Principal Cast : Adam Driver, Ariana Greenblatt, Chloe Coleman, Nika King.
Synopsis: An astronaut crash lands on a mysterious planet only to discover he’s not alone.
Unintentionally hilarious sci-fi actioners don’t come with more gravitas than this Adam Driver-starring dinosaur chomper, the unfortunately titled 65. The film’s title harkens back to Jurassic Park – unfortunately, so does a lot of the other stuff between the opening and closing credits – and the fact that dinosaurs roamed the earth some 65 million years ago, but that doesn’t help things here other than to remind audiences of a far superior series of similarly themes films. Blindingly stupid, 65 starts off well enough, drawing inspiration from David Twohy’s 2000 opus Pitch Black, and attempts to give its central character some semblance of an emotional arc throughout, but by the time the monolithic title card arrives some fifteen minutes into this blessedly brief 90 minute movie, the po-faced seriousness and Driver’s continued inability to elicit enjoyment from the viewer overwhelm the onslaught of sharp-toothed enemies he must face on an ancient Earth.
After leaving his very ill daughter behind on his home planet, cargo ship pilot Mills (Driver) is midway through a two-year away mission transporting cryostasis passengers across the depths of space. After striking an unexpected asteroid shower, his ship crash-lands on a mysterious planet, killing all the humanoid cargo save one, a young girl named Koa (Ariana Greenblatt). Mills locates an escape pod some fifteen miles from their crashed ship, but in order to make it before an enormous meteor strikes the planet, they must cross an unforgiving terrain swarming with mysterious, enormous, vicious saurian creatures who want nothing more than to have them as a meal.
Directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, scattershot dino-adventure 65 is one part family drama, another part non-stop rollercoaster action, and an altogether discombobulating cinematic experience. Adam Driver seem to be working under the impression that he’s in a Completely Serious Film and acts like he’s angling for an Oscar nomination as the brusque, downbeat Mills, who is mourning the loss of his family as the story’s survivalist beats ratchet up the tension. The tone with which he plays the lead role is one of strange aloofness; either he’s too god for this film or he’s disinterested, and it shows. Co-star Ariana Greenblatt is given little dialogue but maximised emotional heft as an ESL character who has lost her own family as well, although the young girl seems to get that all she’s really required to do is look terrified all the time and run around screaming. She certainly does just that.
The problem with Driver’s performance is that it’s at odds with the overall tone of the film itself, which I imagine was intended as a rollicking – if implausible – dinosaur-based adventure. A bit like a Jurassic Park or The Mummy, you expect a sense of fun here, but the dinosaur action isn’t quite strong enough, or given enough investment by the actors, to really be fun, and that’s a shame. The visual effects are surprisingly great for the most part, with some even rivalling the more expensive Jurassic films for photorealistic ancient lizards. The way the dinosaurs and the humans interact with each other in 65’s briskly paced plot is typically designed to maximise the thrill quotient of the movie, and to their credit both Driver and Greenblatt make the most of their comparative time together with the creatures. But the predictable nature of the plotting, the risible screenplay once Driver and Greenblatt are stuck on the planet’s surface, made me groan a lot. If character behaved like actual people, or the creatures in the film felt like naturalistic animals and not simply predatory eating machines – predators don’t need to feed all the time, only when they’re hungry, but in this film nothing is happy unless it’s crunching human bones I guess – and the film takes a lot of liberties with known animal behaviour.
Less troubling in and of itself are the film’s saurian visual effects, which range from broadly competent to remarkably great. Sure, this film may lack the budget of a Jurassic Park entry but it more than makes up for it with canny use of the various dino creatures, both small and monstrous, ensuring audience thrills – even of the dumbest, most contrived nature – are aplenty on screen. What’s sillier than the plot itself us just how dangerous prehistoric Earth really was, given the continued stumbling into danger our human pair manage to evince themselves of throughout the movie. Although they only have to travel some fifteen kilometres from crash to escape pod, not a minute passes when something isn’t lurking in the bushes or under a log or behind a tree that wants to eat them, which begs the question of just how prolific carnivorous dinosaurs of more than one species cohabitated in such a small area? Anthropologically it makes very little sense, but in terms of rollercoaster movie fun, it make a ton of it; the audience shouldn’t think too hard when old T-Rex starts eyeballing you as its next meal. Thankfully, the dullest viewers will find the film a true adventure ride, while the more intellectual among you will realise it’s an absolute nonsense and take it as such, although it’s quite a thing to have your suspension of disbelief challenged quite so vigorously.
Tiresome contrivances and convenient plot-luck ruin an otherwise solidly mounted sci-fi actioner, despite the best efforts of Adam Driver to turn what should have been an easy-going popcorn entry into some dramatic opus worthy of award consideration. As an actor of dramatic heft he cannot be faulted but he’s completely in the wrong film, and the film he is in doesn’t warrant such considerable effort. Some may find excitement in the dinosaur action, inasmuch as a lot of the action beats are telegraphed way too often and well in advance, and others might enjoy just how idiotic it all becomes just because it’s so stupid; frankly, both Driver and us deserved better. Competent technical direction can’t overcome hackneyed and predictable plotting or unlikeable characters, and 65 is a lesser film because of that.