texts. Then there is an alternate way to achieve to same antagonistic feel, adversarial circumstances. In this scenario, the sides are not one group or individual pitted another but striving against an escalating set of deadly situations. Frequently, the cause of these catastrophic events is inherent to the intrinsic dangers of nature. We live in a fundamentally hostile world; one is slanted statistically to killing a human that dare to challenge it. The hubris of our species has always driven people to attempt the conquering of nature. In many cases, the results do not fare well for the challenger. Nature is powerful beyond our mortal comprehension. 0Storms, earthquakes, and tsunamis wreak havoc on man’s accomplishments brushing them aside like a set of children’s blocks. In the movie considered here, ‘Sanctum,' a small group of people demonstrate the ultimate audacity by plunging deep into the earth driven by a desire for adventure. This film illustrates the second method to generate conflict. The ultimate source for this is nature, and she pulls out all the stops to put the pesky humans in their place. In a way, the plot of the film offers a double barrel approach to the dangers of exploring nature; diving and spelunking; cave diving. In this unusual and highly risky pursuit, the devotee's donair tanks to dive deep into the underground lakes and streams set deeply into the earth. Frequently the system of caverns is so convoluted that it is easy for even the most expert explorer to become hopelessly lost and ultimately die. The movie was shot utilizing the latest 3D filming techniques. The downside is this new technology is still very much in its infancy with filmmakers still firmly on the learning curve. This is far from unexpected. A similar path was taken during the introduction of sound and color to movies. Many of the initial offerings served more as an exposition of what can be achieved rather than fully incorporating the methods into the primary goal of telling a story. In several ways ‘Sanctum’ delivers more sizzle than steak.
Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffudd) is gorgeous, extremely so. Carl is also prone to craving adventure, a potentially dangerous combination. His most recent infatuation is cave diving; exploring vast networks of subterranean waterways reached through caves. To feed his need for excitement Hurley sets his eye on a comprehensive site in Papua New Guinea. To share the adventure he brings along his girlfriend, Victoria Elaine (Alice Parkinson) and Seventeen-year-old Josh McGuire (Rhys Wakefield), son of the expedition’s guide; Master diver Frank (Richard Roxburgh). Frank had gone on ahead to establish a base camp at the bottom of a long vertical drop from the surface entrance to the primary cave. While the rest of the expedition used strong ropes to repel down the vertical drop, Hurley has to establish the social dominance funding the trip rapidly. He darts to the edge of the precipice leaping headlong into the chasm. After plummeting several hundred feet, a base jumping parachute deploys floating him down to the encampment. This is a reasonably economical way to develop the characters and establish the baseline for the social structure of the group. Hurley is the privilege extreme wealth brings. Life is boring; conquests were all too easy. He possesses more dollars than sense. Vic is pretty, intelligent and if she weds will be set for life. Josh is the disaffected teen full of angst and resentment. There are several others along top round out the story including Judes (Allison Cratchley), another diver. Her demise early on provides an emotionally intense moment designed to pull the audience into a sympathetic frame of mind as a respite from the action.
The film is loosely based on true event that occurred in ESA-ala Caves of Papua New Guinea, one of the most elaborate systems of caves and underground waterways in the world. This does make for an ideal setting not only because of the real life connection but the sheer imposing scope of the place. The actual location would make any human being feel insignificant by contrast. This highlights the central theme implicit in the man versus nature trope. There are a few traditional emotional moments. One is when the dive master Frank confesses to his son that the only time he feels alive is when he is submerged. Scenes invoking an emotional response are peppered throughout the movie help break up the attempts at action offering a modicum of a story. Unfortunately, it is insufficient to hold the film together. The problem that intrinsically part of this genre is without a personal focus to opposing the protagonist the film winds down to one natural event after another each one drier than the previous.
This was the fate suffered here. The premise was promising, and the characters sufficiently interest to hold your attention, but it feels like the majority of the effort was diverted to the 3D effects. The screenplay was provided by real life dive master John Garvin making his freshman effort scripting. This made sure the technical aspects of the story were as close to factual as possible. His co-author, Andrew Wight, has an established career mostly in production for nature-oriented documentaries. A number of these were on projects lead by James Cameron, who received a producer credit here. Cameron and his brother have pioneered many of the standard techniques used in underwater filming. Director Alister Grierson had some short films under his belt, but this is first feature-length film. Both he and his cinematographer, Jules O'Loughlin, were novices using 3D techniques and this did adversely affect the quality of the presentation. While I have seen some rather harsh criticism to this effect, it is not fair or entirely warranted. Although the use of 3D methods has been around in film since the mid-fifties, it has only been during the last few years that the use of high definition displays and compact yet exceptionally powerful computers have made the current methods of achieving depth possible. The industry is still exploring the new techniques in lighting and proper camera placement to bring a filmmaker’s vision properly to the audience. This is the case here, and an honest effort to blaze a trail into a new aspect of cinema should be applauded. While the film is not up to contemporary standards in 3D it is an enjoyable enough popcorn flick.
Posted 12/25/12 26/03/2017