What do you call a bunch of Australians tossed down a hole? A good start. I kid of course – “a mediocre movie” is more like it. And that’s precisely what you get with Alister Grierson’s Sanctum a 3D thriller in which a crew of cave divers struggle to survive after a monsoon-driven flood pins them thousands of feet underground.
Sanctum is set in Papua New Guinea but was mostly shot in the sprawling caves of South Australia. The cast is dominated by local actors many of whom will prove unrecognizable to moviegoers residing above the equator – which frankly isn’t all that much of a hindrance since the lot of them will be killed off long before the closing credits roll.
The cast’s lone non-Aussie – and the film’s most familiar face – is Welshman Ioan Gruffudd who plays Carl a gratingly cocky American industrialist whose wealth funds the whole caving (the word “spelunking” is never used much to my chagrin) expedition and whose extreme-tourist bent compels him to come along for the ride. He also brings his girlfriend Victoria (Alice Parkinson) whose strong-mindedness you just know is going to become a liability when the sh*t hits the fan.
The sh*t in the case of Sanctum is an apocalyptic storm that arrives days before it’s supposed to triggering an avalanche of boulders that effectively seals off all possible exits. With the water level rising and a near-zero chance of rescue the group’s hardened no-nonsense leader Frank (Richard Roxburgh) decrees that their best hope of survival lies in finding an alternate means of escape via an unexplored stretch of tunnels thought to lead to the ocean.
The situation grows gradually more desperate and characters succumb one by one to the hazards of the deep in fairly predictable disaster-flick order. (The aging female is first to go followed by the ethnic guy etc.) Sanctum cycles through a series of grisly fatalities – including one delightful bit in which a shock of hair caught in a climbing apparatus results in an impromptu scalping – until finally the last man standing is Frank’s son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) a moody 17-year-old who has heretofore spent most of the film acting out with childish spite toward his neglectful dad. Out of supplies exhausted but with his exquisite surfer-dude haircut thankfully still intact Josh must complete the remainder of the harrowing journey alone.
Director Grierson packs Sanctum with some truly breathtaking visuals. The underwater cinematography shot with 3D cameras Grierson spent six-plus years developing is particularly stunning. But the film’s script clearly didn’t receive as much care and attention as its cameras. The action is occasionally gripping but the story lacks suspense and its tone largely fails to evoke the gnawing claustrophobia that presumably festers in such a dark musty subterranean labyrinth. Moreover it’s littered with truly execrable dialogue made worse by ADR that sounds as if it were recorded in a cozy basement studio.
Executive producer James Cameron is featured prominently in Sanctum’s advertising campaign but the film itself bears scant evidence of his involvement save perhaps for the splendid underwater scenes. I half-suspect he viewed the project as a tool to develop and test his 3D technology in preparation for his amphibious Avatar sequel. He certainly didn’t use it to brush up on his storytelling skills.
The Easy Rider star revealed his fight with prostate cancer in October (09) after being hospitalised for "severe flu-like symptoms", admitting he was first diagnosed with the disease in 2002.
Hopper underwent regular treatment sessions at the University of Southern California, but reports surfaced in early January (10) suggesting he was facing his final days after learning the deadly disease had spread to his bones.
He passed away on Saturday morning (29May10) at his home in Venice, California with his family and friends at his bedside.
Hopper's manager Sam Maydew confirmed the sad news in a statement to the AFP.
The statement reads, "Dennis Hopper died this morning at 8:15 am (15:15 pm GMT) from complications of metastasized prostate cancer. He died at home in Venice surrounded by family and friends."
Tributes to the actor have been pouring in, with Hopper's Easy Rider co-star Peter Fonda among the first to pay his respects.
He tells TMZ.com, "Dennis introduced me to the world of Pop Art and 'lost' films. We rode the highways of America and changed the way movies were made in Hollywood. I was blessed by his passion and friendship."
A number of stars have taken to Twitter.com to honour Hopper including rocker Slash, who writes, "You take the great ones for granted until they're gone. RIP Dennis Hopper," while British actor Simon Pegg, adds, "Just heard we lost Dennis Hopper at 74. Great actor, sad loss. 'Sometimes he goes too far. He's the first one to admit it. ' Apocalypse Now."
Born in Kansas in 1936, Hopper enjoyed a career as an artist, actor and director spanning 55 years. His family relocated to California when he was a child and, after developing an interest in acting, Hopper made his TV debut with a small role in U.S. series Medic in 1955.
He went on to land two roles alongside his idol James Dean - in 1950s releases Rebel Without a Cause and Giant - but Hopper was left devastated when the movie star was killed in a car accident in 1955, aged just 24.
After moving to the East Coast and completing a training course at New York's famous Actors Studio, Hopper's career began to pick up pace and he became a TV regular on U.S. shows such as The Defenders, Bonanza, The Legend of Jesse James and Combat!
Hopper made brief appearances in Paul Newman's Cool Hand Luke and alongside John Wayne in The Sons of Katie Elder (1965) and True Grit (1969), while his more recognised roles include Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979), Out of the Blue (1980) and Rumble Fish (1983).
But Hopper will perhaps be best remembered for pulling double duty on 1969's Easy Rider, which he directed and starred in alongside Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson.
The movie earned Hopper critical acclaim, but his screen success was marred by trouble in his personal life - the star's eight-year marriage to first wife Brooke Hayward crumbled and he struggled with drug and alcohol abuse.
A year later, in 1970, Hopper rushed to wed Michelle Phillips - the disastrous union lasted just one week amid allegations of cocaine addiction and spousal abuse.
