Film Review: Side by Side

Side by SideA documentary focusing on Hollywood and its use digital and photochemical film, Side by Side is a must-see for anyone with an interest in cinema.

Actor and producer Keanu Reeves explores cinemas use of photochemical film, and the more recent prevalence of digital film. Speaking to directors, cinematographers, actors and editors, Reeves uncovers the preference for each particular film type, as well as their advantages and limitations…

Side by Side is a fascinating look at contemporary Hollywood. The debate that the documentary focuses on is acutely current; concerning films that are being made as this film is being screened. Director Chris Kenneally offers viewers some context at the beginning of the film. Narrator Keanu Reeves explains the technology behind digital and photochemical film. This will not be enlightening to those with a familiarity with cinema, but will give others a better understanding and ensure that the documentary is universally comprehensible.

What gives Side by Side distinction, and a seal of approval, is the variety of filmmakers that Keanu Reeves interviews. Most of these are well known Hollywood names, although Reeves also speaks to lesser known crew. The contrast in opinions that the film depicts is striking. Some directors fall firmly on the side of digital (James Cameron for example) while others are staunch film advocates (Christopher Nolan). With strong opinions like these, it is Martin Scorsese who appears as the voice of balance.

By talking to filmmakers and exploring the technical debates of the digital versus film argument, Side by Side investigates its topic without swaying a certain way. What becomes clear is the passionate way that the interviewees talk about cinema, regardless of their specific preference. Similarly, the makers of Side by Side choose not to weigh down on a particular side, letting the audience make up their own minds about the debate.

Film Review: Sanctum

The phrase “inspired by true events” is enough to strike fear into the heart of even the most fair-weather of cinemagoers. Sanctum boasts just this, although filmmakers have been rather liberal with the truth.

Frank manages a team of divers exploring caves in Papua New Guinea. His teenage son accompanies the team, which is financed by wealthy American Carl. When a storm cuts the expedition short, the group must find an alternative route out of the labyrinthine caves…

Although Sanctum is loosely based on a real incident, many of the events have been changed and the characters are fictional. Alister Grierson’s film functions as a fairly run of the mill survival story, albeit one set in a quite unusual environment. The setting does provide Sanctum with an air of mystery; it is unclear whether the film may stray into the realms of supernatural or psychological horror.

For the most part, Sanctum plays out like Deep Blue Sea, only without the sharks. Throughout the film it is unclear how many of the group will survive, with the characters being placed in a number of perilous situations. Although the premise is similar to The Cave, Sanctum takes a different tact to the 2005 film. Grierson’s film lays the emphasis on the survival aspect of the narrative, rather than on any external forces.

Sadly, writers Andrew Wight and John Garvin fail to bring any originality to the story. Much of the narrative is predictable, and the writers rely upon well-trodden relationship dynamics to engineer tension. Frank and his teenage son Josh have a fraught relationship, thanks in part to Frank’s domineering attitude. It is easy to guess how this storyline concludes. Similarly, Carl is the brash, wealthy American after his next adrenaline fix. It is no surprise that he clashes with Frank. The only native character in Sanctum meets his demise early, in the heroic way that the prerequisite ethnic tends to in this kind of film. While there are some good apprehensive moments in Sanctum, nothing fresh is really offered.

Undisputedly, it is Sanctum‘s visuals that shine. The production design is excellent, creating an underwater world that is both expansive and claustrophobic. Sanctum uses lighting effectively, transporting viewers into the darkness of the caves. The use of 3D is also seamless, perhaps unsurprising given James Cameron’s involvement.

Richard Roxburgh gives a strong performance as Frank. Rhys Wakefield as Josh and Alice Parkinson as Victoria are both adequate. Ioan Gruffudd is very hammy as Carl, however, and his accent is dubious. It appears as if Gruffudd was told or decided to play Carl as stereotypically gung-ho American, which may not go down well with US audiences.

Sanctum is passably entertaining, but lacks the ingenuity that would make it a truly absorbing or memorable film.