Given they are the subject of the one-time biggest box-office hit in history (Jurassic Park, naturally), it’s a wonder that Hollywood hasn’t embraced dinosaurs more. Bringing the wildest dreams of small children to life seems like an obvious win for blockbuster filmmakers looking for some paleontological pleasures at the picturehouse; special effects wizards like Ray Harryhausen and Phil Tippett once kept them alive in the cinematic imagination but these days, outside of the ongoing Jurassic series, big-screen dinosaurs are a rare beast.
Now, finally, comes this dino-disaster-movie from Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who have — as with their script for A Quiet Place — sketched another simple but effective sci-fi premise: what if a spaceman from another world crash-landed on our planet, 65 million years ago, at the tail end of the Cretaceous Period? It’s a basic idea which reframes dinosaurs not as the terrible lizards of wonder that captivated young minds in science classes, but deadly, terrifyingly unknown aliens.
This is a very straightforward, efficient kind of blockbuster. Following some rather gloopy exposition back on his home planet which establishes him as a stock-in-trade Sad Dad, Adam Driver’s Mills crash lands on Earth within ten minutes. There is so little flab here, it is almost skeletal: not counting the prehistoric beasties, there are only four speaking roles, and one of them doesn’t even speak English. That would be Koa (Ariana Greenblatt), Mills’ fellow survivor, quickly taking the role of surrogate daughter for his real one, who is suffering from an unspecified illness (we’ll call it ‘Character Motivation Syndrome’).
65 breaks no new ground. But it is a short, sharp, largely original studio movie.
In the spaceman-falling-to-a-planet-that-turns-out-to-be-ours setup, there are faint echoes of Planet Of The Apes, but Beck and Woods aren’t especially interested in making any kind of satirical commentary on our world, past or present. Instead the film lurches into a lean genre exercise, a survivalist thriller that occasionally draws from the filmmakers’ horror background. The sheer hostility of prehistoric nature means peril is always lurking, the experience always at some degree of stress.
It plays more or less as you might expect: there are problems that require solving; there is a journey requiring the characters to get from A to B; there is, unhelpfully, the odd Tyrannosaurus rex in between those two points. The dinosaurs are fun and frightening (even if — sorry, paleontologists! — none of them have feathers here), and while plot holes loom like falling asteroids, it is at the very least handsomely presented, blending epic landscape cinematography — including lush location shooting in Louisiana's Kisatchie National Forest — with solid, subtle CGI.
It’s also bound together by a typically compelling Adam Driver performance. As he did in three Star Wars films, Driver brings a thoughtfulness to his genre character even when the screenplay doesn’t, a humanistic approach that grounds the bombastic silliness around him. He shares an easy warmth with Greenblatt, too, despite their characters speaking different languages, her character having hailed from the "upper territories" of their home planet. They commit, admirably, to the project at hand.
65 breaks no new cinematic ground, upends no rules, challenges no clichés. But it is a short, sharp, largely original major studio movie, unbound to any franchise or intellectual property — at a time when such a concept is being threatened with extinction. Also, it has a T-Rex in it. Sometimes, that’s enough.