His private life hit the headlines again in the early 1980s when Hopper had a brush with death in an incident involving 17 sticks of dynamite near Houston, Texas, and it was only after finding himself stranded in a Mexican desert while drunk and on drugs that he checked himself into rehab in 1983.
Hopper kicked his addictions and marked his Hollywood comeback with critically acclaimed performances in 1986's Blue Velvet, with director David Lynch, Hoosiers, for which he earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, and 1988's Colors.
He returned to TV on numerous occasions and in 2002 appeared in Kiefer Sutherland's hit show 24, as well as government drama E-Ring in 2005, and Crash in 2008 to 2009, a series based on the Oscar-winning movie of the same name.
Hopper went down in movie history when he was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in March (10), but his health had deteriorated so rapidly he was in a wheelchair for his red carpet appearance.
His marriage to fifth wife Victoria Duffy, who he wed in 1996, also deteriorated in his final months - the actor filed for divorce in January (10), citing irreconcilable differences. He obtained a restraining order against her after his doctor claimed she was "hampering his cancer care" and Hopper's personal assistant, Emily Davis, went on to accuse Duffy of "trying to kill" the ailing star - although no further details were released.
The estranged couple was subsequently ordered to resolve their differences for the sake of their daughter Galen, who was born in 2003, and in April (10) Hopper was forced to pay Duffy $12,000 (£7,500)-a-month in spousal and child support.
Hopper is also survived by his three other children from previous marriages. The actor fathered Marin with first wife Hayward in 1962; Ruthanna with Daria Halprin in the early 1970s, and son Henry, born in 1990, with Katherine LaNasa.
The Scottish hunk plays a cocky ladies man in the film - but his confidence disappeared when it came time to shoot passionate scenes with the blonde beauty.
And he was so flustered by the bedroom takes, he struggled to keep in character.
He says, "I was so nervous. I kept forgetting my lines. Once, in the middle of a take, I said to Katie, 'Did I touch your breast?' It was an accidental brush but I was pretty nervous about it.".
Ape descendant Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) gets yanked from the Earth by best friend and alien Ford Prefect (Mos Def) seconds before a Vogon constructor fleet destroys it to make way for a hyperspace expressway. Next thing he knows Arthur is aboard the Vogon ship reading the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (voiced by Stephen Fry) and wondering where he might get some tea. But he and Ford are not in the clear: the Vogons (some of whom look like the nightmarish drawings of Ralph Steadman come to life in S&M leather) want to throw them into the vacuum of space right after they read some of the third worst poetry in the known universe. Luckily the spaceship Heart of Gold picks up the stranded hitchhikers in the nick of time. Stolen by the dim but groovy President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) the ship has an Improbability Drive that causes certain mischief turning the stowaways into loveseats and later two missiles into a bowl of petunias and a sperm whale. Also onboard is doe-eyed Earth girl Tricia "Trillian" McMillan (Zooey Deschanel) who previously ditched Arthur at a costume party on Earth to satisfy her wanderlust with Zaphod. The crew then embarks on a quest to find the Ultimate Question to Life the Universe and Everything after supercomputer Deep Thought (voiced by Helen Mirren) found the answer: 42. On the run and without a home Arthur discovers that life's true meaning comes from the answers found within.
The slapstick antics and sharp dialogue evoke enough laughs to make one forget that the characters are rather one-note. Rockwell's Zaphod is a riot at first but the cheeky smile and devilish winks soon wear thin. Deschanel has little to work with playing Trillian though it's fun watching her wield a point-of-view gun on Zaphod. Mos Def mumbles some lines but does manage to act like someone from another planet. Freeman does an amiable job playing the fish-out-of-water Earthman but neglects to express the grief and bewilderment of someone who just lost his planet. Even John Malkovich as Humma Kavular--the spiritual leader of a cult awaiting the arrival of the Big Handkerchief--fails to make much of an impression in his brief appearance. Only Alan Rickman as the perpetually glum robot Marvin and Bill Nighy as the stammering planet designer Slartibartfast remain funny without becoming routine--though unfortunately Nighy only appears in the third act. A half-cocked romance between Arthur and Trillian is thrown in for good measure with the couple merely going through the motions.
Directed with considerable flair by first-timer Garth Jennings whose frantic visual style blends well with Adams' ironic wit the film looks as good as can be. CGI is used to display Adams' universe in ways never seen before: The massive concrete slabs of the Vogon fleet surrounding Earth the Heart of Gold tricked out in 1960's Formica kitsch the stark bureaucratic world of Vogosphere and the eye-popping factory floor on Magrathea are all vividly brought to life. Although the graphics of the Guide look more like Internet pop-up ads than stellar entries from the best-selling book in the galaxy the exposition from the Guide is clever and amusing though one should brush up on the material prior to viewing. Even with all the stunning visuals however the plot is still thin. Jennings and screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick (Chicken Run) have trimmed the story--and witty banter--to its barest essentials leaving out some of the funnier bits to quicken the pace. Memorable exchanges--like the opening battle of wits between Arthur and Mr. Prosser--are reduced to a few meaningless lines while the always hinted-at love affair between Arthur and Trillian gets the full Hollywood treatment. In the past Adams who died of a heart attack in 2001 has allowed the Guide to change and progress with each incarnation so new additions--like the point-of-view gun and the cult of the Big Handkerchief--are welcomed. But the patchwork of wacky vignettes and neutered banter particularly between Arthur and Ford leave one yearning for something more meaningful.