Or as the official tagline goes, 65 million years ago prehistoric earth had a visitor… Whichever you prefer, 65 is a pulp fiction combining dinosaur action with science fiction thrills. The results are sometimes uneven – more intriguing than captivating – but thanks to brisk pacing and likable performances, there’s simply not enough time for distractions.
Director: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Screenplay: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Producers: Sam Raimi, Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, Deborah Liebling, Robert Mazaraki, Zainab Azizi
Cinematography: Salvatore Totino
Editor: Jane Tones, Josh Schaeffer
Music: Chris Bacon
Cast: Adam Driver, Ariana Greenblatt, Chloe Coleman, Nika King, Brian Dare
Runtime: 93 minutes
Country of Origin: USA, Canada
Release Date: March 10, 2023; Sony Pictures Releasing
Interplanetary pilot, Mills (Driver), is ferrying cryogenically-frozen passengers through space when his ship is struck by an asteroid. Crash landing on the nearest planet (Earth), Mills thinks about the daughter he left behind, who suffers from a life-threatening illness. It was this assignment that was going to earn Mills the money to pay for her life-saving treatment. The one other person to survive the crash is an awoken passenger named Koa (Greenblatt) – a feisty teenage girl who doesn’t speak the same language as Mills. Together they hike toward a distant escape vessel that has also survived. Complicating matters are the large, man-eating terrestrials (dinosaurs) running around and an asteroid (the asteroid) on a collision-course for the planet.
Just as we, the audience, understand the planet to be Earth, so too do we understand these creatures to be dinosaurs and what happened to them 65 millions years ago. Mills does not. Unfortunately, despite what others’ may say, 65 is not a time travel movie. As presented, Mills is not even identified as “human”, but rather an individual living in the galaxy at a time when dinosaurs ruled the Earth.
Would 65 have benefited from a time travel twist? Quite possibly; for what Beck and Woods do well is tell a familiar story about fathers and daughters surviving in a strange new world. This familiarity, however, also gives the film an air of forgettability. Nonetheless, there are highlights; the horror elements, for instance, are a treat. The directors are intentional about building suspense and they earn their jump scares. Likewise, they achieve the oft-attempted trick of teasing the monsters throughout the picture, saving the grand reveal for just the right moment (à la Jaws, Tremors, and 2014’s Godzilla). And as in those esteemed films, your imagination percolates about just what nightmares lurk beyond the shadows.
The answer, of course, is a hungry T-Rex. Or a pack of raptors. Or god knows what inspired those other creature designs. Either way, the dinosaur effects are convincing; a combination of CGI and practical techniques imbue their interactions with Mills and Koa with a firm realism. As for the wayward travelers, their relationship develops nicely; it’s sentimental and derivative but also what you expect. The same with Driver’s capable portrayal of a man grieving the loss of a daughter left behind.
Derivative. Sentimental. Capable. These descriptors alone are not detrimental to a well-told story; as the old adage goes, “there is nothing new under the sun”. Where 65 falters, however, is showing its contrivances too often, almost like a parody. There is no reason Mills goes further into the cave other than to be attacked by a dinosaur; it is an exhilarating set-piece but exists entirely to pad the runtime. More egregiously, every time Mills seemingly breaks a bone, our disbelief is suspended further and further until it breaks along with his body: There’s no way this man is still walking! we yell to ourselves. Driver becomes a clown and the stakes are lost.
Further vaporizing the drama is the overuse of “Chekhov’s Gun”, a storytelling device whereby a seemingly innocuous prop is introduced early on, only to prove essential to the finale. The term may have originated in the The Cherry Orchard as a deft plot twist, but all such prudence is lost in 65. Chekhov’s Hot Geyser, Chekhov’s Poison Berries, Chekhov’s Whistle, Chekhov’s Grenades, even Chekhov’s Asteroid all unite to strain credulity.
Ultimately, despite the unintended laughter, there is plenty of entertaining dinosaurs and science fiction. Perhaps if looked through the right lens, Scott Beck and Bryan Woods pulled off an homage to the B-movies of the past; a prehistoric world before Jurassic Park crashed the party, where flicks like The Lost World (1925), The Valley of Gwangi, and The Beast of Hollow Mountain roamed free. Not blockbusters, but just as memorable as Spielberg’s franchise, including Jurassic World (which arguably, 65 comes close to matching). In that spirit, this familiar – yet contrived – tale of spacemen blasting giant lizards should live on for dinosaur movie fans.
by Vincent S. Hannam
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