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.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Sanctum' 3D is presented in a 2 disc set. The first disc features the 3D version of the film, also playable in 2D. The second disc is a Blu-ray/DVD combo disc featuring the Blu-ray and DVD versions of the film as well as all the special features.
'Sanctum 3D' arrived on Blu-ray 3D day and date with the 2D counterpart. As stated in my previous review for 'Sanctum,' the 3D was highly publicized as having been shot using James Cameron's 3D fusion camera system. It's probably fair to say that some viewers therefore went into the theater expecting something on par with the 3D achievement that was 'Avatar' but what we get is something quite different.
'Sanctum 3D' is presented with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer framed at 1.85:1. As with the 2D release, the 3D version has the same highs and lows. First off, colors still have a nice pop to them, not losing any brightness from the 3D glasses. Earthy greens, blues, and browns remain vibrant. Textures in the above ground sequence also remain strong. Below the surface still seems to suffer from the same problems. Banding is a problem, while blacks seldom appear inky.
Now for the 3D elements. First off, I am generally a big advocate for 3D. 'Sanctum' seems to fall into a rare category for me, I actually prefer watching the film in 2D. Don't get me wrong, there are some great looking 3D shots in the start of the film, like the helicopter flying low over the river, and the generally great sense of depth presented in the bright sunny setting. Overall, the 3D presentation is technically sound; ghosting is rarely a problem and colors remain equally strong.
My one problem with a film like 'Sanctum' being presented in 3D lies in the setting of the film. Most of the movie takes place in small spaces underground and underwater. These settings don't lend themselves very well to the added element of 3D because there really isn't enough space to get a feeling of depth. Sure, it's noticeable at times, like in some of the underwater sequences, but overall, the difference from the 2D version is not enough to really wow me. We know the 3D fusion camera system has great potential for "wow" moments, just look at 'Avatar' and 'Resident Evil: Afterlife.' Unfortunately, for me at least, 'Sanctum' will not be a live-action movie I reach for when I want to show off my 3D display.
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. Please note that aside from 3D trailers for 'Coraline' and 'Despicable me,' 'Sanctum' has no 3D features. Further and a bit surprising to me, the 3D disc of the film does not include pocket-blu functionality.
Overall, I found 'Sanctum' 3D to be a fairly middle of the road 3D Blu-ray presentation. The film is one that you probably wont want to watch more than once, and the 3D presentation really doesn't add much to the enjoyment of the film. As with the 2D version, the audio presentation is excellent, and the special features are a bit better than you would expect. As for my recommendation with the 3D version of the film, I would think twice about paying the higher price. I feel the 2D version is a better overall viewing just because of the confined spaces this film takes place in.
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.