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‘Sanctum’ IMAX 3D is a survival action thriller that, although conceptually intriguing, never delivers a payoff that satisfies the pocket or the 3D experience it boasts about.

James Cameron executive produces this story, based on real events, of a team of underwater cave divers on a treacherous expedition to the largest, most beautiful and least accessible cave system on Earth. When a tropical storm forces them deep into the caverns, they must fight raging water, deadly terrain and creeping panic as they search for an unknown escape route to the sea. Master diver Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh) has explored the South Pacific’s Esa-ala Caves for months. But when his exit is cut off in a flash flood, Frank’s team-including 17-year-old son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) and financier Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffudd) are forced to radically alter plans. With dwindling supplies, the crew must navigate an underwater labyrinth to make it out. Soon, they are confronted with the unavoidable question: Can they survive, or will they be trapped forever?

These types of movies aren’t new to the screen. The 70’s were famous for their disaster films such as The Poseidon Adventure, When Time Ran Out, and the Oscar nominated The Towering Inferno amongst others, with the focus on the characters’ attempts to avert, escape or cope with the disaster and its aftermath. Then there was a resurgence in the mid to late 90’s with films such as Stallone’s Daylight, the remake Poseidon and The Ghost Ship.

The premise of Sanctum is as interesting and absorbing as anything out so far this early 2011. The fact that Cameron is involved and that it was shot in 3D, and it would be released in IMAX, are all great bait to a story that is high on bad acting, recycled and cliched dialogue (“What could possibly go wrong with…” insert bad joke here) and cheap visual effects. The film was shot on a budget of 30 million dollars, not the 237 million dollars Cameron spent on Avatar. Australian director Alister Grierson, who never handled a 3D camera before in his life, is directing only his second picture, and perhaps, gave to some of the B like quality of the movie. You know it wasn’t Cameron. ‘Sanctum’ was not shot in film and it’s obvious, specially when it’s juxtaposed to special effects rendering sequences of caves. However, credit must be given to anyone who is directing underwater for half of the movie. That sounds like a tough task. The 3D experience was subpar for me. I had a chance to see the film in an IMAX 3D theater and I noticed that the sound was off. It sounded far away instead of next to you like most IMAX films. I also had some problems with the IMAX glasses, different than regular 3D glasses. The light of the film kept on penetrating the darkness of my glasses producing an irritable sensation for some key scenes. I had to keep on swiveling my head to find a point where it didn’t bother me. Was it the glasses? No. I changed them just to make sure. This happened occasionally, but nevertheless, it didn’t happen to me when I went to see Tron: Legacy in December. When it comes to 3D experiences in an IMAX theater it’s hard to say Sanctum was an experience. Between sound and imagery, it failed to mesmerize the senses.

Also perforating my ears was the dialogue from John Garvin and Andrew Wight. I don’t know which one was more at fault. When one is watching the characters onscreen trying to survive a disaster and they are engulfed by the ocean itself, all there is left to entertain you is great acting and engaging dialogue to get you through the events. This was not the case here as trite, cornball words were the du jour of the day. Seriously, it was awful. Aside from the dialogue, the rest of the film had its hits and misses. Some of the highlights were the sights of the cave, the underwater sequence shots, and the acting of Richard Roxburgh who should be Stellan Skarsgård’s twin brother. The pacing of the first 40 minutes took its time to build, introduce and flesh out the characters properly. It establishes some of the forth coming problems we are about to witness and lays out the villains and heroes of the movie. This is well done and it manages to hold some interest while it lasts. Right after that, in act II, the movie begins to introduce the lousy acting and dialogue into the action scenes. Interestingly enough, in the 70’s, disaster films were always cast with heavy weight actors which gave credibility to what you were watching unfold. Overall, this is a B cast, excluding veteran actors Richard Roxburgh and Ion Gruffudd. The level of mediocre acting is typical of what one associates with the genre. The dramatic moments are cheesy and painful to watch, specially the father and son scenes. Wakefield’s character mostly, is a vexing figure throughout the whole film. He possesses a very righteous personality, that combined with his histrionic acting, results in aggravating viewing. The tension is paltry at best, perhaps because there are no monsters, killer sharks, hungry piranhas or ravenous crocodiles. I thought there would be an unknown creature lurking in the murky and cold below. The soundtrack also didn’t do a good job of creating the suspenseful atmosphere.

Ultimately, Sanctum didn’t live up to expectations. With the high rise of 3D and IMAX tickets, this experience perhaps does belong in the deep unexplored bottoms of the Earth.

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