The James Cameron effect


Sanctum is a movie that could use a monster. I mean, doesn't that title, along with the chilly production stills, seem to promise some awful beastie lurking in the bowels of the earth, ready to devour the cast of a low-budget horror film? What we actually have here, however, is a 3D film about cave-diving, a pastime whose enthusiasts rappel down the sides of huge holes in the ground to crawl about in the caves below—a sloshy business, the caves having been receptacles for the rainfall of the ages. The picture is beautifully designed and photographed (in Australian locales and sound stages), but the story, which is very light on plot, eventually piddles away into a series of unfortunate underwater events, none of them especially gripping.

The caving team is led by steely Frank McGuire (Richard Roxburgh)—"the most respected explorer of our time," as one character helpfully explains. Among the others taking part in the enterprise are Frank's disaffected son, Josh (Rhys Wakefield); big-mouth expedition bankroller Carl Hurley (Ioan Gruffud); and Carl's thrill-junkie girlfriend, Victoria (Alice Parkinson). Down in the rocky depths of the hole with their wetsuits, dive tanks, and re-breather face masks, the adventurers prepare to submerge in a deep pool and go flippering off below to explore the narrow underwater tunnels (this is not a movie for people with serious claustrophobia issues) and cathedral-size landings of the vast cave system. "What could possibly go wrong diving in caves?" one character actually asks. Then comes word from a support team high above, on terra firma, that an enormous tropical storm is moving in. Question answered.

The storm hits hard, of course. Torrents of water come flooding down into the big hole, blocking the team's exit point and driving them deeper into the caves, where they swim around in desperate search of some other means of egress. At this point the story becomes an exercise in serial extinction, as one after another of the stalwart band succumbs to the bends and bone breaks and ill-considered subaqueous decisions. Australian director Alister Grierson's ability to capture action in tight close-ups—even in the most constricting underwater tunnels—is impressive. And there's a moment of real feeling when Frank accepts that a grievously injured team member he's cradling in his arms has no chance of surviving, and as an act of mercy pushes the man down into the water and holds him there to drown. But despite the attempted variation of a subplot involving the prickly relationship between Frank and his son, which never gains narrative traction, the procession of death scenes grows monotonous—although not before the flat-footed dialogue does. ("This cave's not gonna beat me!" "Every fiber of her being was driven to explore." "You've gotta seize the day!")      

The movie can be recommended mainly to fans of high-end 3D technology. It was shot with the Fusion 3D camera system developed by James Cameron and Vincent Pace, which was used most ambitiously in filming Cameron's Avatar—a great-looking picture that's similarly flimsy in the story department. Cameron is one of this film's several producers (along with story author Andrew Wight, his collaborator on the scuba documentaries Aliens of the Deep and Ghosts of the Abyss), and his influence is apparent. There are no poke-in-the-eye effects of the sort that make 3D…well, fun. Instead, as was the case with Avatar, the process is used to lend subtle depth to the imagery. Unfortunately, the 3D glasses required to appreciate this—or at least the pair I was handed—dim the light even more than usual, and the resulting visual murk is a continuous frustration. Is this really an experience worth paying more money for? It feels as if we're watching the whole movie underwater.                   

Kurt Loder is a writer, among other things, embedded in New York.

NEXT: Egypt is Burning. But America Has Rampant Inequality!

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. James Cameron. Busy proving Forrest’s mama correct every time.

    1. All he does is makes movies that people like, the loser.

      1. All he does is makes movies that dumb people like, the loser.


        1. Success in his business is measured by ticket sales, not critics’ scribblings.

        2. Yeah, The Abyss, the first two Terminators, True Lies, Aliens and all those underwater documentaries are for stupid people only.

          Especially the documentaries. I mean, only an idiot would want to learn from a movie…

          1. That was 20 years ago, welcome to the new James Cameron: Turds in 3D. Also, True Lies automatically sucks for having Jamie Lee Curtis.

