Monday, 14 February 2011

Sanctum 3D

As an underwater caving movie, Sanctum opens itself up to the most sneering phrases. 'Achieves no more than the slow drip of suspense'; 'Flows along with minor eddies of tension' and so on and so forth. Unfortunately such descriptions hold - yes - water. It's the very definition of average pedestrian cinema, drifting along at a deathly pace that draws attention to some stonking great cliches.

By no means is it terrible. It's just not especially good either. If anyone deserves mud slung at them it's the marketing team for plastering James Cameron's name all over the posters. Aside from his much touted role as executive producer, Cameron had no involvement in the film's creative process. If he had, it no doubt would have proven to be a more claustrophobic, gritty experience, if only because Cameron would likely have made more physical demands on his actors (a la The Abyss).

But instead we get the equivalent of Neighbours Goes Underwater. A group of Aussie actors headed by Van Helsing's Richard Roxburgh end up trapped in a vast underground caving system after a nasty tropical storm arrives early. Of course the only way out is down and before someone can scream The Descent, there's squabbling, bickering and failing oxygen masks aplenty. The only thing was The Descent sustained tension to an exhausting degree, on a fraction of Sanctum's budget. If that isn't proof that money doesn't buy you everything, nothing is.

While the boxes are being checked - father son reconciliation; slimy American entrepreneur emerging as a baddie (played by Ioan Gruffudd in a textbook definition of miscasting) - there's undeniably some beautiful underwater photography. Yes, DOP Jules O'Loughlin knows how to light a cave magnificently and, when accompanied by David Hirschfelder's ethereally textural score, it does often take the breath away.

But of course amazing caves do not a caving thriller make; unfortunately we are constantly distracted by the plastic human figures at the centre of the drama. A few sequences late on threaten to grapple with more tension but the film is undercut by its own cynical constructs, including a desperate last ditch attempt to draw more audiences with the lure of 3D. Sorry, that's no substitute for the inherent lack of good drama.

And as for the equally desperate 'based on true story' epigraph - when a key character seems to die and come back to life twice, that's no representation of reality. It's pure cinematic hokum.

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