While watching Sanctum, the James Cameron-produced, Alister Grierson-directed adventure-thriller about underwater cave exploration, last week, a lot of thoughts ran through my mind (several relating to the 3D), but only one stuck: Why do the pros always have to die? Don’t worry, me simply raising that question isn’t exactly a Sanctum spoiler. The movie is, after all, about a group of professional cave divers trapped in a life-or-death scenario. If someone dies, they’re simply bound to be the pro.
That said, I do have one very specific complaint about the film’s script and it is spoilertastic, so if you don’t want to have certain events in Sanctum spoiled for you, you may want to skip this portion of the post. Onto the spoilers!
If you’re still with me, I can only assume it’s because you’ve already seen Sanctum and know how it ends. If you haven’t and just don’t care, here’s a recap: Josh (Rhys Wakefield) the young, irresponsible son of the world’s greatest cave diver, Frank (Richard Roxburh), survives while everyone else on the expedition dies. On the surface, I don’t have a particular problem with this because his father the pro is only taken out of the equation when he has to fight a fellow diver suffering from a bout of cave madness and punctures his lung with a stalagmite in the process. Frank isn’t beaten by the cave, he’s beaten by a raving coward. That’s fine, I can live with that, but just think of the opportunity screenwriters John Garvin and Andrew Wight missed by killing him off.
The only major source of character conflict in the movie is the strained relationship between Frank and Josh. Frank wants his son to have the same passion for cave exploring that he’s had all his life; Josh wants to be his own man and instead be a rock climber. It’s classic “Daddy was a fireman, so I’ll be a cop” territory, but what elevates this scenario in Sanctum is the belabored fact that Frank isn’t just a normal cave explorer; he’s the most knowledgeable, experienced explorer in the world. His expeditions are the stuff of living legends and his life is the envy of billionaires.
So, naturally, he dies in the caves, though not before his son can have a change of heart and realize that his father wasn’t a bad guy. He may have been an emotionally unavailable, absentee father, but that was only because Frank had spent his entire life watching friends die from making mistakes that he never would. It all makes for a touching death, but does it pay off? Does it make Sanctum in any way unique? No.
What would have made Sanctum truly unique is if it had the balls to kill everyone else off and have Frank survive yet another harrowing adventure. Imagine how much more it would have paid off emotionally had the order of life been slapped in the face. Instead of having the vanilla, undeserving kid finally come of age, why not puncture his cocky lung with the stalagmite? Let the already hardened father give his son a watery burial before having to suck it up and spit in the face of fate once again.
Such a decision would be a bold move, but instead Sanctum joins a long list of movies that think it’s more dramatic to have the seasoned pro die on the job and let the rookie take up their mantle. But, honestly, who cares about that anymore? Not every movie out of Hollywood has to be capped off with a convenient, feel-good ending. It’s okay if the youngest person in a disaster movie - and that’s really all Sanctum is - doesn’t make it out alive. Old people surviving can be a happy event, too.
I can’t say I’m surprised by the ending. This is a James Cameron-produced movie, after all; a sappy ending is just part of the contract. But allowing unqualified Josh to live isn’t like, say, having Ripley outlast all of the marines in Aliens. Ripley earns her right to live. She doesn’t complain about having to be there. She doesn’t mess up on the job. She kicks ass and takes names and establishes herself as a force to be reckoned with. Josh, on the other hand, is the son of the force to be reckoned with. He does little aside from complain and mess up on the job (and his mess up even gets someone killed). But because he’s the youngest he gets to be the center of the Hollywood ending. Yay?
