Sanctum: Sci-Fi Actioner Underwater, Produced by James Cameron

James Cameron has become Hollywood’s “expert” on films under water, shooting several pictures in huge water tanks, including “The Abyss,” in 1989, the 1997 Oscar-winning “Titanic,” “Aliens of the Deep,” “Ghosts of the Abyss,” and sections of “Avatar.”

Cameron did not direct “Sanctum,” the 3D epic underwater adventure, but in its several good moments the feature bears his signature, showing his power as executive producer.

“Sanctum” is inspired by a true story of two decades ago.  In 1988, world renowned caver Andrew Wight led an expedition to explore and dive into a remote cave system hidden beneath Australia’s Nullarbor Plain. During the course of his trip, a freak storm caused the collapse of the cave’s entrance, leaving 15 people trapped deep underground. A rescue mission was mounted and, incredibly, everyone survived the harrowing ordeal.  The experience left such an indelible mark on Wight that he decided to develop, with longtime colleague James Cameron, a film inspired by these life-changing events.

But factual stories do not necessarily make good movies.  Sharply uneven, as directed by Alister Grierson, “Sanctum” is burdened by a rather weak beginning, slender plot, and not particularly engaging characters, though once it gets going, you tend to surrender and try to enjoy the high-caliber of craftsmanship and other technical aspects.

It’s hard to tell whether the movie is too ambitious for its own good, or simply unfocused, for the most troubled element of the production if the plot (or lack of), which is far less interesting than the characters, though they too could have been more individualized and sympathetic.  Often, you find yourself in a position of indifference about the fate of the central individuals, which does not speak well for an action-thriller-adventure of this kind.

Like previous Cameron movies, “Sanctum” follows a team of underwater cave divers on a treacherous expedition to the largest but least accessible cave system on Earth.

When a tropical storm forces them deep into the caverns, they must fight raging water, deadly terrain and creeping panic as they search for an unknown escape route to the sea.

Master diver Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh) has been exploring for months the South Pacific’s Esa’ala Caves for months. Josh McGuire (Rhys Wakefield) swims into risky, even deadly waters.  But when his exit is cut off in a flash flood, Frank’s key team, including the financier Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffudd) is forced to radically alter plans radically and quickly.

Like other action-adventures, the narrative is intergenerational, centering on a father-son relationship, defined by what could be described as familiar Freudian psychology.

With dwindling supplies, the crew—including Carl’s girlfriend, Victoria (Alice Parkinson), and Crazy George (Dan Wyllie)–must navigate an underwater labyrinth to make it out.

At the center of the text is the crucial question of survival, and at what cost, as some members truly fear they will be trapped there forever.

Largely shot on location off the Gold Coast in Queensland and in caves in South Australia, “Sanctum” employs stunning 3D photography techniques, which had originally been developed for the visionary “Avatar.”

Designed to operate in extreme environments,the Cameron/Pace Fusion 3D Camera System, which is used to lens the action-thriller, takes the viewers on a breathless journey across wild cliffs, into the farthest and most dangerous reaches of our subterranean world.