Solid Team Effort Equals Excitement in ‘Sanctum’

Movie photos courtesy of Universal Pictures/Cameron photo courtesy of TopNews.In James Cameron, above right, was the executive producer of “Sanctum,” a 3D thriller about a group of divers that become trapped inside underwater caves.

Executive producer James Cameron offers personal insight into making of 3D thriller.


The largest caves in the world can hide the largest danger. There is no monster in this cave, no secret ancient curse, and no reality bending vortex. Just the dark. And when your only way back to the light is cut off while the cave slowly fills with water, the dark is not a friend.

When Frank (Richard Roxburgh), the greatest cave explorer in the world, becomes trapped in the largest cave system in the world, it is a battle of wills to stay alive: Frank and his team versus the cave.  Along with him is his son, Josh (Rhys Wakefield), Frank’s caving partner Crazy George (Dan Wyllie), the financial backer Carl (Ioan Gruffud) and Carl’s girlfriend, Victoria (Alice Parkinson). When the rain hits and the cave’s exit is blocked, the team has no choice but to descend deeper to find a rumored connection to the sea. It is a white knuckle ride through the dark with stunts, amazing effects, great 3D, and intense drama. But “Sanctum” is rated R for a reason: gore. Not a lot of it, but the couple times when it is there, it is intense.

James Cameron, creator/director/writer/producer of such successes as “Titanic” and “Avatar,” was the executive producer on this film. Note that he received top billing even over Universal Pictures. His 3D camera system developed for “Avatar” was used for the filming of this picture, the primary reason why the 3D was so amazing – much better 3D effects than any other 3D movie out there.

“My personal goal in making the film was to demonstrate to the movie community that you don’t need a hundred million dollar budget to do world-class 3D,” Cameron told the Crescenta Valley Weekly in a recent interview. “We used the same cameras literally on ‘Sanctum’ that were used on the live-action shooting of ‘Avatar.’ Good 3D requires good equipment, and a good aesthetic philosophy about how to manage the stereospace throughout the length of the film to give the audience a good 3D experience without fatiguing their eyes with bad shots and too much overt use of 3D. The 3D must always serve the film, not the other way around.”

One thing that really stood out (no pun intended) about “Sanctum”’s 3D was when a light or flashlight came around a corner, reached the camera, and thus the audience, when it was dark before. The shot is a simple one, but is special in this environment of shooting and is something that the audience would notice. In a spectacle like “Avatar,” with so much to look at, the simple light goes unnoticed. In this movie, as the light comes around the corner, it reaches one eye, then the other, leaving that split second disparity between the eyes. In other camera systems, be it 2D or 3D, the light would reach both eyes at the same time because it is a single lens. With this camera system, the dual lenses capture the light at split second differences because of the small space between the two lenses, giving the most realistic feel for a 3D film, almost as though you yourself are crouched in the dark.

“Sanctum” is definitely one to see on the big screen.

“Bear in mind that the film cost $23 million ($30 million Australian), though I think Alister Grierson, the director, made it look like three times that,” Cameron said.

Cameron’s role as executive producer was one he was used to from other films, but unique in the subject matter.

“As exec producer I helped conceive the film with Andrew Wight and shepherded it through scripting and pre-production. For example it was my idea to do a father-son story, which is a relationship I haven’t done yet in any of my films,” said Cameron.

“As a father of two sons, one now fully grown, I’ve been through all the psychological dynamics, which can be quick intense, especially in the teen years.”

There is one moment in particular in the film that plays this father/son dynamic very heavy and dramatic. It is a definite tough scene, ably played by Wakefield and Roxburgh.

“Of course everyone’s talking about the 3D and how it provides an experience so real-feeling that people can’t breathe for the last hour of the movie, but I’m most proud of the emotional journey of the film, which is achieved by good old fashioned acting and storytelling.

“Alister and the cast did a great job. As producer, I believe there can only be one captain of the ship, so I stayed out of Alister’s way during the shoot, only coming to the set once. I came back into the creative mix in post production, to help with the editing and the visual effects. I was part of a team, no more and no less.”

Whether due to Cameron or Grierson, or Gruffud or Wakefield, this film was amazing. Scary, touching, dramatic, exciting, beautiful.

This is one to see in 3D on the big screen; don’t wait for the DVD. But when the Blu-ray comes out, this reporter will be first in line to get it – there are bound to be some amazing making of documentaries.

Rated R, I give this film 5 out of 5 stars. If I could go higher, I would.

Too see the movie trailer for “Sanctum” scan this QR code: