Susan Granger’s review of “Sanctum 3-D” (Universal Pictures)
“What could possibly go wrong diving in caves?” asks a naïve newcomer joining the extensive team headed by cranky caver/diver Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh) as they descend into the mammoth, yet inaccessible Esa-ala Caves, located outside of Papua, New Guinea, a place described as the “last primeval wilderness.”
An intrepid South Pacific explorer, McGuire is trying to find an underground pipeline from the cave entrance to the Solomon Sea. “We’re running out of time,” complains the arrogant American billionaire adventurer, Carl Hurley (Ioan Grufudd), who is financing this expedition and “likes to play by his own rules.” He has brought along his mountain-climbing girl-friend, Victoria (Alice Parkinson), plus there’s McGuire’s rebellious 17 year-old son, Josh (Rhys Wakefield with a Justin Bieber haircut), as well as an assistant aptly called Crazy George (Dan Wyllie) and obviously expendable other cavers. After discovering an ethereally magnificent, cathedral-like cavern, a monsoon-driven flash flood seals off all the previously charted exits and traps them, struggling in the rugged, flooded terrain. Warned that “this cave could kill you in a heartbeat,” as they desperately search for an alternate way out, the inevitable question is: who will survive?
Inspired by actual events experienced by producer Andrew Wright, who co-wrote the simplistic, predictably melodramatic plot and banal dialogue drivel with John Garvin, this action-thriller is directed by Alistair Grierson (“Kokoda”) and filmed by cinematographer Jules O’Laughlin in an atmospheric location off the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. Heightening the immersive tension, underwater director-of-photography Simon Christidis utilizes the digital Pace Fusion 3-D Camera System developed by producer James Cameron when he was shooting his Oscar-winning “Avatar.”
With “The Abyss,” “Aliens of the Deep” and “Titanic” under his belt, executive producer Cameron is the acknowledged expert at this kind of breathtaking, claustrophobic, undersea suspense. It’s too bad he was so absorbed by his upcoming “Avatar” sequel to direct this waterlogged scenario as well.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to10, “Sanctum 3-D” is a soaking, slippery, subterranean 6. It’s a schlocky, splashy mid-winter diversion, distinguished primarily by its memorably stunning visuals.