Deep, Deep, Down

June 8, 2011 | By

As journalists from over the world listen intently, Jimmy explains the mystical meaning of "a Mongolian clusterfuck."

Way back when theatres were periodically carrying movies bearing a “Francis Ford Coppola Presents” banner, the resulting films were generally good: The Black Stallion, The Grey Fox, The White Cabbage – wait, scratch that last one.

Francis picked the films (if not co-funded them with monies from his American Zoetrope treasury) and it was a form of branding: Coppola = Qvalitaats Film Produckte.

It’s a very simple form of self-promotion under a quasi-benevolent aura, and soon afterwards, the procedure was oft-imitated by others for similarly part-genuine, part egotistical, part easy-money reasons.

An easy money example is Wes Craven whoring his name for crap like the Wishmaster cycle; partly egotistical is Quentin Tarantino using his name to instill himself among burgeoning cult film aficionados as the premiere screener and purveyor of things hip, cool, and cultish; and genuine is James Cameron’s guiding hand in the development of Sanctum [M].

Written by novice screenwriters John Gavin (who has a small part in the film) and Andrew Wight (who co-produced), the story is based on the latter’s real-life adventure when a team on a cave diving expedition in 1988 was trapped after a freak storm. That’s essentially the hook of the film, but unlike the 1989 documentary Wight produced on the incident (Nullarbor Dreaming), Sanctum’s six producers either mandated their own few cents of mandatory ‘creative suggestions’ or the writers simply patterned the script after Cameron’s own template, going as far as emulating his hokey dialogue.

When Cameron writes bad dialogue, it’s amusingly laughable (except in Titanic, where it’s interminable); when it’s imitated, it’s just plain bad, and therein lies the biggest challenge for viewers: if you can stomach the first 25 mins. of rubbish chatter & profanity (such as the aforementioned ‘Mongolian clusterfuck’), and tolerate cardboard characters that never deepen nor blossom during the course of the film, it’s a passable adventure B-movie.

During it’s theatrical run, Cameron’s name was nail-gunned into every form of advertising, leading some to believe Jimmy made another watery movie, but while his influence is felt in the film’s script, the production and focus on diving minutia is more Wight, himself a veteran documentary producer on Things Oceanic.

Both Cameron and Wight have collaborated on several documentaries regarding iconic ships rusting on dark, benthic ocean plateaus (Titanic, Bismarck, and more guilt-studded, Titanic odes). One suspects that as Jimmy and the other four producers realized Wight was following Jimmy’s own template and style during the final rewrite process, there was a collective sense the script was coming together just fine.

I’ve uploaded a review of Universal’s Blu-ray, which happily includes Nullarbor Dreaming among the extras. The doc’s been long off the radar since its rare airing on PBS stations, and cave diving fans stuck with terrible TV dubs can finally enjoy the eerie cinematography and compelling narrative of the vintage doc in its pristine tube camera glory. Ahem.

Oh, and just in case you’re still doubting, Sanctum has no monsters. It’s The Descent, minus bug-eyed creatures, aliens, mutants, viruses, underwater cabbage patches, etc. Just people slowly breaking under the stress of being trapped kilometers underground.

You know, Jimmy stuff.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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