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August 4, 2011
Sanctum Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
3/2/20112/6/2011UniversalAlister Grierson
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
VC-1DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1MRichard Roxburgh

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Richard Roxburgh is solid in Sanctum.

For many the main reason to check out Sanctum was to see another movie using James Cameron's 3D camera system as used in Avatar. Indeed this film has James Cameron's name plastered all over it as the Executive Producer. Inspired by real events, and filmed in Australia, let's see what Sanctum is all about...

Master diver Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh) has explored the South Pacific's Esa-ala Caves for months. But when his exit is cut off in a flash flood Frank's team - including 17-year-old son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) and financier Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffudd) - are forced to radically alter plans. With dwindling supplies the crew must navigate an underwater labyrinth to make it out. Soon they are confronted with the unavoidable question: Can they survive or will they be trapped forever?

No doubt Sanctum is unique in its setting alone and the amount of underwater cave diving filmed is very impressive with some gorgeous cinematography. Despite being filmed on massive sets on the Gold Coast in Australia, these underwater scenes look genuinely authentic with some gorgeous sets built for the film.

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The massive cave entrance in Sanctum.
Unfortunately the script, as well as much of the acting, is quite variable in quality. You never really connect with many of the characters - and part of this is due to the very limited time with the characters before getting into the water. Once in the cave system the film goes from action piece to slower dialogue moments, but the problem being that when the actors are conversing, it just doesn't seem natural at all. Richard Roxburgh and Rhys Wakefield are decent enough for the most part, but Ioan Gruffudd and the other secondary actors seem to struggle with their roles.

Ultimately Sanctum was a disappointment primarily due to the acting which is very spotty. Cinematography is often gorgeous, especially the underwater scenes, while the films pacing seems to be a little haphazard at times.

First of all, we only received the 2D version of this movie to review. As many would be aware Sanctum was filmed in 3D using the same cameras James Cameron shot Avatar with, but we're not reviewing that Blu-Ray.

Well here's a surprise. Sanctum has been encoded using the now little-used VC-1 codec with the film being presented in its original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1. Naturally the film has a dominant blue tint with the prevalence of underwater scenes but the encoding is solid enough to handle the finest details.

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The underwater cinematography is superb.
That said, we do have a couple of very minor issues with this transfer. Firstly the image never really hits the deep black levels one would expect from the completely light-devoid caves while the second issue includes some minor colour banding on occasion.

The primary audio track on the Sanctum Blu-Ray is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (24-bit/48Khz) track which sounds a cracker. The lossless audio really helps immerse you within the often claustrophobic underwater world where every sound can have an impact. Surround sound channels are used often and add to the atmosphere while the dialogue is always clear with some nice echoes within the caves.

There are two other audio tracks on this disc including a decent French DTS 5.1 track encoded at 768kbps. Naturally it doesn't have the fidelity of the English lossless track, but it's still a decent effort. More disappointing is that the Descriptive Video Service Dolby Digital 2.0 track is only encoded at 192kbps. Why is it (and this isn't only directed at Universal) that these DVS tracks can't be encoded with surround sound as well?

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Aussie Rhys Wakefield is decent in Sanctum.
There are only two subtitle options on the Sanctum Blu-Ray, they being English SDH and French. We sampled the English SDH track and it was accurate to the on-screen dialogue and sounds. Subtitles are also available in both languages for the audio commentary.

There are only a couple of extras on the Blu-Ray for Sanctum but what's here is fairly substantial.

Audio Commentary: Without a doubt the biggest disappointment is the lack of participation from James Cameron which is made all the more disappointing as his name is plastered all over the promotion for the film. Still this audio commentary includes director Alister Grierson, producer and co-writer Andrew Wight, and actor Rhys Wakefield and is actually a rather interesting and entertaining insight into the making of this film.

Deleted Scenes (9:23/HD): Seven deleted scenes are presented here in HD although they don't add too much to the movie, or at least wouldn't have if they were included.

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Inside a massive underground cave in Sanctum.
Nullarbor Dreaming (46:31//HD): This is the films "making of" documentary and it's a fairly decent look at the production of this film from start to end. Split into three parts ("How it Began", "Making the Movie", and "In the Aftermath") this encompasses all aspects of the production and is certainly worth your time with plenty of interviews with the filmmakers, including James Cameron, and cast.

Nullarbor Dreaming (44:53): Strangely this feature isn't even listed on the back of the retail box for this release, but it's actually quite a fascinating look at cave divers in South Australia and how thirteen people were trapped, with much of this documentary used for inspiration in Sanctum. The documentary was made in 1989, and is only presented in Standard Definition, but we highly recommend viewing it.

Sanctum is a pretty average movie which doesn't manage to live up to the quality we expect from Executive Producer James Cameron. While we've only reviewed the 2D version it is visually stunning at times and we could only imagine the 3D version would add a little more punch. The extras are impressive which makes this worth checking out.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyrightę Universal. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.