James Cameron Bringing His Fancy ‘Avatar’ Tech To The Underwater Drama ‘Sanctum’

If James Cameron’s upcoming 3-D blockbuster “Avatar” doesn’t look like your kind of thing, perhaps you’ll be interested in a smaller, more serious 3-D film from the man who gave us “Titanic.” Following all of last week’s “Avatar” hype, the Oscar-winning filmmaker is back in the news for a much different project he’s shepherding called “Sanctum.” This film will also be made with Cameron’s new 3-D cameras and technology, but it will be more independent and have a much, much, much lower budget ($30 million).

“Sanctum” is based on a true story about a diving expedition gone wrong, though this is no underwater documentary a la “Ghosts of the Abyss.” For one thing, Cameron’s not directing. Instead, Australian filmmaker Alister Grierson will be taking the helm in a partnership being compared to the recent mentoring team-up of Neill Blomkamp and Peter Jackson for “District 9.” Also, the film will be a scripted dramatization of the real events rather than a straight work of nonfiction.

The premise sounds like an underwater version of the dramatized documentary “Touching the Void,” in that it’s about an accident and the ensuing rescue operation. Written by John Garvin and Andrew Wight, “Sanctum” will focus on Wight’s near-death experience after a storm caused him and 15 other divers to become trapped in a remote underwater cave for two days. At the center of the plot will be the relationship between the father and son who lead the expedition.

The story has previously been depicted on film. Two decades ago, Wight produced a short documentary about the incident titled “Nullarbor Dreaming.” Wight, who has since worked with Cameron on his 3-D underwater docs “Ghosts of the Abyss” and “Aliens of the Deep,” will also be a producer on “Sanctum.”

Obviously this film won’t be as huge an event as Cameron’s “Avatar,” but it could be a big deal in terms of seeing how well a dramatic story plays out in this new 3-D technology. Mostly we’ve been seeing the format used for animation, science fiction/fantasy, musicals and horror — all genres that depend more on spectacle than on serious, emotional storytelling. I’m interested in seeing if people are able to really care about characters in a drama while wearing those 3-D glasses.

Would you see a semi-tragic drama in 3-D, or do you think the format is only suited for spectacle? Do you have more interest in “Sanctum” because James Cameron is overseeing and presenting it?