Sanctum

James Cameron has fired through opus upon opus of material. Never ceasing to amaze himself, he rose from the depths of Piranha II: The Spawning to triumph with movies like Aliens, Terminator, Terminator 2, Abyss and Titanic. After a blockbuster hiatus which saw Cameron filming underwater documentaries and co-developing digital 3-D, he returned with 2009’s big-blue, big-brother monster Avatar.

The statement was made apparent that James Cameron and crew are now forging an industry. A movie movement based on submersion, virtual reality, and visual stimulation. Sanctum follows the mantra set by its predecessor: movies that are bigger, faster and more thrilling than those that are primarily story-based.

Sanctum is simple. Five cave explorers are on the prototypical “mother-of-all” explorations in Papua New Guinea (this is based on a true story, which means nothing to me). A cyclone comes to land sooner and with more ferocity than expected.

While the crew heads deeper and deeper into the mountain searching for the cave’s blowhole to the sea, said cave begins to fill with water. Limited supplies of oxygen and increasing amounts of water mean that the crew cannot go back from whence they came.

They can only proceed through unknown space and time, destined to see places where no man has ever shined a light while haughty-taughty adventurous antics will ensue.

The Cave is the ultimate character. Stronger than all of mankind with the power and resolve of mother nature. The Cave can amaze and entrance and seance and become the life-giver and death-bringer.

The Cave is the end-all-being for the trapped. They are sheep being shepherded through. The trapped become Susan Atkins. Not trapped by the cave itself, but held in the slippery grasp of a megalomaniac being.

Apart from taking the power of The Cave immensely serious, Sanctum treats its third dimensional aspects with delicate seriousness.

Rule out the squeamish and particularly the claustrophobic. The pacing of the ups and downs and quick, stomach-dropping turns is reminiscent of a roller coaster fantasy.

Left aside from serious consideration: The Plot.

Two films into James Cameron’s foray to alter movie making forever and we’re out of material. “Hmm…insane corporate parody with blue titties and hippie-euphoria alien planets. Check. What’s up next? A new Tron movie? I think they’re already doing that. A movie about traveling into the earth? Yeah, great for 3-D, but Brendan Fraser did it first—as usual. We can do it more serious with a “true story” angle? Okay. Fine. But I won’t do both substance and surface.”

The plot is desperate. The father/son paradigm of explorer extraordinaire Frank and his dragged-into-it son Josh is tired and pulls on all of the sad plot lines about overcoming hatred for a father who at times seems less than a man. There’s no way this part was true. Maybe they were father and son, but I find it hard to believe that heart strings and natural disaster can function so intensely in the presence of each other. People would become mentally comatose from emotional overdrive.

So what will satisfy people who notice the forced emotional liberties taken with the film? Cameron and company obviously recognized the shortcomings in depth.

The characters are faceless and future-less. Aside from Frank the father/leader, the rest of the cast is annoying at best and saturated with overacting at worst. Frank plays something of a balls-to-the-wall Indiana Jones. A Tough Man competition of a father with a knack for poetry. Richard Roxburgh infuses Frank with the enough onscreen grit to at least find one character likeable. Lump the rest together, I’ve never seen ‘em before.

So the characters won’t save the film from its emotional liberties. The 3-D will keep people watching for an hour, but it’s just a souped-up Discovery Channel special. There’s no room for nudity in the story. So like most American compromises, we must resort to violence.