Pros: Cinematography, scenery, score, Dan Wyllie
Cons: Script, acting
Richard Roxburgh leads a team of cave explorers in Papua New Guinea's Esa-ala caves who become trapped after a tropical storm floods the caves and they need to work together to find an escape route. Easier said than done, when interpersonal conflicts also flare up considerably under the stress of the heightened situation. Rhys Wakefield is Roxburgh’s estranged son who has practically no respect for his cold-hearted father, who he sees as a needless risk-taker. Dan Wyllie is Roxburgh’s long-time associate, Ioan Gruffudd is the schmuck millionaire funding the expedition, and Alice Parkinson is his girlfriend. Andrew Hansen appears briefly as a sort of communications/tech guy.
James Cameron is only an executive producer (and probably a pretty hands-off one at that) of this 2011 cave exploring disaster film from director Alister Grierson (the Aussie war pic “Kokoda”). However, you’d swear he wrote the thing, that is, the James Cameron of “Titanic” and “Avatar”, two of the most overblown, poorly-written spectacles of all-time. This is as opposed to the great filmmaker of the first two “Terminator” films and “Aliens”. You really would swear it was two different guys at times. The spectacle here isn’t quite as large, but it’s just as empty, and I don’t care that the film is essentially Australian (Cast, crew, locations, etc), it’s just not a good film. I didn’t see it in 3D, but as I always say, a film needs to work in 2D first (a mantra I don’t see myself ever wavering from), and besides, the 3D photography would likely be the only 3D thing about this clichéd and boring film.
Based on the true experiences of co-writer Andrew Wight, the film is unfortunately nothing you haven’t seen a million times before. Wight and co-writer John Garvin might be cave diving enthusiasts, but the film is tired and full of clichéd dialogue, not helped by a mostly stiff cast. The cold-hearted adventurer father and his resentful son, the rich playboy who is revealed to be entirely shallow, etc. Hardly inspiring stuff. Although the obvious comparison is to UK filmmaker Neil Marshall’s spelunking horror pic “The Descent” (or maybe Cameron’s “The Abyss”, minus the alien), it actually plays more like a schlocky 60s/70s disaster/adventure film (right down the guy who you know is gonna turn into Donald Pleasence from “Fantastic Voyage” at some point), only most of those films had a sense of fun, not to mention real stars. This one’s got Aussie actor Richard Roxburgh, former Aussie soap star Rhys Wakefield, and import Ioan Gruffudd playing an American. In an Australian film. Set in Papua New Guinea. Gruffudd being Welsh, I couldn’t understand why American was the chosen accent. Surely not commercialism, otherwise everyone would’ve been a Yank, and he’s certainly not a big enough name for marquee value.
It’s Roxburgh and Gruffudd who cause the most concern amongst the cast. If better actors had been cast in their roles, maybe something could’ve been salvaged here to make the film more than just a pretty but empty piece of cardboard. Roxburgh is typically hammy and overdoes the ocker accent to the extent that he sounds like he’s still playing former Aussie PM Bob Hawke (and he’s crap at it if you ask me, any third rate comedian does a better Hawke impression). When you consider that we see him topless (isn’t Roxburgh like 50 or something? Eeeewwwww), it becomes awfully uncomfortable. No one wants to see any former PM topless, now you can add anyone who badly played a PM to that list, too. Gruffudd’s performance meanwhile, is as flat as his attempt at an American accent. Every time he opens his mouth with that fake-a**e accent, it reminds me of how cheap and second-rate this is, beneath the scenic veneer and James Cameron name recognition. Personally I think both of these characters ought to have been combined (and they were, in Bill Paxton’s character in “Vertical Limit”) to save us the bother of putting up with two crap performances.
Rhys Wakefield showed talent in “The Black Balloon”, but here he’s saddled with an actively unlikeable character who just yells and complains the whole damn film. Why turn up then, dipsh*t? He needs to be careful, because he’s done the sulky young man thing a few too many times now. Time to move on, Rhys. The best performance by far comes from Dan Wyllie, who begins as the slobby comic relief, before becoming involved in the dramatics. His is the one character you almost half care about. The rest are forgettable and just around to die, basically, aside from political satirist/writer Andrew Hansen of the sh*t-stirring “Chaser” team from Aussie TV (more troublemakers than political satirists, really) in a bit of stunt casting that stands out like a sore thumb mostly because it appears Hansen is just playing himself.
There’s something screwy here in terms of the characters, of which there are way too many, resulting in a lack of depth (and thus little audience engagement). I didn’t like any of them, and don’t respect or interest in what they are doing, and thus it results in great boredom for me. They could die? So what. Don’t go into the cave. Problem solved. But it’s more than that. Take the Roxburgh character for instance. The way he’s set up, it’s like he’s meant to be the villain of the piece, or at least a heartless b*stard. Unfortunately, aside from Roxburgh’s awful performance, he’s actually right and the rest of the characters are a bunch of p*ssies who have no business being anywhere near a cave. I may not like or understand what these people do, but at least Roxburgh understands the dangers and the risks (i.e. It’s stupid, reckless, and scary). He’s harsh but his actions are ultimately necessary. Have the other characters never watched a movie before? Somehow, I don’t think I was meant to look at things this way, but I did and combined with the complete lack of interest in plot and characters, it made it impossible for me to be invested in any of it. “The Descent” worked because it was scary, tense, and had the nasty creatures. Simple cave diving, routine dramatics, and a ridiculous body count aren’t nearly enough for me.
Thankfully the locales and cinematography by Jules O'Loughlin pick up some of the slack. I’m not sure how it looked in 3D (impossibly dark, I’d wager, though at least it wasn’t a post-conversion job), but in 2D, this looks bloody gorgeous. Both the interior and exterior of the cave look magnificent, almost enticing actually (I’m not quite that stupid, however). Given we’re in a cave and underwater much of the time, it looked pretty damn good to me. Unfortunately, I just get so annoyed when I see such a great location at the service of a sh*t screenplay. Is this the best they could do? These guys might be able to cave-dive, but they know nothing about making movies. Good, strong music score by David Hirschfelder (“Shine”), though, I must say.