Friday, February 04, 2011


NOTE: This entry has been cross-posted from

Last Friday I had the privilege of being asked by Universal Pictures to attend a screening the new film SANCTUM (which is out today) at the historic Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. I was also honored to be asked to join cast and crew the next day at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons for a Q&A round table of sorts.

I’ve been anxiously awaiting the film’s release since I first caught wind of it last summer. So you can imagine my excitement to be asked to view it a week before its release, as well as meet with those involved in its creation.

There aren’t too many movies centered around scuba diving, so this was certainly a movie you couldn’t pay me to miss.

If you have yet to see the trailer, check it out...

And here’s the official synopsis:

The 3D action-thriller Sanctum, from executive producer James Cameron, follows a team of underwater cave divers on a treacherous expedition to the largest, most beautiful and least accessible cave system on Earth. When a tropical storm forces them deep into the caverns, they must fight raging water, deadly terrain and creeping panic as they search for an unknown escape route to the sea.

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?

Shot on location off the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia, Sanctum employs 3-D photography techniques Cameron developed to lens Avatar. Designed to operate in extreme environments, the technology used to shoot the action-thriller will bring audiences on a breathless journey across plunging cliffs and into the furthest reaches of our subterranean world.

I have to admit, I was a bit worried going into the film.

The movie is quite obviously centered around cave diving — extreme cave diving, no less. So I suppose I was worried the movie would be over-produced. That is, worried Hollywood would take a dive story inspired by true events and… well… make it too Hollywood.

That wasn’t the case. This is a movie scuba divers of all stripes and specialties will enjoy. Now, if you’re looking for in-depth character and plot development — you’re looking in the wrong crevice. SANCTUM makes no bones about being a non-stop, action-adventure flick. And I prefer movies (of all genres) that don’t attempt to be something they’re not.

I was also incredibly pleased with the way in which 3D technology was incorporated into the film. Again, not over-done. I don’t need a barrage of things jumping off the screen at me while trying to enjoy the movie’s experience. The 3D effect also added quite appropriately to the underwater effect experienced by divers.

As for the storyline, no spoilers here. You’re going to have to experience that for yourself. However, I will say this: At one point I caught myself literally holding my breath. When you see it, I think you’ll know which point. The closest I’ve come to the sort of diving depicted in the movie was scuba diving Riviera Maya cenotes with my wife. SANCTUM will take you to a whole new depth.

I returned home around 11:30 Friday evening, well after my wife and son had gone to sleep. I couldn’t help but smile as I used the illumination from my iPhone to navigate the long, dark, narrow hallway that leads to the master bedroom.

WARNING: Divers may experience residual effects.

As I mentioned, I was also asked to join members of the cast and crew for a press conference Q&A the following day. I was stoked to meet up and speak with Jeff from Psycho Solo Diver. After getting a feel for those in attendance, I can all but guarantee we were the only scuba divers in attendance.

We first met with on-screen father-son duo Richard Roxburgh and Rhys Wakefield, followed by Ioan Gruffudd and Alice Parkinson, and lastly SANCTUM Director Alister Grierson, Producer Andrew Wight, and little-known Executive Producer James Cameron.

From the actors, I was interested to hear about receiving their Open Water PADI certifications and then moving immediately into re-breather training. Talk about moving from one end of the spectrum to the other in no time at all. I asked Ioan specifically about the cast’s dive prep and schedule during the last four weeks of filming — when all the underwater scenes were shot.

He explained first that they filmed underwater only at night. This is, after all, a movie about diving where the sun doesn’t shine. He also described the two phases of topside dive prep they had to undergo before each scene could be shot. The first was cast and crew huddled around a miniature model of the set. Each person was shown where they would be, where the safety divers (3-4 per actor) would reside, and where the cameras would be set. The second phase consisted of cast and crew walking through the motions in a parking lot, or “blocking the scene”, as he called it. (The set was terrific, by the way. If you’d like to see more about its construction, I recommend watching NatGeo’s special, The Real Sanctum.)

From my own experience, this isn’t at all unlike what military forces do before certain missions. Proper planning often consists of drawing tactics in the sand, walking them out, and then executing — each exercise getting larger in the process.

Thankfully, the cast didn’t describe any sort of particularly serious accidents during the underwater (or topside) training or filming. It sounds like dive coordinator John Garvin ran a tight ship — enforcing the time-honored tradition of “Plan your dive, dive your plan.”

James Cameron discussed with us how the project was actually four years in the making, as the film’s financing fell through during the economic downturn and took time to be re-established. I spoke one-on-one with Andrew Wight after the round table and asked about Wes Skiles’ involvement in the film. As painful as the recent passing of Wes must have been for Andrew, he appeared relieved to be asked a — shall I say — more in-depth question about the film. Don’t get me wrong, the press did was it was called to do. Questions were asked about past and future films, production considerations, and technical difficulties. But I’m not press. I’m a member of the dive community. I saw the film as a diver, not a movie critic.

Andrew and I discussed how Wes was involved early on — after all, he was there for the true events that inspired the project — but was not specifically involved in the filming of the movie. He had hoped Wes would be able to be more involved, but as we all know, Wes was out there doing what he loved until the day he passed.

Were Wes still alive today, I think it’s fair to say he’s be quite pleased with SANCTUM. A film that depicts the sort of mentality required to push yourself into Earth’s previously unseen cavities and cave systems.

A film about true bravery, tough choices… and even tougher decisions.

A film about betrayal, forgiveness… and betrayal.

A film about diving.

A film about life.


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