Sanctum

February 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Richard Roxburgh, Ioan Gruffudd, Rhys Wakefield
Directed by: Alister Grierson (“Kokoda”)
Written by: Andrew Wight (debut) and John Garvin (debut)

Produced by “Avatar” director James Cameron, whose underwater obsession can be seen in a lot of his work, “Sanctum” is based on a similar deep sea nightmare co-writer Andrew Wight experienced in 1988 while exploring caves in Western Australia.

In “Sanctum,” however, Cameron and Wight, who have worked together on underwater documentaries including “Aliens of the Deep” and “Ghosts of the Abyss,” and director Alister Grierson (“Kokoda”), allow the true-life adventure to get ridiculously melodramatic. If the Discovery Channel ever thought about changing their format, “Sanctum” might fill in nicely as a daytime soap opera.

Richard Roxburgh (“Van Helsing”) plays Frank, the leader of a group of spelunkers who finds himself and his team in the center of an unexplored cave in Papua New Guinea. Their adventure is cut short when a freak storm hits the small Oceanic country and traps them in the belly of the cave. With very little time on their side, the group is forced to maneuver their way through the cave system to find their way out. Think “The Descent” without the blood-thirsty monsters, an effective claustrophobic environment, or a real sense of urgency.

It is evident Wight has taken liberties to try and build some suspense in the narrative, but by turning all the characters into blathering drama queens that whine, argue, and complain during the entire film, “Sanctum” sinks fast. You would think a frightening event like getting trapped in a cave would create enough of a compelling crisis on its own, but Wight doesn’t let up on the ham-fisted dialogue. With much of the conflict centering on Frank and his sulky son Josh (Rhys Wakefield), the overbearing family drama takes precedent over the actual survival story.

While Cameron and Wight have taken us to depths we’ve never seen before, “Sanctum” is far from the visual success of their non-fiction work (the non-existent 3-D effects don’t help much). Like falling out of an inner tube on a water park slide, “Sanctum” is a predictable and uncomfortable ride that isn’t much fun from top to bottom.

Avatar

December 18, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver
Directed by: James Cameron (“Titanic”)
Written by: James Cameron (“Titanic”)

It has taken filmmaker James Cameron quite a while to get behind another camera for a feature film since proclaiming he was “king of the world” for delivering the sinking-ship-love-story that broke box-office records 12 years ago.

While “Titanic” went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture (over “L.A. Confidential” mind you) in 1997 and Céline Dion gave us enough firepower for a decade of “My Heart Will Go On” jokes, Cameron quietly slid out of the limelight and under the water to make a couple of documentaries on sunken ships and ocean ridges.

Now, Cameron, who is also behind groundbreaking films such as “Aliens” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” has come out of the ocean for some air and found time to give us another of those visual spectacles he’s known for. With “Avatar,” not only is the sci-fi adventure a magnificent sight to behold, there’s a quite serviceable – if not all too familiar – story to go along with the breathtaking imagery.

In the film, Sam Worthington (“Terminator Salvation”) plays Jake Sulley, a paraplegic Marine who is called up by the U.S. government and their scientists to make contact with members of an indigenous tribe on an alien planet called Pandora. The creatures, known as the Na’vi, have blue skin and are 10 feet tall. Jake’s job is to befriend the species and get them relocate so the military can go in and collect a powerful mineral in the area the Na’vis inhabit. Yes, the parallels to the war in Iraq are aplenty.

Of course, Jake cannot simply go in on his wheelchair and expect the entire alien race to trust him and follow his orders to move out. Instead, the government scientists – led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) – assign him to his own avatar, a surrogate alien that looks, walks, and talks like all the other Na’vis. Jake can control his avatar from the comfort of a laboratory pod.

Described by some critics as a sci-fi version of “Dances with Wolves,” Cameron captures the physical and emotional journey Jake takes as he becomes this alien being who must learn the ways of the tribe if he wants to earn his place among the clan. Zoe Saldana (“Star Trek”) plays Neytiri, a female Na’vi warrior who is delegated to teach Jake everything he must know to become part of her people. Their relationship is at the forefront of the storytelling and Cameron does not let it slip by the wayside. Beside the intriguing appearance of everything computer-generated that flashes on the screen, the connection Cameron makes between Neytiri and Jake is essential in having us believe his out-of-body experience is more than just a covert mission.

We are on a journey with Jake. From his first ride on the dragon-like banshee to his sprint through the jungle on his aliens legs, Cameron has us experience it all in vibrant detail and engaging action sequences.

While “Avatar” is not without its flaws (some of the dialogue is very laughable), there is entirely too many dazzling moments not to recommend it to anyone whose imagination craves a spectacular tour into a world never seen before.