    2. So The Terminator was stupid? Or Aliens? Or The Abyss?

      1. Notice the small time periods between them.
        The longer it takes Cameron to make a new movie, the more pretentious and overhyped it tends to be in terms of expectation and importance, and the more tedious and overrated in quality.

        This guy made “Piranha 2” for christ’s sakes. He needs to get over himself and stop pretending he’s profound.

        1. How is Sanctum pretending to be profound?

          The longer it takes Cameron to make a new movie, the more pretentious and overhyped it tends to be in terms of expectation and importance, and the more tedious and overrated in quality.

          Just like every other fucking director in Hollywood. If this bothers you, then every big budget movie must bother you.

          It seems like a lot of people with right-wing tendencies can no longer like Cameron because Avatar could be perceived as liberal or left wing, and since they can’t seem to divorce their entertainment from their TEAM RED TEAM BLUE politics, they can’t enjoy him any more. That’s pretty stupid.

          1. I just don’t like hippie sci-fi. Liberal is OK, dirty hippies are not.

            Banned from my VHS library
            – Avatar
            – Silent Running

            1. Silent Running was fantastic for its subtle corporate logo placement. Rewatch it and see for yourself.

          2. Dude, you know that team blue would totally fuck over those aliens in the name of the greater good. So would I and everyone else, which is one reason why I won’t be wasting my time with Avatar. Ever.

            1. Avatar is the shit, fool. “I hope Neytiri shoots your retard ass with a poison fucking tampon” – Rahm Wmanuel

          3. Titanic was a snoozefest as well.

          4. Oh lord – I hate Avatar because if fucking blows.

            I see you have two ways of dealing with detractors:

            2. Calling them authoritarian fetishists.

            Grow the fuck up.

            1. Two Thumbs Up?.

              1. As a libertarian who leans team red but counts The Abyss among his favorite mov

                1. sorry, don’t operate an iPhone on 12 oz. of Booker’s bourbon:

                  As a libertarian who leans team red but counts The Abyss among his favorite movies, my animus towards Cameron is entirely based on my hatred of “yeah it had no story, but the effects rocked!” movies. Blame Lucas, but there’s no excuse for making a $400 million shitfest when you could make a $400 million film with a great writing team.
                  That being said, Cameron’s ocean exploration is basically my dream life. I think he intentionally makes generic bullshit these days to showcase his technological toys, and that’s just embarrassing when you have an infinite budget at your disposal.

      2. Aliens great. Avatar Boring. Terminator Good. Abyss so-so.

          1. Alien better than Aliens. He can make a great movie, only after Ridley Scott hands him a complete idea, sets, creatures and story. Cameron’s a hack, he even stole the ideas for Terminator and T2 from others (sued so hard he had to change the film credits too). His stupid 3D camera is a rip off of another piece of toy technology called the viewmaster, and countless other experimental projection technologies from the 1940s on.

            With out crazy ‘ole Uncle George and ILM… Cameron’s just another canadian truck driver.

            1. It’s exceedingly dumb to compare them. Completely different stylistically. Aliens actually has a marginally better meta score. My informal polling of friends suggests that people who love geeky sci-fi prefer aliens due to the sheer number of geek buttons that space marines push.

              1. Alien was ground-breaking in a number of ways (grungy interior of a workhorse spacecraft, labor/management conflict, Giger’s bio/techno mix monster, the unforgettable exploding chest monster birth, etc.). Aliens is credited by some as a better movie because its rewatch value was greater than that of Alien because of its greater emphasis on action and gunplay.

            2. Alien was “stolen” as well; Check out “IT! The Terror from Outer Space.”

    3. If Kurt Loder was a little more like Anderson Cooper he would not be laughed at like a wanna-be Rex Reed. Run from empty water bottles? HA!

      1. Who the hell wrote that stupid intro? How many damn times do you need to say “Loder writes”? Once was plenty. More than that sounds like you want to die under him when the harness snaps and you are crushed by his girth.

