Sanctum 3D (Blu-ray Combo Pack)
Directed by Alister Grierson
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 109 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; DTS 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
Region: no designation
MSRP: $ 49.98
Release Date: June 7, 2011
Review Date: June 1, 2011
The disaster movie phenomenon of the 1970s lasted approximately a decade: from 1970’s Airport to 1980’s When Time Ran Out. In the years since, there have certainly been other disaster movies that follow basically the same formula as those hits of the 1970s (a group of people trapped in an impossibly dangerous situation attempt to save themselves by undergoing a series of deadly maneuvers to reach safety), but no new wave of disaster flicks has yet been spawned. Even with James Cameron’s name on the masthead as a producer, it’s unlikely Alister Grierson’s Sanctum is going to initiate any new disaster film cult. It’s a slow-moving, tediously plotted mess filled with basically unlikable characters making one dumb decision after another until one by one they blunder into their own demises. Despite herculean efforts, there’s no emotional payoff at all either with the deaths or with the survivors. The viewer doesn’t care about anyone’s survival here but his own.
While exploring the previously uncharted underground caves of the Esa Ala in Australia some two thousand meters underground, a team of five is trapped after a cyclone on the surface causes underground rock slides that bar their escape route. The only way out seems to be to swim through deep underground pools that might possibly lead to the surface of the ocean on another part of the island. Explorer leader Frank (Richard Roxburgh) is in the midst of an intense father-son clash with his disappointing offspring Josh (Rhys Wakefield) who’d rather be mountain climbing than exploring underground caves and diving in vast underground oceans. Adventurous explorer Carl (Ioan Gruffudd) has brought his new girl friend Victoria (Alice Parkinson) who’s always up for a challenge. The fifth member of the team is Frank’s right hand man Crazy George (Dan Wyllie) who’s actually the sanest of the expedition members.
While director Alister Grierson uses the claustrophobic underground caves, waterways, and grottos to offer a sense of helplessness for the would-be survivors (and to accentuate the tension for the viewer), there isn’t much he can do for the pitifully written dialogue found in John Garvin and Andrew Wight’s script. These characters speak such twaddle and spend so much of the movie shouting at one another that one longs for another underwater sequence just to eliminate any need for them to communicate with words. If you’re at all familiar with The Poseidon Adventure, you’ll quickly call it to mind in sequence after sequence as the quintet risk death with each risky new move to try to inch their way toward higher ground and ultimate safety knowing full well that not everyone in this party is going to make it to the end. The number of ridiculous decisions the writers have the various characters make throughout is enough to cause some people to want to check out of the movie early, but the gorgeous majesty of these underground caves and underwater passages is at least somewhat worth the investment in time.
A terrific actor, Richard Roxburgh seems to have bulked up for the role of the world-famous explorer who has put his expeditions before wife and son his entire adult life, but he must spend so much of the movie barking at everyone else that his performance becomes tedious after a very short time. Rhys Wakefield’s bratty son spewing whiny venom for years of paternal neglect is likewise irritating. Ioan Gruffudd brings a much needed sense of calm to his scenes, but the character shifts the writers throw his way kill any plausibility in his characterization. Alice Parkinson seems a few slices shy of a full loaf as the fun-loving girl friend, but Dan Wyllie makes the most of his scenes as George, the most mature and brave of the five team members.
3D implementation – 3.5/5
The film is presented at its theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio with 1080p resolution delivered with the AVC codec. Sharpness is really outstanding in the transfer revealing all the grizzled, unshaved faces and the cuts and scrapes that the survivors accumulate during their horrific ordeal. Colors pop beautifully before we’re lowered into the underground caves, and flesh tones always look realistic. Black levels are very deep, their inkiness intensified when in some of the darker caves, we get light only from an illuminated watch dial or glow sticks. On a couple of occasions focus drifts in crispness, but those lapses are soon forgotten when many awe-inspiring visuals pop up as the group discovers new caverns. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.
3D has been used to bolster the size and magnitude of the explored areas both above and below the water, but there is a definite lack of showy tricks used in the photography. The immense depth of the initial cave entrance is magnified with the 3D effects, and those depths continue through all of the underground vistas the team discovers. With five actors on various planes of existence though the film’s first hour, the sense of reality is keenly felt. There are only a couple of instances of outward projection: a swim fin in the face or some expended bubbles that drift close to one’s eyes, but lots of opportunities for more of this were not seized upon. There is no noticeable ghosting in the image.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix presents a clear soundstage filled with split surrounds in all available channels and David Hirschfelder’s music mostly up front but sometimes sent to the rears as well. Dialogue is well recorded and has been placed in the center channel. The mix’s most disappointing aspect is an underwhelming use of deep bass. There is some, but there are moments particularly early on when the rumble of cascading water and the rock slide should have brought forth deep bass from the LFE channel, but it seemed rather tepid. It’s a well crafted audio mix, but it’s not reference quality.
The 3D disc contains the following bonus material:
The audio commentary is provided by director Alister Grierson, producer-writer Andrew Wight, and co-star Rhys Wakefield. It’s not a particularly animated discussion, but the producer and director do ask questions of one another and their star to keep the commentary going until the end.
The disc begins with 3D trailers for Coraline (which shows a sensationally colorful and dimensional sequence from the film which should sell a lot of copies of the movie for those interested in expert stereoscopy) and Despicable Me.
The disc is BD-Live ready, and the trailer for the film is contained on the website.
The second disc in the set is the 2D Blu-ray copy of the movie. For the bonus features contained on that release as well as a review of its quality, please see Kevin Koster’s review here.
Enclosed in the package are instructions and the reference code for downloading a digital copy of the movie.
2/5 (not an average)
Disaster movies are in no danger of overwhelming the multiplexes, at least not on the basis of Sanctum. Expert photography and superb art direction can only go so far when you’re faced with a plot this predictable and characters this unlikable. The 3D effects are subtle but effective in the film, but that alone is no reason for investing in a purchase of this release.