As the fifth year at Hogwarts begins most of the wizardry world is having a hard time believing Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned further propagated by the Ministry of Magic who refuses to recognize anything evil is brewing and blames all the hullabaloo on Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). The Ministry even interferes with Hogwarts business by making Ministry employee Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor whose outwardly sweet demeanor hides a sadistic streak a mile wide. She thinks the children should only learn about the Dark Arts “theoretically” and tortures all those who disagree. But the Voldemort threat is a reality and Dumbledore has re-formed the Order of the Phoenix a group of witches and wizards that prepares to battle the Dark Lord. Harry is unfortunately being kept in the dark for his protection of course even as his connection to Voldemort grows stronger and he’s royally peeved at being ignored. Urged on by Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) he forms his own order of Hogwarts students called Dumbledore’s Army to teach them what defenses against the Dark Arts he has already learned. Oh yeah Harry also shares his first kiss but make no bones about it—love is the furthest thing on Harry’s mind when the crap hits the fan. War is imminent. Everyone steps up their game in Order of the Phoenix. Radcliffe Watson and Grint have shed their adolescent whininess and aw-shucks goofiness to give their characters the greatest depth so far. They are forced to grow up pretty quickly in Order with little time for any playfulness and the three actors handle the seriousness with aplomb. Of course both Radcliffe and Grint have already ventured out of the Potter world—Radcliffe shed more than just adolescence on stage in a production of Equus while Grint lost his virginity in the indie Driving Lessons--and their extra experience shows in Order. Also good are Matthew Lewis as the usually clumsy Neville Longbottom who shows his mettle in more ways than one and newcomer Evanna Lynch as the slightly off-kilter Luna Lovegood who proves to be a loyal member of Dumbledore’s Army. But the kids have to keep up with the talented adult cast especially Oscar-nominated Staunton (Vera Drake) as Umbridge. The veteran actress’ interpretation of one of J.K. Rowling’s nastiest characters so far in the Potter lore is spot-on down to the pink wool suits and irritating twitter “ahem” she uses when she wants your undivided attention. Helena Bonham Carter also makes an impression however over the top it is as the evil Voldemort follower Bellatrix Lestrange. Does she ever want to look pretty onscreen? Then there’s the laundry list of Brits whose time onscreen may be short but is nonetheless memorable including Alan Rickman as the sneering Prof. Snape; Gambon as the wise but flawed Dumbledore; Gary Oldman as the kindly Sirius Black Harry’s only real family; and of course Fiennes as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. His late-in-the-game appearance once again throws you for a loop. It stands to reason that at five movies in moviegoers would have a favorite Harry Potter flick by now. Those who love those Triwizard Tournament special effects might feel The Goblet of Fire was the best; or Prisoner of Azkaban for its time-bending action. Yet The Order of the Phoenix may be the one movie that speaks directly to the fans of the books. Without as much wide-eyed wonderment or wizardry flash the story is still chockfull of compelling details that are absolutely pivotal to the continuing Harry Potter saga. Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg (Peter Pan) and director David Yates (HBO’s The Girl in the Café) manage to wade through this volume of information and cut successfully to the chase with great effect. Yates who has signed on to do the sixth movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince even shows an affinity for action in the final dramatic confrontation between good witches and wizards and bad ones. But overall Order of the Phoenix may leave audiences not as well-versed in the novels a little itchy for some good old-fashioned wand-waving and Disney special effects. Thing is it’s just going to keep getting darker and darker for Harry and his crew. The days of happy fun playtime are over.
Deep in the Carpathian mountains a team of scientists stumbles upon the entrance to a vast and intricate underground cave system--one that just screams "Explore me!" But this isn't your Aladdin Cave of Wonders garden variety filled with treasure and a genie in a lamp. Oh no. This Cave is deep treacherous and well possibly crawling with any number of things that could kill you. No matter. Biologist Kathryn (Lena Headey) believes there might be an entirely new ecosystem waiting to be discovered (what fun!) so she and her team hire experienced cave diver Jack (Cole Hauser) and his team to help them get in there. But what they all don't realize is that these ancient caves actually do contain brand new species of subterranean life both small and very very great. And could it be that some of the more deadly creatures have mutated from--gasp!--human life forms? Yeah they are about to get into some serious trouble.
How sad for Cole Hauser. He's a fairly serviceable actor with a penchant for solid action flicks (2 Fast 2 Furious) but he's picked bad scripts lately. Paparazzi? Please. Same goes for Morris Chestnut who plays Jack's right-hand man. He started out strong in Boyz N The Hood but had the unfortunate duty of being terrorized by giant snakes in last year's horrid Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid. Also braving the big bad Cave are Piper Perabo (Coyote Ugly) as a spitfire rock climber; Eddie Cibrian (TV's Third Watch) as Jack's hotshot brother; and Daniel Dae Kim (TV's Lost) as a photographer. Only Headey (who also co-stars in this week's The Brothers Grimm) seems to add a bit of credibility as the earnest biologist. But really that isn't saying much.
The one positive thing you can say about The Cave is that it looks pretty darn authentic. With the help of professional speleologists and cave divers director Bruce Hunt--known as Australia's premier commercial director--paints a realistic view of what these caves represent and what dangers cave divers go through to explore them. Shot entirely in Romania the cave system described in the movie apparently exists in the Carpathian mountains and some do indeed contain various new species of life. Of course none of these creatures are big enough to rip your head off and gnaw on your remains--at least none that they have found anyway--but you never know. Nice thought. But all the pretty pictures and why-would-you-want-to-go-in-there? moments don't make up for a lackluster scarefest. The twist at the end is mildly compelling but perhaps The Cave would have been better suited as a documentary on the exploration of these Romanian caves for the Discovery Channel. At least you could fall asleep on a comfortable couch watching it.