Sanctum 3D ✮✮✮

Full Immersion Experience

by Glenn Lovell

My advice in approaching “Sanctum 3D,” the new James Cameron production: Tune out the gung-ho talk and concentrate on the spectacular visuals, the shimmering subterranean vaults, the Scuba divers hovering beneath the surface of phosphorescent lagoons, like astronauts in deep space.

What you’ll discover nearly two miles down in the Esa’ala caves of Papua, New Guinea, is a heart-pounding, old-fashioned adventure  ‒ part “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” part “The Abyss.”

Too bad this film, executive produced by Cameron and directed by Alister Grierson, is rated R for profanity and gruesome makeup effects. I’m betting it’s every 13-year-old’s dream escape.

Once more ... into the abyss

A U.S.-Australian co-production ‒ which explains all those Aussie accents ‒ “Sanctum” opens at full tilt like “Jurassic Park.” A whooshing helicopter ferries Carl (Ioan Gruffudd),  the corporate head of the expedition, Carl’s girlfriend Victoria (Alice Parkinson), and a teenager named Josh (Rhys Wakefield) to base camp.

Once there, we’re not disappointed: Esa’ala is a gargantuan sinkhole, the mother of all bathtub drains. You have your choice of ways down ‒ rappel or, like hotdog Carl, parachute in.

Waiting at the bottom are Frank (Richard Roxburgh),  the hard-ass team leader as well as Josh’s father, and a four-member crew, nearing exhaustion and already making stupid mistakes.

Much of this we’ve experience before, only wrapped in sci-fi clichés. Still, you can’t help wincing at the comic-book balloons passing for dialogue, some of it describing Frank, the rest delivered by him. “He’s like the most respected explorer of our time ‒ like Columbus, Neil Armstrong,” a diver tells Josh. “There are no rescues down here — only body recoveries,” Frank reminds those who want to stay put and await help.

The goal of the expedition is to chart the maze of tunnels and find the one that exits onto the sea. They’ve been at it more than a month and have found a promising passage. Of course more than a few hurdles loom, such as panic (“the vulture that sits on your shoulder”), cowardice, rookie mistakes (“I am not wearing the wet suit of a dead person”), the bends (“makes your blood fizz up like a dropped can of beer”) … and that monster storm brewing off the coast.

On a more human scale, there’s the long simmering feud between father and son. Frank thinks Josh is a wanker; John knows his father is a heartless s.o.b. What do you bet as the water rises and the body count mounts some serious bonding takes place?

I saw “Sanctum” in regular 3D (not IMAX 3D) and enjoyed the full-immersion experience. But as effective as it was, I couldn’t help feeling that the added element will cause many to shrug this off as a “novelty attraction.” It’s clearly more than that ‒ a full-throttle cliffhanger that doubles as crash course in the most hazardous of Scuba specialties.

Go ahead, take the plunge.

Full disclosure: I’m an advanced Scuba diver and am drawn to anything photographed underwater, from the recent “Descent” to the Amazon-set “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” which pioneered underwater 3-D in Silver Springs, Florida.

SANCTUM 3-D ✮✮✮ Directed by Alister Grierson; scripted by John Gavin, Andrew Wight. With Richard Roxburgh, Rhys Wakefield, Ioan Gruffudd, Alice Parkinson. 109 minutes. R (for profanity, violence, gruesome makeup effects)

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