It seems Hollywood gives us at least one disaster movie every year. The first of 2011 was 'Sanctum.' Right from the start it was highly publicized that James Cameron was an executive producer on the film, and that he was bringing the special 3D fusion camera system that he used to film 'Avatar.' Sanctum was touted as the next great 3D spectacle to hit the big screen. Unfortunately, the Cameron brand name was not enough to make this another huge success, 'Sanctum' only earned a little over $27 million during its box office run, well under studio expectations.
'Sanctum' is the story of a group of divers exploring a new underground cave system in the South Pacific. They're in uncharted territory, exploring a deep underground world that has never been seen by humans. There's no map to tell them where they're going. Frank (Richard Roxburgh), the lead explorer for the group, has been down in the caves for weeks, and now his son Josh (Rhys Wakefield), the wealthy funder of the dive Carl (Ioan Gruffudd), and his girlfriend Victoria (Alice Parkinson) are coming down to meet him and explore the new cave system. Tragedy strikes right from the start. While Frank is on a dive with a young woman, an accident occurs with a breathing apparatus and his companion is killed. Josh takes this hard and blames his father. Following the woman's death, the team of divers is faced with a new life threatening challenge, above them on the surface, a massive tropical storm is slamming the island and the exit for the divers to reach the surface has been flooded. Without communication to the surface, the divers are forced to go through the new cave system and search for a new way out before everything floods from the storm above.
I found 'Sanctum' to be a very puzzling movie to rate. I saw this theatrically and had high expectations, the story sounded very interesting and I thought I would be in for a suspenseful thrill ride. In a way, the movie delivered suspense, but my problem was with the pacing. Just as action and suspense start to gain some momentum the film pulls back and focuses on the character relationships. Sure, the relationships are important for a film like this since 'Sanctum' is all about pulling together and surviving against the odds, but the groundwork should be laid early on, not in a way that forces viewers to take pit stops from the action in order to add character background after the fact. Don't get me wrong, there are a few good things about this film, at times I really felt as though I was trapped in some of the claustrophobic spaces with Frank and Josh, I even found myself holding my breath at times with them.
I also felt a little let down by the acting in this film. I had a hard time believing that most of the actors were in a life threatening situation. Josh was always at the extreme ends of the emotional spectrum, and never really developed until the very end of the film. Gruffudd also delivers a very questionable performance as the rich playboy Carl. I found him to frequently overact his part and just never got the sense that he realized how serious the situation was. On the bright side, Richard Roxburgh really delivered the goods as Frank. I found his performance extremely believable, I really got the sense that his character was a hardened professional who knew exactly what he was doing. He also brought the perfect balance of calm and seriousness to the situation; I really got the feeling that he was the unquestioned leader of the group.
'Sanctum' just came up a bit short of the mark. The story is very interesting, and has the makings for a suspenseful action film, but it just never seems to take off. Nevertheless, 'Sanctum' still delivers moments of suspense at times and most viewers should be entertained by a good part of the film. Finally, I would definitely recommend watching this film with other people, which should maximize the suspenseful atmosphere.
'Sanctum' arrives on Blu-ray with a fairly underwhelming 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer framed at 1.85:1.
'Sanctum' has some good things going for it on Blu-ray. On the surface, colors have a nice pop to them. Earthy greens, blues, and browns are very realistic. Texture and detail are also very accurate. Once we get under the surface things get understandably darker. For the most part, detail remains fairly strong throughout, close up shots of people and rocks display accurate detail and texture. Underwater footage also holds up fairly well, retaining detail and accurate color representation.
On the negative side, there are a few problems with the overall image. For one, there are noticeable instances of banding. Heavy grain also pops up from time to time. Black levels seldom appear inky; instead they are a bit washed out, not appearing bottomless. Digital noise reduction seems to have been heavily applied in a few instances.
Overall, I was not particularly pleased with the visual presentation of 'Sanctum.' While things were bright and colorful on the surface, below in the caves, where most of the film actually takes place, things weren't as strong. Weak black levels, DNR, and grain all contribute to a very average end product here.
Unlike with the video quality, I found the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track to be very satisfying.
The sound design for this film is strong from the get go, dialogue is clear and centered, never being overwhelmed by music or other effects. Surround effects are also strong throughout from everything like echoes in the cave to the crashing of water. Bass effects are also present when need be. The only down side that I was able to find was a slight lack of directionality in some sequences, it was nearly there, just a bit seemed to be missing at times.
Aside from a few minor nitpicks, this is a powerful soundtrack that is sure to please fans of the film and engulf new viewers.
With a few recent releases, Universal has been a bit thin on special features, thankfully 'Sanctum' offers up a surprisingly good amount of special features. Here are the features you can look forward to with this release.
Overall, 'Sanctum' is a fairly middle of the road Blu-ray release. The movie is strictly average. It's a bit slow at times, but manages to deliver suspense at key moments. The video could be better, but the audio presentation is excellent. Aside from the movie, the special features included are pretty extensive, especially the 47 minute making of documentary. For fans who saw this movie in theaters, I would recommend a purchase of this film, mostly because you should find the special features enjoyable. For everyone else, a rental would probably be enough.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.