Dir: Alister Grierson. US-Australia. 2011.109mins


The 3D cinematography is occasionally impressive, but in most other respects Australian made cave-diving adventure Sanctum is a disappointingly hackneyed genre outing. Even with executive producer James Cameron’s name prominently attached this modestly budgeted ($30m) effort will be a real test of the global audience’s appetite for 3D fare.

The 3D imagery – created with the same camera system Cameron used on Avatar – is often on a par with the look of much pricier productions.

Universal opens the Relativity Media pick-up this weekend in the UK, North America and Australia/New Zealand, with independents releasing in other markets through the spring. The studio’s marketing muscle should boost the international take considerably, though it’s doubtful that Sanctum will perform as well internationally as a number of other – usually more expensive but sometimes retro-fitted – 3D offerings have recently. 

Based on a real-life experience of producer/co-writer and frequent Cameron collaborator Andrew Wight, the film brings its characters together in a vast South Pacific cave system. Aussie hard man Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh of Mission: Impossible II) leads a team including brash American financier Carl Hurley (FantasticFour’s Ioan Gruffudd) and Frank’s estranged son Josh (Australian Rhys Wakefield, from The Black Balloon). When a storm cuts off their path back to the surface, the cavers start a desperate search for another exit.

The conventional plot offers few surprises and aside from a few affecting moments between Frank and his son there’s little significant character interaction. The dialogue is frequently cliched and the acting melodramatic, with Gruffudd a particular offender.

Australian director Alister Grierson (whose first feature was 2006 Aussie war film Kokoda) creates some tense moments as the fast-dwindling group races to escape the flood, but he doesn’t build up much long-term tension.

The 3D imagery – created with the same camera system Cameron used on Avatar – is often on a par with the look of much pricier productions. Somewhat surprisingly, though, it’s used most effectively in sequences showing the cavers squeezing through underwater tunnels and canyons. Shots of cathedral-like caverns that some viewers might have been expecting are few and far between.

Production companies: Universal Pictures, Relativity Media, Wayfare Entertainment

International sales: FilmNation Entertainment, www.wearefilmnation.com

Producer: Andrew Wight

Executive producers: James Cameron, Ben Browning, Michael Maher, Peter Rawlinson, Ryan Kavanaugh

Screenplay: John Garvin, Andrew Wight

Cinematography: Jules O’Loughlin

Production designer: Nicholas McCallum

Editor: Mark Warner

Music: David Hirschfelder

Website: www.sanctummovie.com

Main cast: Richard Roxburgh, Rhys Wakefield, Alice Parkinson, Dan Wyllie, Ioan Gruffudd