Ok, spoiler alert: if you do not want to know what happens in this movie, DO NOT READ THIS POST! Consider yourself warned.
Melissa and I joined some friends to watch Sanctum, the new thriller out, produced by James Cameron (if you’ve been living under a rock, or otherwise have no idea, he also directed Avatar and Titanic). Here is the movie’s website.
I should say, the movie is mostly about cave diving, with a generous helping of regular caving thrown in. I don’t know that much about cave diving, and for that reason I won’t be commenting on the technical correctness (or whatever) about those parts; I’d suggest checking here and here if you would like to learn more about that.
First, a few good things. The movie is in 3D, and that makes for some pretty stunning scenes. This movie really makes me wish that the cave actually existed, because if it did, I might actually have to pick up cave diving in spite of the ridiculous level of risk.
Second (and more importantly to me), I actually didn’t too many instances of misused climbing gear. I typically watch outdoor adventure movies and find myself saying “Wait…you can’t do that!” I had only had two such moment in Sanctum; in one, a character uses the Australian Rappel (face first), using a rappel rack clipped to the back of his harness. This in itself is doubtful. Halfway down the drop, the rappel rack has mysteriously migrated to the front of his harness (which strained credibility a bit). Later in the film, the same character makes an obviously marginal cam placement. For the most part, however, gear was worn properly, appropriate gear was displayed, and I didn’t see much that I would have changed.
The rest of the film was pretty marginal. The plot and the characters were incredibly clichéd. Basically, here it is in a nutshell; A caving party, made up of a rich, snobby American playboy (who is financing the whole thing), his ditzy girlfriend (who he supposedly met climbing Mt. Everest), a crusty, highly skilled cave-diver (the leader of the expedition), the crusty, highly skilled cave diver’s estranged son (who seems to be rebelling against his old man just for the sheer fun of it), an ethnic caver, and a witty, tech-savvy Australian get trapped in a cave and must find a new way out before they get picked off by forces of nature. And how do they get into this mess? They ignore the fact that a huge storm is running in, and a massive boulder shifts, blocking the entrance.
It is a common joke that in movies like this, the ethnic guy in the group always dies first; and this movie is no exception. He doesn’t make it 20 minutes into the film before his number is up; he falls, but is merely badly injured. To prevent him further pain, the cave leader drowns him (put him out of his misery, you know?).
The witty Australian guy is next, gone in a heroic show of self-sacrifice. Suffering from the bends, he leaves his gear and hides himself in the cave, so that he doesn’t slow the rest of the group down.
Of course the girl dies. While making a relatively simple 20 foot rappel, her rich, American boyfriend shines a light at her, which somehow causes her to freak out, lose control, and get her hair caught in her rappel rack. What amazes me about this plot is that earlier in the movie, the American character says that she is an Everest mountaineer; I don’t think having a light shined on them would cause many mountaineers to act in this way. I mean, while caving AND rock climbing people routinely shine lights in my eyes, and all I do is look away.
When she tries to use her knife to cut her hair out of the system, she nicks her rope and falls to her death.
This causes the rich-snobby-American-boyfriend-expedition-financier to go berserk. He steals the last SCUBA system and escapes down a water-filled tunnel in an attempt to save himself, leaving behind the cave leader and his rebellious son.
Of course the father and son are reconciled during a touching scene involving a strenuous climb up a vertical shaft filled with bat guano (read: crap). They find the crazy American, still alive, who goes even more crazy, attacks and badly injures the father, and then swims off down a water filled passageway without a SCUBA system and drowns. The father and son have a dramatic last moment, and then because there is no chance of
the father living, the son drowns him (to put him out of his misery, you know?).
Just when you though everyone in the movie would die, the son manages to swim the final passageway and escape. And the movie ends.
All-in-all, the movie was exciting to watch, and did keep you glued to your seat with butt-puckering suspense. Not too many technical errors either (I can’t speak for the cave diving parts though).
But the plot was a cookie-cutter plot; I mean, if you change the location, the same drama would make sense anywhere else. And the mercy drownings…what the crap?
As a caving guide, I know I’m going to be getting questions about this movie for YEARS. Oy…