Friday, February 4, 2011

Sanctum: Enough with the 3-D, already!

The increasing trend of films being made in 3-D (Toy Story 3) or having 3-D added to the finished movie (Alice in Wonderland) is increasingly tiresome, since, frankly, it’s a technological advance that rarely if ever adds any value to a project. Once in awhile it has a purpose, as in the recently released Tron: Legacy, which is largely set in a world located inside the internet. There, depicting the ‘computer’ world in 3-D as a contrast to our world, in regular, mundane 2-D, makes sense. It didn’t result in a good movie, however, as the sequel to Tron (1982) was basically a loud, empty and finally boring concoction that faded from memory as soon the (lengthy) credits rolled. But Tron: Legacy at least had Jeff Bridges, in a dual role as an evil computer creation and a kindly inventor, who had lost control of the world he originally had intended to build for peaceful purposes. Bridges isn’t great in the parts. He's stiff, partially because of the lame SFX in the computer-generated sections. (He also lazily channels 'The Dude' from The Big Lebowski.) But at least he offers a reason to check out the movie. Sanctum, a 3-D extravaganza which has the distinction of being executive produced by James ‘Avatar’ Cameron (big whoop) can’t boast of having any big stars – unless you consider Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four, W.) to be of that calibre – or any reason whatsoever to check it out.

Well, that’s not exactly true. The fact that it’s completely in 3-D will, no doubt, play a big part in its marketing. It will also impress those film-goers who think any technological wizardry can compensate for a movie’s many shortcomings. And boy, does Sanctum have shortcomings: from wretched dialogue to pedestrian performances to a story that is so thin it could snap. The plot can be summed up very simply: a group of explorers in Papua New Guinea get trapped in a flooded cave, most of them die but not before a son bonds with the father that he barely knows. That’s it, except for the 3-D which will likely distract some folks from noticing any of the film’s major flaws. All it did for me is annoy me. It also caused me to wonder, once again, why we even need to have 3-D? It really doesn’t add any flavour or interest to most movies; films, if they’re good or great, don’t need these kinds of tricks to work. (Harlan Ellison, one of my favourite writers, and a great ranter, would likely describe the uselessness of 3-D as being akin to having an extra set of elbows.) The only difference that I can see between 3-D from the '50s, when the studios at least had the excuse of needing to offer something that upstart television could not, to today’s version, when the movies can do so many impressive things with special effects besides 3-D, is that it is executed better and the glasses are sturdier and more comfortable. Otherwise there’s no real point to this so-called innovation.

And since 3-D hasn’t quite been worked out for DVD play, it won’t even help Sanctum when it leaves our screens (not too soon for me) and mercifully disappears into the video store ether. Never, if we're lucky, to be heard from again. Meanwhile, save your shekels and spend the inflated prices asked for 3-D movies on a good CD, or book, or DVD rental(s) instead. There, I’ve saved you $15 bucks. You can thank me later.

Shlomo Schwartzberg is a film critic, teacher and arts journalist based in Toronto . Beginning Friday, he will be teaching a course on film genre this winter at Ryerson University 's LIFE Institute. For more information go to

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