Adam Driver, dinosaurs, and the screenwriting duo from ‘A Quiet Place.’ These three reasons got me hyped up about ‘65’ in the first place. ‘65’ in question refers to the timeline that took place around 65 million years ago. It was the time when dinosaurs walked the Earth. But this isn’t a rehash of ‘Jurassic Park’ with all the ‘Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later, there are running and screaming’ cliches as Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who co-direct the movie as well, aren’t interested in depicting their characters admiring the majestic sight of the walking dinosaurs.
Instead, we have two main characters here – Mills (Adam Driver) and Koa (Ariana Greenblatt) – a respective pilot and passenger who find themselves crash-landed on an uncharted planet after their spaceship clashes with an asteroid. They may survive the crash, but that’s the only beginning. As it turns out, they have a bigger problem to deal with while stranded on the planet.
Beyond the dense forest and the air they can breathe normally, there is a pack of dinosaurs – T-Rex naturally happens to be one of them — and other prehistoric creatures inhabited the planet. The human presence of Mills and Koa means they will be hunted by these dinosaurs. With a larger asteroid heading down the Earth, they need to get to the emergency shuttle, which crashes somewhere on a mountain dozens of kilometers away.
Scott Beck and Bryan Woods give us the obligatory backstory of Mills as we learn he’s taking up a two-year space mission transporting passengers because he needs all the money that he can get to pay for his ill-stricken daughter, Nevine (Chloe Coleman). The writer-director duo did the right thing not to linger around Mills’ backstory for too long, offering only the essentials about what kind of a person he is and why he accepted the job. It doesn’t take long before the movie hurls the audience straight to the action – the distress signal, the collision between the spaceship and the asteroid, and the eventual crash-landing down the planet.
Basically, the whole point of the story is watching Mills and Koa overcome the danger of not getting mauled by the dinosaurs while passing through the treacherous path and terrain from the crash site to reach another crash site near the mountain, where the emergency shuttle is located. Given that the movie only runs at 93 minutes, I was expecting ‘65’ to be a tautly-paced and visceral thrill ride.
We do get to see the pair encounter the dinosaurs, but the thrill of the chase and action set pieces are often cut short of making way for the lulling moments between Mills and Koa. Beck and Woods could have done us a favor by pushing for more action because ‘65’ is supposed to be a survival sci-fi thriller. It has a blockbuster-sized budget of $91 million, so I can’t see why they feel the need to downplay the should-have-been action-oriented approach in their movie.
Short-lived action set pieces aside, Beck and Woods showed some potential in giving us a few fairly exciting moments, including an effective jump scare, which almost caught me off guard. The final third act, where Mills encounters not one but two T-Rexes, is easily the most sustained action set piece in this movie. If only Beck and Woods could invest more or less the same visceral energy for the rest of the movie earlier, ‘65’ would have been a thrilling piece of entertainment.
As for the cast, this movie is essentially a two-hander between Adam Driver’s Mills and Amanda Greenblatt’s Koa, with Chloe Coleman’s Nevine appearing mostly in a holographic communication device. This is a rare time we have Driver appearing in a mainstream Hollywood blockbuster (his last one would be the ‘Star Wars’ sequel trilogy as Kylo Ren) since his acting resume is mostly focused on prestige pictures and indie films (‘Paterson,’ ‘BlacKkKlansman,’ ‘Marriage Story’ and ‘House of Gucci,’ just to name a few).
‘65’ may have been far from his best. Still, he certainly gives his all in his ground, yet physically demanding performance (it also helps that he was a Marine in the early 2000s before he was forced to leave the military service due to an injury). He forms a decent chemistry with Ariana Greenblatt, where the latter spends most of the time speaking in a foreign language. The language barrier leads to only a few spoken words in English and expressive gestures. They can both understand each other. Their less-wordy interaction is sometimes fun to watch, where Beck and Woods brighten things up with some lighthearted moments to offset the movie’s predominantly gloomy tone.
The special effects here are nothing to shout about, especially if you have seen enough ‘Jurassic Park’/’Jurassic World’ movies in the past. But at least the computer-generated dinosaurs do not look like a hack job. Overall, ‘65’ is pretty much a missed opportunity that could have been a genre classic.