Laremy Legel February 4, 2011
It makes perfect sense that Sanctum is horrid, because it’s being released on Super Bowl weekend, when no studio in their right mind expects anyone to be out and about at the theater on Sunday. In that sense, this is a sort of a mercy killing, because if a film is released in the forest, and no one hears it, did it really happen? Sanctum!
A group of hearty Australian explorers has descended upon Esa’Ala, in remote Papua New Guinea, to chart magnificent underwater caves, all in the hope of finding an outlet to the open ocean. They are passionate and resolute regarding their quest, perhaps even mildly fatalistic, because these watery caves represent the last completely unexplored territories on the planet. The team has to repel down what seems to be a massive opening in the Earth’s surface, hundreds of feet, and one of the group base jumps to speed the process along. So, yeah, we’re going to be dealing with those kinds of people.
Once at the bottom of the enormous cave, the group must shimmy and squeeze to get down even farther into the depths, all in an effort to hit water. Then the real fun starts, as they throw on heavy-duty dive gear, and dive into water untouched by sun, along undersea mountains unseen by anyone since the beginning of time.
All of which is fine. If only they’d done this in silence!
We’re immediately thrown into a father-son dynamic, the father being one of the most demanding and accomplished undersea cave divers in the world. The son is a petulant moron, but really, neither of them come off too well and both are more or less instantaneously loathsome. Thankfully, the story focuses mostly on them, or else we’d have a shot at a decent time. But wait! There are other characters: There’s the rich guy funding this whole project, who also seems to be quite the intrepid diver in his own right. He brings along his girlfriend, because she’s climbed Everest, and all her learned life experience will be relatively useless in the cruel cave-diving environment. Typical guy move, right? There’s also the native New Guinean who will get a full five minutes of screen time, another gal who is the father’s dive buddy, and a guy who oversees the dives because he can’t dive himself anymore. I think he was my favorite character, computer guy who is doomed, so if you head in to see this film attach yourself to him mentally and hang on tight.
Honestly, all of this would be fine too. Solid action / thriller films have been built upon far less. But now we get to the issues, which act as a movie-killing hydra. Here goes!
Logic: Oh, how the film hates logic. Just abhors it. There’s a scene where we’re told “A storm is a coming.” This storm is two days away. Fine — no harm, no foul. And then, around eight movie minutes later, the storm is UPON THEM. Two full days early! Now look, I’m no Al Roker, but I’d think a general time/speed/distance equation is employed in instances like this, instances where there’s a chance you’ll DIE if you get it wrong. Did the storm suddenly switch from 10 to 1000 miles per hour? The best part is communications are disrupted from “base camp” to the cave divers, and when comms are restored the vibe is all “Now it’s a CYCLOOOOONEEEEE!!” Which means the team will likely drown in the caves, as everything will flood. Ridiculous. Which leads us nicely to …
The Contrivances: There’s a member of the team who has given up diving because it might kill him. Certain safety equipment wasn’t correctly procured by the son this time around. Do you think items like these might come up again?
The Dialogue: Really the most woeful part, gems like “What could possibly go wrong diving in caves?” “This cave will kill you in a heartbeat!” are littered throughout the 108 minutes of madness. The entire film comes off as an actor’s workshop, and I can imagine the actor’s saying, “Wait, you were recording that?” before realizing in horror that their practice session was about to go on their resume.
The Lack of Concern for the Characters: The father/son dynamic overwhelms everything else in this film, only it is by far the weakest part. I get that the father has made the son go exploring with him, and I get that the son is resentful of his dad’s perceived insensitivity. Sure, sure. But they beat you over the head with this throughout. Prodding dad, angry son. Over and over, into the abyss, to the point you’re praying one of them dies. There are another two characters who “escape” early, only we’re never shown them again. Who were they? Did they make it? We’ll never know, as Sanctum doesn’t have time for its characters.
And our last head of the awfulness-hydra is:
The Score: A great score can help a film like this thrive. This one does not. Orchestral music swelling as yet another character does or says something idiotic maketh a film not. Dreadful.
Were there any good parts? Yes, I can point to a few 3-D scenes that looked innovative and smooth; the technical crew here looks to have mastered how light refracts from headlight lamps. Good on them, there. Are those seconds worth a full-price admission to a 3-D film? I’ll let you choose your own adventure on that one. Just make sure you check the weather before heading out, as I wouldn’t want an instant cyclone to swallow you right up.
Categories: ReviewsTags: James cameron, Review, Sanctum