Movie Reviews - 'Sanctum' - For An Underwater Epic, It's A Little Shallow Cavers swim for their lives when a storm floods the caverns they're exploring — but oddly enough, a claustrophobic underground setting proves a bad fit for 3-D.
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For An Underwater Epic, 'Sanctum' Is A Tad Shallow

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For An Underwater Epic, 'Sanctum' Is A Tad Shallow

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For An Underwater Epic, 'Sanctum' Is A Tad Shallow

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The new movie "Sanctum" arrives in theaters today. The thriller about cave-diving is being released in 3-D, but critic Bob Mondello says it's still plenty shallow.

BOB MONDELLO: I confess I don't quite get why people feel compelled to leap off cliffs, explore jungles, or go spelunking in caves. But for movie purposes, it's helpful when they do it with gusto. And in "Sanctum," people start exploring, spelunking and, especially, leaping as soon as the credits fade.

(Soundbite of film, "Sanctum")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) (Unintelligible) again.

Mr. IOAN GRUFFUDD (Actor): (As Carl) Tell him he can kiss my...

MONDELLO: That's Carl, a spelunk-head of the first order, parachuting into the mouth of a massive cave system containing underwater lakes; unmapped passageways; inexperienced screenwriters; and a small band of good-looking, exposition-spouting, psychologically mismatched explorers who will soon be trapped as the caves start filling up with water.

(Soundbite of film, "Sanctum")

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) You all right?

Ms. ALICE PARKINSON (Actor): (As Victoria) Yeah.

(Soundbite of scream)

MONDELLO: That's Carl's girlfriend, who never passes up a chance to make a bone-headed decision. Also on hand are Crazy George - who seems, frankly, the least hysterical of this bunch - and teenager Josh, who can't stand either caves or his father, Frank, the group's hard-nosed realist.

(Soundbite of film, "Sanctum")

Mr. RICHARD ROXBURGH (Actor): (As Frank) There are no rescues down here, only body recoveries. Everyone up there already thinks we're dead. A couple of days, this cave's going to be underwater. We follow the river, and get to the ocean.

MONDELLO: Thereafter, "Sanctum" is essentially "The Poseidon Adventure" without an ocean liner: folks sinking right and left, with the guessing game of who'll die next providing a narrative thread.

It says onscreen that "Sanctum" was inspired by true events. But in the incident that inspired the film, everyone survived - which I guess wasn't sufficiently inspirational.

As for the 3-D technology, 3-D has now taken audiences into outer space, into the concert hall, and through the looking glass. So why shouldn't it plunge us into the world's biggest cave? Well, for one thing because it's dark down there, and you can't see very far underwater, which renders that depth thing kind of moot.

When the passageways get really tight, about the most three-dimensional thing director Alister Grierson can manage is having his divers kick their flippers in our faces.

Are you surprised at that director's name, by the way - Grierson? The ads are plastered with the name James Cameron, creator of "Titanic" and "Avatar," who apparently offered the filmmakers his 3-D cameras, some mentoring, and whatever else warrants his executive-producer credit.

He is not, however, the director of "Sanctum." And - not to get too sanctimonious - pushing him as hard as the ads do gives this movie's credibility the bends.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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