The disc presents a theatrically correct widescreen 1.85:1 1080p 3D transfer that is Region free. Well, after a couple of rather naff 2D to 3D transfers it is nice to get back to a native 3D picture, and boy does it make a difference, with Cameron as executive producer the 3D has really been used to its fullest extent in what has to be one of the best 3D experiences out there. Every shot exhibits some sort of naturalistic 3D element; it is never ‘in your face’ preferring to be about depth and solidity, boy does it work. Even the simplest scenes, such as three people walking through the jungle towards camera, exhibit such a degree of dimensionality both into the frame, with the ground and trees being placed in the frame to demonstrate depth, and out of the frame, with extreme foreground leaves, and then having the characters walk towards the camera – each displaying a solidity to the layers as they move from the back to the front of the frame. There are many such instances of this simple but effective framing that show a wonderful depth to the picture, and this only gets better and better as we descend into the caves themselves. Remember how I raved about the claustrophobic scene under the water in Tangled? Well, now you have nearly two thirds of this film set as such; rock formations seem to swallow you up and when the constrictions apply you feel yourself curling up to squeeze through. This is enhanced even more once the action moves underwater – the three dimensionality here is unmatched – you have the diver, a solid object exhibiting his own three dimensionality, you have the water itself exhibiting a deep solidity holding the diver in place and you have the light which penetrates both deep into and out of the frame – I cannot stress how wonderful the effect is during these scenes. There are some typical ‘wow’ moments, but not of the ‘intentionally throw something at your face’ variety, but rather over head shots of the cave entrance which demonstrates such a depth into the picture you feel you can jump in yourself. Inside the caves there is plenty of water, and clever framing with water gushing down into the frame, or looking up so water is coming at you show both the depth and ‘in your face’ moments that mark this format as spectacular. And such moments are used throughout; they are not stressed, but rather form part of the picture, i.e. they are natural and our brain responds by placing you into the frame – you are not brought out by the gimmick of it and thus it is a truly absorbing experience.
And the good stuff does not stop there; being filmed in HD there is a breathtaking amount of detail on offer, from skin and hair of the divers, to their equipment and the rocks that make up the caves; if anything the detailing is too good as it’s clear the caves are formed from concrete and not by any natural process (but maybe that just me noticing this). The slick rubber sheen of the wet suits or the dust and silt in the water come through with clear precision as does the surface water. Above ground things fair just as well with the various establishing shots show the canopies of trees majestically sweeping off into the distance, with the helicopter defiant against them (a terrific 3D shot this as well).
Colour is well realised with all the primaries coming off well, the trees are suitable lush in their greenness and the blues of the sky and water show nice clear gradation. Red is well defined be it clothing or the odd spattering of blood, none showing any signs of wash or, umm, bleed. The major hue, once in the caves is orange, and this is well shown, and when it turns green, due to the emergency chemical lights, the hue is wonderfully realised.
Brightness and contrast are set to give some spectacular blacks (with the usual 3D caveat) showing no signs of noise to muddy them – with a large portion set in the caves, black was a must to get right, and for the most part it is, exhibiting enough shadow detail to test your set up. One or two, and I mean one or two, did grey a little, but this was more a function of the original filming than a transfer defect.
Once curious anomaly, the closing shot as the credits roll, is of noticeably lower quality that the rest of the film – it shows blooming contrast and edge enhancement up the wahzoo, extremely curious in what is an otherwise spectacular print.
Digitally there were no compression problems, there was some extremely slight banding seen in some of the darker blue shots, but nothing to worry about, and there is no edge enhancement (save that mentioned above) to spoil the view. Crosstalk was at the barest minimum too. In all this is a wonderful picture and my new benchmark for quality in this format.
