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movie review: Sanctum

Leonard Maltin By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin February 4, 2011 at 5:30AM

James Cameron is the only box-office name associated with this film, so he's been promoted more than anyone else. While he didn’t write or direct the picture, he clearly had some input, and the film plays to two of his strengths: underwater photography and 3-D. Alas, it also underscores one of his weaknesses: painting his characters in strokes so broad the result is almost ridiculous at times.
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James Cameron is the only box-office name associated with this film, so he's been promoted more than anyone else. While he didn’t write or direct the picture, he clearly had some input, and the film plays to two of his strengths: underwater photography and 3-D. Alas, it also underscores one of his weaknesses: painting his characters in strokes so broad the result is almost ridiculous at times.

Yet, just like Titanic and Avatar, the much smaller-scale Sanctum, filmed in Australia, has great forward momentum. There’s never a dull moment, and the action scenes are both convincing and exciting.

Ioan Gruffud, sporting an American accent, plays the movie’s dumbest and hardiest character, a Yank with lots of money and a king-sized—

—ego to match. He shows up at the site of a massive underground cave expedition in New Guinea with his girlfriend in tow, ready to join fearless, feisty explorer Richard Roxburgh. Also along, only reluctantly, is Roxburgh’s young son (Rhys Wakefield), who harbors great resentment toward his macho father.

So much for plot and character. As soon as Sanctum goes into the underground caves, and beneath the surface of the water, it draws on the most fundamental aspects of moviemaking to provide a good yarn with plenty of twists and turns, and a great deal of action. Although the movie was inspired by an incident some years ago when writer-producer Andrew Wight was trapped underground, I can’t imagine very much else is based on that “true story.” It plays too much like a comic book version of reality.

Yet I can’t deny I was entertained, and never bored. I especially like the use of 3-D, which is shown off at its best in director Alister Grierson’s compositions, both on land during the expository scenes and especially underwater. I notice the film is advertising itself as “conceived in 3-D,” which is a smart way of conveying to potential moviegoers that this one, unlike some other recent releases, is actually worth paying to see on the big screen.

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