Still from the film 65 starring Adam Driver and Ariana Greenblatt.

Film Review: 65

Film Reviews

Directors: Scott Beck and Bryan Woods

Columbia Pictures
In Theaters: 03.10
Content Warning: Scary dinosaurs, gross bugs and Adam Driver’s width

There is something inherently cinematic about a dinosaur. We’ve been putting them into films since 1914’s Brute Force, lizard kings resurrected and projected across the silver screen. Josef Von Sternberg believed that cinema was discovered rather than invented, something that’s been with us from the beginning of time.

Dinosaurs speak to a primal wonder, some faint, barely remembered genetic emotion. But in 1993 the dark ages began: Jurassic Park released, establishing a stranglehold on the dinosaur genre. That we should have to rely on one franchise pumping out movies of ever-dwindling quality is preposterous—dystopian, even. That is why I was thrilled when Columbia Pictures announced 65 with promises of action-packed dinosaur thrills in a sci-fi setting.

We open before the advent of man, the camera drifting through cosmic mists to settle on a strange planet called Somaris. We meet Mills (Adam Driver), his lovely wife Alya (Nika King) and his sickly daughter Navine (Chloe Coleman). To afford treatment for his daughter’s illness, Mills takes work on a two-year expedition for triple his normal salary. (No such thing as universal healthcare, amiright?)

His ship drifts into an uncharted asteroid belt resulting in catastrophic damage and the death of most of the hyper-sleeping passengers. The ship crashes onto an alien planet’s surface, a primordial Earth where ancient reptilian gods rule all. The atmosphere swirls, the ground boils and the only law is that of the jungle. Mills must traverse the deadly planet with the only other survivor, a young girl named Koa (Arianna Greenblatt), to get back home.

Koa and Mills don’t speak the same language, forcing them to communicate through action and gesture alone. They draw pictures, grunt and whistle. This allows for moments of bonding where their understanding transcends the boundaries of language, and it can feel frustrating. 65 has a lot of silence, relying on the actors to work with the little they have.

Driver graciously accepts this challenge, managing to communicate a lot through muttered dialogue, desperate grunts and breathing. It is through his effortless foundation that Greenblatt is able to hold her weight against Driver, despite speaking an alien language for the entire runtime. The two make an excellent pair to root for.

We’re not here to watch (yet another) father figure bond with his surrogate daughter, instead it’s all window dressing for the backdrop of cool sci-fi tools and lizard monsters, with which 65 teems. The art direction and VFX do a lot with a little, creating a unique world rooted in retro-futurism without feeling derivative. Every gadget and gizmo feels alien but intuitive with a clear use.

The dinosaurs themselves are horrifying, completely different from what you see in the Jurassic series. Sparse is the graceful dino, the animatronic brachiosaur with a tender smile accompanied by triumphant chord progression. The dinos on this version of Earth are dead eyed and hungry, snacking on bulging insects or running from 50-foot tall apex predators. It’s certainly not the ideal spot to take your surrogate daughter for a fun weekend trip.

Directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods utilize their small budget, leaning on clever camera tricks and smart sound design to create the atmosphere of the film. The dinosaurs are usually shrouded in darkness, which only serves to make them more terrifying and the final reveal more monumental. Blockbusters that run for two or even three hours end up losing me 90 minutes in—here I again must praise the directors: The solid, 93-minute runtime completes just as the magic begins to fade: this is a forgotten art. 

65 was not good by most critic’s definitions, but it’s fun, thrilling and entertaining, which is sometimes worth more than a critically “good” film. 65 transported me, coming alive the way only a movie can. So please, grab your friends, head to the theater and let’s celebrate a good “junk food” flick. –Morgan Keller

Read more reviews of dino media:
Film Review: Jurassic World: Dominion
Series Review: Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous