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Sanctum (2011) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 31 May 2011
Image“Sanctum” is really, really easy to explain.  Think “127 Hours,” but turned Hollywood.  “Sanctum” is like someone in Hollywood said, “we need something to compete with ‘127 Hours,’ what other incredible life stories are out there?”

The film is based loosely on Andrew Wight’s real life and death situation.  Unfortunately, Hollywood has taken its liberties.  It is surprising to see that Wight was a co-writer and producer of the film.  “Sanctum” has a good movie in it, but Hollywood’s pizzazz has taken its toll.  The film would have been much better had it just remained true to the original story and exaggerated a great deal.

Frank McGuire is a nomad cave diver.  He dives for the thrill, adventure and education.  Caves are the last places on earth that have yet to be explored.  This isn’t exactly true, but we’ll go with it.  On all of his expeditions he takes his son, Josh, with him.  The latest expedition takes them into the world’s deepest cave.  After numerous stages of descent, a team arrives at the bottom where the dive team is working on finding a path to the ocean.

The team at the bottom consists of Frank and his son, the moneyman Carl and his girlfriend, Victoria.  Also with them is George, a computer wiz and Luko, a native guide.  Somewhere at the heart of the story is the father son relationship.  Josh hates his father for dragging him on these expeditions and can’t understand how his father could be so cold.  In point of fact, Frank is the most calm and real character in the film.  Josh is a whiner, Carl is a typical arrogant, Victoria is a spectator, etc.  Frank reacts to each situation with decisiveness.  When that leads to one of the team’s death, when it was clearly a one dies or they both die situation, Josh throws all the blame on his father.  For a 17 year-old, he is really immature.
When a storm traps team members at the bottom of the cave, they have no choice but to go diving to try and find a new way out.  They just so happened to have recently discovered a restriction that could potentially lead them to the ocean.  However, they weren’t planning on exploring until later, but the storm forces them.  Once again, Josh insists that they should do something else.  Sure, kid, just stand there and wait for the cave to be flooded by the tsunami.

The film turns into a horror-genre when each of the team members begins to get picked off one by one.  As I said before, the film has some pluses, but they are outweighed by the Hollywood drama.

Along with a problematic film, “Sanctum” comes to Blu-ray with a problematic transfer.  Much of it may stem from the original source material, but others seem to be a transfer issue.  The black levels are quite unstable.  Crush is rampant and on the flip side the black levels can be extremely muted.  Surprisingly, the shots are a bit more bright than they should been for the caverns that the shots take place in.  But, if it weren’t for the magic of Hollywood lighting then we wouldn’t see a thing because all they had down in the caves were some forehead flashlights.  Aside from the inconsistent black levels, colors are generally warm in the cavern sequences and cool in the water.  The details are decent, but suffer from the muddy black levels.  The film was originally shot using Cameron’s 3D technology, which is likely the cause for many of the issues that keep this video image from being consistent and accurate.  This is one instance in which I would actually advocate for some post-production tinkering.

The audio quality is going to be great for some and not so great for others.  Personally, I found the audio quality to be very by the book.  This was a film that could have redefined sound design for small spaces.  Instead the localization of sounds is far too consistent and readily available.  Echoes in the caverns are too predictable and identifiable.  One of the biggest problems is the separation of the front and rear soundfields.  This spectral splitting keeps the audience from being enveloped in such a claustrophobic atmosphere.  Sounds are direct upfront and then appear in the rear as a highly localized echo.  The ambience of the sounds is too clean in order to be clear for film viewing.  The frequency response is too consistent considering the different cavern shapes and water.  The audio track lacks attention to detail.  This is all due to the original sound design.  The transfer itself only serves to enhance the issues present there.  Unlike the video image, the audio quality will not leave you feeling claustrophobic.

This film was also released in a 3D version.  In either case, all the special features are located on the 2D disc.  There is an audio commentary with the director, Andrew Wight and actor Rhys Wakefield (Josh).  This is a decent commentary, but it lacks the intricate details that could have been provided for a film of this genre.  “’Sanctum:’ The Real Story” is a full documentary that presents the film in comparison to the original story.  “Nullarbor Dreaming” is the original documentary upon which “Sanctum” is based.  Lastly there are some deleted scenes.  The package also consists of a Digital Copy.

“Sanctum” isn’t a perfect movie by far, but it has some memorable moments.  The audio and video qualities certainly need some work, but the transfer is probably close to the original source material.  This title may be worth a rent for the adventurous types.

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