No, James Cameron did not direct this movie. But looking how this movie poster and other form of advertisements are pasting his name in big unmissable fonts, you might just be mislead into thinking that he directed this "base on a true underwater cave exploration survival story" movie. James Cameron is just the executive producer for Sanctum.
It's also well known that James Cameron is a big dive fan and perhaps there something about this underwater caves diving expedition gone wrong story that attracted him to put his name on it. So if James Cameron put his name in this film project, it must be good then? Well not necessary ... read on.
Millionaire Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffudd) and mountain climbing expert girlfriend Victoria are going to visit an underwater cave exploration site that set up by Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh). Together with them, they brought along Fank's son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) which made Frank upset.
But before he could leave, a major storm broke up on the surface and enclosed the survivals in the caves. They could not sit and wait for rescue as the water is rising. They must find a way to escape from the rising water and the only option would be the unexplored section of cave that Judges had died in.
Having James Cameron name on your movie poster could be a double edged sword. While you get the extra attention to draw folks to watch your movie, you would also invite comparison between James Cameron direction and yours. Incidentally Avatar and Sanctum are both stories that been done before. The only difference would be that James Cameron is a good story teller and the director of Sanctum wasn't good enough to make a mediocre plot great.
The treatment between the father and son (Frank and Josh) were the most uneven one. One moment, Josh was all upset with his father for "killing" his dive partner and the next, he looking at him with admiration. But when things go wrong again, Josh couldn't wait any second to whine about how terrible his dad is as a human being.
Those are the issues with the story telling aspect of Sanctum. There are some technical aspects of the movie that stood out as a sore thumb Personally, I have done some some diving trips, climb a mountain (and a few hills) and watch a couple more documentaries on this sort of extreme sport expedition. Some of my personal complains were that how people who participate in such sports could behave in such stupid manners.
The first unbelievable issue would be how Victoria refused Frank's advice to put on a dead woman suit. Although she had never dive before, she was a expert climber who had earlier mention about the dangers of mountain climbing. She of all person should know that when participating in such extreme sports events, it's rather important to listen to the leader's advice at those crucial moments. Her rich boyfriend and expedition bank roller Frank said nothing to try and change her mind. Instead he shone a light in her face at another crucial moment. That is of course the unlikely behavior of people who does outdoor sports.
There's also another issue of how Judes's air hose snapped and had problems sharing full face diving mask to buddy breathe. I never used a full face diving mask before but won't the protocol for such emergency be swimming up for air? They had just discovered a new caves with lights above. Wouldn't be a survival instinct to swim up for the precious air? Or didn't it even occur to them to off the tank that's containing the leaking hose and use the remaining air like what Frank's son did at the end of the movie? It's really hard to believe that a hardcore dive expedition leader like Frank would just freeze like an novice diver facing an emergency.
The real life story that Sanctum is based on was not filled with stupid decisions like those that were just mentioned. It's equally scary but people don't make silly novice mistakes here and everyone got rescued. I can't help but wonder why didn't they just make a movie that truer to the incident that had occurred.
It's likely that this movie is made for audience who had not tried scuba diving, mountain climbing and other various extreme adventure sports. This movie thrilled the female audience sitting beside me while I was shaking my head in disbelief. I got a feeling that she is going to enjoy the technical aspect of this movie more than me. There's also the weak characterization and story flow that marred all that's good about the movie. It's a pity because both the actors and the cinematography were good. I couldn't recommend this movie but neither am I thumbing it down ... too much.
Beyond The Movie
Read Andrew Wright actual account of the real life story that Sanctum is based on here.
Stunt Diver Agnes Milowka who did the stunt double for the two female characters in Sanctum died when she run out of air in one of the caves dives. The incident happened shortly after the film was released. Her life and more on the incident that took her life could be found here.
Worth the 3D price?
Oddly enough, you would think that with producer James Cameron in the project, the 3D effect would at least be a notch better than those movies that jumped onto the 3D bandwagon simply for the extra financial incentive. But there really nothing 3D about Sanctum. Not even a gimmicky throw at the audience. Most of the time, the setting is either in the dark underwater or in the dark caves and there not even much gradient effects to talk off. Seriously, save the extra money if you really do need to watch this (which in the first place would be unnecessary).