"Sanctum" Movie Review

2/05/2011 Posted by Admin


Movie Review

Directed by Alister Grierson, Written by John Garvin and Andrew Wight, 109 minutes, Rated PG-13.

By our guest blogger, Matt Schimkowitz

There's much to be impressed by in Alister Grierson's "Sanctum." The visuals pop from the screen in true 3D, while the 60ft screen aids the film’s immersive aims. The overwhelming depths of the caves immerse the viewer with the extra screen space.

However, the openness of the screen does a disservice to the tense story of these trapped explorers. Their claustrophobic prison contradicts the size of the Imax screen, relieving much of the tension, and forcing the actors to wallow in melodrama.

Set in Papua, New Guinea, veteran cave explorer Frank (Richard Roxbugh) and his expert team dive the deep in search of undiscovered cave systems. Frank pushes his team to the limit, which not only puts them in danger, but also leaves one diver dead. Things complicate further when Frank's estranged son, Josh (Rhys Wakefield), and the team's financier, Carl (Ionn Gruffudd), join the expedition.

With tensions high, Mother Nature compounds the group's frustration by flooding the cave during a rainstorm. Amidst the personal and professional troubles of the group, Frank puts his experience to the test and attempts to lead his crew to safety.

"Sanctum" suffers at the hands of the extravagant Imax 3D technology. Grierson dutifully shows off the deep caverns and portrays these characters like “a spec of dust,” as Frank says. They are insignificant compared to their surroundings, and the enlarged screen helps this effect along.

However, this enlarged screen is a double edged sword, which ruins the claustrophobic tension the characters feel. Scenes where characters crawl through tight enclosures don't offer a proper sense of space. Instead, "Sanctum" looks to humble the viewer in the immense size of the setting, but it only succeeds in ruining what could have been a tighter, smaller film.

For the most part, "Sanctum" feels more like a nature special than a narrative. This becomes even clearer when observing at the melodramatic acting of the cast. They appear to be an afterthought, reduced to nothing more than tour guides showing off the ins and outs of the caves.

James Cameron produced "Sanctum" to create a similar experience to "Avatar." But where as the world of Pandora benefitted from the immersive qualities of Imax 3-D, "Sanctum" only occasionally uses the screen's size properly. In most instances, the film feels like it should be smaller, darker and more thrilling than it is.

Grierson certainly had an interesting opportunity on his hands, but the towering screen seems to have buried it.

Grade: C

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