  2. I mean, doesn’t that title, along with the chilly production stills, seem to promise some awful beastie lurking in the bowels of the earth, ready to devour the cast of a low-budget horror film?

    How so? Or did you misread it as Santorum? Then I’d get it.


    Abyss II: Sanctum

    (sounds like the unwatchable sequel to Abyss)

  3. Sanctum is a movie that could use a monster.

    I thought you said James Cameron was co-producing it.

    1. BP, why does your site freeze computers?

  4. Avatar was just a demo reel for Playstation 4. I am surprised this thing was filmed in Australia, from the looks of trailers I would’ve guessed those huge cenotes in Yucatan were the backdrop.

    1. Yeah, that giant hole in the ground looks a lot like the Cave of Swallows in Mexico. I guess they just did a flyover of it with the 3-D cameras and then shot everything else on the other side of the world…

  5. As long as my tax dollars aren’t used to make movies, I don’t care.

    But when it comes to former presidents getting $500k+ in presidential pensions and other perks, I do care!

    The Taxpayer-Funded Lifestyle of Jimmy Carter.…..jimmy.html

    1. “Libertarians4freedom”?

      Talk about redundancy.

      1. Tulpa signed me up for the Libertarians4tyranny mailing list.

      2. Yeah well, politicallyincorrectlibertarian was already taken.

        1. Well yeah, you’re certainly politically incorrect, just not in the way you meant.

          1. Politically incorrect simply means you don’t have the views you’re supposed to have.

            Are you a multiculturalist? Do you believe all cultures are equal? I certainly do not.

            The Taxpayer-Funded Lifestyle of Jimmy Carter.

            1. Who the fuck cares about culture?

            2. This guy is like the conservative Rectal.

  6. Wow, that looks like some really cool stuff dude, seriously.

  7. Where the fuck are Ron’s global temp graph?!?!?!

    the world is the coldest it has been in 3 years and reason’s resident climate alarmist is on vacation!!!

    The good news is that it is probably fucking up his cruise.…..n_2011.gif

    1. What does that have to do with Sanctum? Do you have Tourette’s?

  8. Avatar is the story of the plight of the exploited First Nations of Alberta’s tar sands.
    Ol’ Jimmy even said so himself.

    1. It was Ferngully with giant feline smurfs.

  9. (“This cave’s not gonna beat me!” “Every fiber of her being was driven to explore.” “You’ve gotta seize the day!”)

    This barely passes for profound porn dialogue, when one is unfortunate enough to view one that attempts to have a plot.

    On a serious note, and politics aside, Cameron’s greatest film making asset is his creativity and groundbreaking development of technology to further his storytelling. Exhibit A: The Abyss

    I think he is at the point now where he will become a one-trick pony by relying on tech, much like Micheal Bay. That is, if Cameron hasn’t already.

    1. Agreed. He missed his calling. He could/should have been one of the greatest cameramen/technicians in movie history. Unfortunately, he somehow got the impression he could write and direct as well. Sometimes total creative control is a very bad thing.

  10. Cameron gets a lot of shit. Some of it is warranted. However, IMO, Aliens is the greatest pure action movie ever made. Die Hard is #2.

    Hey Loder, nice work on calling Sanctum a “picture,” very mid 20th c. of you. I’m a huge fan of mid 20th c. colloquialisms.

    1. Sweeney

  11. My favorite 3D movie experience EVER was the Muppet attraction in Disney World, because it is fun and funny with plenty of “poke in the eye” 3D fun.

    I haven’t seen Sanctum and I probably wont see it just because I would rather sit around scratching my balls and sniffing my fingers than watch a bunch of people go into a cave, regardless of how many dimensions it is in.

    I saw Avatar and aside from the fact that the message, if you can call it that, was idiotic, the movie was nothing more than eye candy. I already own several screen savers so I wont be watching Avatar again. If Cameron couldn’t make a movie with the potential of Avatar have any more value than a top rate screen saver, than I would hate to see what he does with the riveting hobby of spelunking.

