Directed by: Bruce Hunt
Written by: Michael Steinberg & Tegan West
Starring: Cole Hauser, Morris Chestnut, Eddie Cibrian, Rick Ravanello, Marcel Iures, Kieran Darcy-Smith, Daniel Dae Kim, Lena Headey, Piper Perabo, and Vlad Radescu

I usually hate it when the cover of a DVD differs from the theatrical poster—especially if it’s a Sci-fi or Horror film. The theatrical poster (or one sheet) usually features an image that is meant to horrify or excite. The lightsaber sweeping through space on The Return of the Jedi poster. The ALIEN egg cracking open. The shadowy figure trapped within the goo of Chuck Russel’s The Blob. Yes, you can tell a lot about a film from a poster hanging in a theater lobby. But when a film comes to video, the DVD will often jettison the powerful marketing images of the one sheet in favor of headshots of the cast. This is especially true if there is a big star (see Tom Cruise’s mug on the War of the Worlds DVD) or a cast of young hotties (see Scream).

However, the poster for The Cave was nothing special. It was almost entirely black, with a single shaft of light that illuminated a rock wall, and skulls so tiny you had to squint to see them. Printed at the bottom was the tag line: “There are places man was never meant to go.” Judging by the domestic box office, people took the poster’s advice.

To entice these same non-movie-goers to pick up the DVD, new artwork was designed. The cover now shows the cast of the film floating in an underground lake, their flashlight beams shining down through the water to reveal an open mouth full of sharp teeth just below their kicking feet. While it’s better than the poster the studio shipped to the cinemas, it’s also highly derivative.

Remember how I said you could tell a lot about a movie from its poster?

It feels as if Michael Steinberg and Tegan West took elements of Jaws, Tremors, Predator, The Fly, Pitch Black, and a little classic called Trog, programmed them into script writing software, then hit “print.” Here’s what it came up with: A team of experts dive into a cave and are attacked by a creature (Predator/Trog). A scientist with the group determines the creature is an eating machine that is perfectly adapted to the environment (Jaws/Tremors). To complicate matters, an accident has trapped the group in the dark with the monsters, and a parasite is transforming the team leader into one of the creatures (Pitch Black/The Fly). The actors do the best they can with the lines they have been given, and fans of Invasion and LOST will love seeing Eddie Cibrian and Daniel Dae Kim as members of the team, but the script is not concerned with building character. These people are here for only one reason: they’re on the menu.

And what about those cave monsters? Director Bruce Hunt wants to hide them in the dark. When the actors do get around to shining light on them, we are granted quick glimpses of teeth or claws, or we’re shown the blur of a fast moving computer generated effect. Watching the film, you might think that Hunt was hiding a bad design, but a DVD extra that takes you inside the creature studio tells a much different story. These things are amazing! They are detailed, and huge, and scary, and it makes you truly angry that you were not given the opportunity to see more of them on screen.

The movie’s one saving grace comes not in the form of a man made creature, but in the beauty and wonder of what nature has forged. The producers wisely contacted Wes Skiles, who makes a living filming cave dives, to be their director of underwater photography. And the results are incredible and breathtaking to behold. We see divers glide across colorful rock formations, past odd shelves and jutting columns, and through stone arches no architect could replicate. It makes you long for an IMAX film of real-life exploration, and makes the rest of this movie seem all the more artificial.

Now, there were other words on that original movie poster, words that have been removed from the DVD release. They read: “Beneath heaven lies hell, beneath hell lies…The Cave.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

2.5 out of 5 stars