I concentrate on the English dts-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Things aren’t quite so spectacular with the sound stage, though it’s still pretty good. Effects are well realised and there is ample opportunity to experience the caves with dripping water and echoes to try and evoke that feeling of ‘being there’, whist they are good, precise and well positioned, I never felt that oppression as, say, The Descent managed. Dialogue is well realised, clear and precise and very natural emanating from the frontal array; what is nice is that, at times, the dialogue is toned down with respect to the effects and score to make is difficult to hear in places, such as rushing water, when it would be difficult to hear, otherwise it’s clearly audible within the mix. The score comes across well, utilising all the speakers placing you in the centre of the action. Bass is well realised and grounds everything naturally, LF effects themselves are rather limited to crashing water and helicopters, and the bass never quite plumbs the depth that the best can reach, but it is defiantly no slouch. On the whole this is decent enough mix, though I’d have liked something truly special, more akin to The Descent to accompany the visual aspect and thus really place you in the caves.
- Audio Commentary – With director Alister Grierson, actor Rhys Wakefield and co-writer/producer Andrew Wight is a rather dry affair with numerous pauses and somewhat scene specific. Having said that, once the information flows it can be interesting; all the main bases are covered, including casting, sets, general production and back slapping, though more intimate detail about the films true story origins, actual diver reactions and decisions, exploring as well as some other technical detail about the filming process, though very lacking in 3D talk, unless you count ‘problems with water’. A fair amount of the chat is also duplicated in the extensive making of featurette below. I’ll admit this was a bit of a struggle to get through and may be best listened to in bite sized chunks.
- Deleted scenes (9.23, HD) – These scenes are in chronological order and play without break or name or reason for exclusion, it’s interesting to watch as it defines the film in such a short time, look out for the green screen and effectless shots.
- Sanctum: The Real Story (46.53, HD) – is actually three making of featurettes that can be (and are best) watched all together with the play all function. The feature titles are, How it all began, Making the movie and In the aftermath, which neatly describe what they are about, and using a combination of talking heads and behind the scenes filming tell the story of how the film came about and how it was achieved, with contributions from just about every cast and crew member, including Cameron himself. It’s told quite matter of factly, which is good, however there is also healthy amount of back slapping, but the information does come thick and fast if you can wade through the cheese. There was far too much reliance on film clips for my taste and virtually no mention of the 3D filmmaking process which was incredible considering this was made for the format.
- Nullarbar Dreaming (44.53, SD) – This is the video/film of the inspiration for Sanctum, a short film charting the thirteen member diving expedition in the underwater caving system in Nullarbur, Australia. This is a fascinating watch and, in my opinion, far more interesting that the main feature. It starts off by showing the divers and how they prepare for the trip, accrue their equipment and get used to the terrain and then follows their exploration of the cave to the eventual storm (using still photography and actual news casts of the event) that sealed the entrance forcing them to find an alternative escape – they all did successfully proving than real life is far more engaging than anything Hollywood can dream up.
- 2D Blu-ray – the film in its 2D guise, this disc holds all the extra material
- Digital copy – the film in its digital copy form.
And there you have it, quite a comprehensive extras package. The main feature covers all the salient points even if it is a bit back slap happy, contains far too much film footage and is extremely 3D light. The main highlight though is, clearly, the true footage of the film's inspiration.
Despite all the advertising to the contrary James Cameron was only the executive producer on Sanctum, however, his stamp is all over it, from the cheese to the look, and depending on your particular bent towards his films you may love or loath the result. The story of cave divers trapped underground and forced to seek a new way out by diving deeper into the caves is based on real events, even if the outcome is purely fictitious. By ramping up the cheese and clichés to near unbearable levels, Sanctum does manage to remain watchable due to its spectacular 3D visuals which showcase the format better, for my money, than the current benchmark, Avatar.
As a 3D Blu-ray package, Universal have provided the best looking real 3D image so far and whilst the sound has been bettered, it is also backed up by a very comprehensive extras package that includes the original true life film that was the inspiration for this Hollywood fiction. It contains Region free 3D and 2D Blu-ray disc as well as a digital copy.
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