    1. You’re Balko’s cousin, aren’t you?

    2. You’re Balko’s cousin, aren’t you?

      1. Second Cousin, apparently…

        1. Second-cousin once removed-If we could edit out our mistakes

    3. He surrendered by getting hit by the cop car.

      1. I would call his surrender after he gets hit by the cop car. When he rolls on the ground, lays on his stomach, and puts his hands over his head.

  12. Really, people? No True Lies love? I’d put True Lies at the top of the Cameron top 5:

    True Lies

    I don’t get The Abyss. If lame-o tree-hugger gushiness bothers you in Avatar, you can’t give a pass to The Abyss. And something you almost never find in Cameron pictures: feeble storytelling. The Abyss is a movie where I can actually feel myself not caring.

    But it’s hard to name any director with a better good movie/dud ratio. Plus he produced Point Break, and he’s got “other” credits for Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Escape from New York and Battle Beyond the Stars. How can anybody, other than his ex-wives and people who have had to work for him, not love James Cameron?

    1. Bleh, Jamie Lee Curtis!

    2. Titanic?

      Are you trolling, brah

    3. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, comment.

    4. +2 thumbs. “Bleh, Jamie Lee Curtis!” yes, still like the movie. I say bleh Titanic. 4 outa 5 aint bad.

  13. I’m a cave diver so I’ll go see it, but I’m sure that I’ll be whispering to my BF all through the film about the cave diving technical mistakes…

  14. I hated Titanic’s moral message of steal a diamond that doesn’t belong to you and have sex in a car that’s not your own. Maybe Sanctum will be better.

    The Taxpayer-Funded Lifestyle of Jimmy Carter…..jimmy.html

    1. Most teenagers have sex in cars that are not their own–why do you hate cheesy horror movies?

      1. They’re owned by their parents, they’re not owned by strangers. Gee, I thought libertarians respected private property.

        1. Have you never heard a joke, or were you just born stupid?

    2. You’re somewhat of an idiot, aren’t you?

      1. Well if you’re so smart why don’t you prove me wrong? Why don’t you argue that having sex in a car that doesn’t belong to you or your parents is perfectly fine? Or that it’s ok to steal a diamond from a man you’re not even planning to marry? When my sister broke up her engagement, she returned the ring, why? Because she had pride. Rose from Titanic is not only a cheating whore, she’s also a thief.

        The Taxpayer-Funded Lifestyle of Jimmy Carter.…..jimmy.html

        1. Having sex in a car that’s not yours or your parents’ is in the Constitution but Jimmy Carter snuck in one night and erased the amendment while the guards were stealing diamond–oh who the fuck cares, idiot, it’s a fuckin’ stoopid Cameron movie!!

    3. That was strictly an escheat situation. Billy Zane planted the diamond to frame DiCaprio. That’s how Winslet ended up with it in her pocket. He had a fair claim to get it back but he then started shooting at her and chased her away. Given that the ship ended up going down and she ended up going in the water, her possession of the diamond was fair under salvage law in international waters.

      Ditto the car. She is shown emerging from that car early in the movie, so presumably she has rights to quiet enjoyment of the property.

      The real ripoff in that movie is that the old lady doesn’t give the diamond to Bill Paxton. It was made clear that she didn’t like the necklace and the diamond meant nothing to her, and if ever anybody in a movie deserved to get paid off, it was Bill Paxton.

  15. Cameron’s next 3D Imax hyperbolic overblown sensation… RECTUM,a miniature submarine explores James’ bowels for zazen inspiration.

    1. It’s been done.

  16. Avatard was a paint-by-numbers hackneyed story that tried to be profound by inserting some 4th grade “corprashuns are evil!” and “military leaders are bloodthirsty demons sending our kids to die!”
    Good action and nice visuals couldn’t save it.

  17. I’m gonna share it in Facebook, this is really awesome

  18. Get government replica uggs out of education and kids will get educated or fake uggs for sale not, as their parents desire. More of them will actually become educated without government than do now with it.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.