Why aren’t there more movies about dinosaurs? Everyone is fascinated by them, and countless numbers of people (myself included) are outright fans. Furthermore, dinosaurs aren’t bound by any kind of intellectual property rights; which means literally anyone can make a movie about them. And finally… money! (Case in point: The “Jurassic Park” and “Jurassic World” movies have collectively made a jaw-dropping $6 billion worldwide, despite— let’s face it— most of them being various shades of mediocre.) With all that in mind, I was surprised and delighted that a big-time studio, Sony in this case, finally caught on and threw in $91 million to make “65,” a largely enjoyable romp that (I hope) will lead to more dinosaur-related content on the big and small screen.
“65” begins on an alien planet much like our own, where a man named Mills (Adam Driver) shares a bittersweet moment with his preteen daughter Nevine (Chloe Coleman), who is suffering from some unspecified fatal illness. The only way he can afford her treatment is to accept a mission that will keep him away from her for two years. His subsequent space journey goes tragically awry when the ship he is piloting is struck by an asteroid, causing it tear in two and to crash land on a harsh, uncharted planet filled with savage alien creatures with razor-sharp claws and dagger-like teeth. (He doesn’t know it, of course, but the audience does: He is on earth, 65 million years in our past— hence the cryptically numeric title— and the monsters surrounding him are none other than dinosaurs.) Along with the only other survivor— a young girl named Koa (Ariana Greenblatt)— Mills must make the trek up a mountain to the escape pod housed in the other half of the crashed ship. Will either of them survive?
Meanwhile, up in the sky, a massive asteroid is fast approaching…
With most adventure movies, especially the ones that are rated PG-13 (like this one), you pretty much know, in broad terms, how things are going to turn out. But one of the pleasures of “65”— aside from the acting prowess of Adam Driver, who sells the fanciful “ray guns and dinosaurs” premise by taking it all absolutely seriously— is that throughout the film, we truly have no idea what might happen next. Except for Koa dying and leaving Mills alive (because, frankly, that’s not how these things work), the story could go almost anywhere: Mills and Koa could make it to the escape pod, safely flying off into space. Mills could sacrifice himself to save Koa, as a way to atone for his inability to save his own daughter. They could both perish dramatically in the fiery flames of an extinction-level event. It is a credit, then, to the writing and directing team of Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (who also wrote the screenplay for the 2018 surprise hit “A Quiet Place”) that a movie like this—which contains homages to everything from “Aliens” to “Predator” to some of the better “Jurassic” movies, along with pretty much every adventure trope in the book— holds any surprises at all.
Admittedly, “65” does have its flaws. For one thing, it’s extremely heavy on exposition. Very early in the film, for example, Mills has a conversation with his wife Alya (Nika King) about their daughter Neville’s illness and his need to be away from her for two years… and then later, throughout the movie, we get multiple scenes (mostly involving video messages from Nevine) telling us exactly the same thing! (So why did we even need the wife character at all?) Perhaps more egregiously, the ship’s computer, and later the portable wayfinder device (which should probably be called an “Expositron”) keeps spelling out things that we can plainly see on screen for ourselves: things like (and I’m paraphrasing here) “asteroid approaching” or “life forms detected” or crash imminent.” In other scenes, Beck and Woods were able to depict, say, the function of the space gun, or the light-up motion sensors, without using words at all— so why not do that everywhere else? Whenever the filmmakers violated the cinematic “Show, Don’t Tell” rule, it took me out of the movie and diminished my enjoyment of it. But they commit an even bigger crime: namely, the crime of not having enough dinosaur action in a goddamn dinosaur movie! Whatever I was expecting from this film, I wasn’t expecting that! (Seriously, what the hell, man?)
Thankfully, there is still a lot to enjoy here. My personal favorite aspect of “65” is its depiction of prehistoric reptiles. (NERDY FACT ALERT: Dinosaurs were strictly land-based creatures; so if it flew or lived in the sea, it’s not a dinosaur.) Despite the dearth of dinosaur-related content mentioned above, we all know, more or less, what, say, a T-rex is supposed to look like. Occasionally ropey CG aside, this film does the neat trick of making dinosaurs mysterious and terrifying again, depicting them as the formidable monsters that they must have truly been. True, the impact of this is lessened by the regrettable fact that some of the ones depicted here seem to have been completely made up, but a dino-lover like me has to take what he can get.