65 Review: Passably Entertaining ... Almost
My partner has a rule: any movie with a T-Rex automatically gets five stars on Letterboxd. Because, of course, dinosaurs make any movie better. But I think even he would be hard-pressed to give 65 five stars, or even a positive score. And even I, who perhaps does not quite have the interest in dinosaurs that my partner or other people do, still can be entertained if the action and story are good - but try as I might, I could not be entertained by this film.
It's not a stretch to understand why a studio would hand Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, the writers of A Quiet Place, some money, but this seems to be a trend: hand some money to the writers or directors with one hit, and don't pay attention to how they spend it, or even if the script is worth spening money on. Even with some star power, and yes, a few T-Rexs, 65 suffers from perhaps a problem even worse than being bad: it's just boring.
It's 65 millions years ago, and on a distant planet that has a space-faring human civilization, Mills (Adam Driver) has agreed to take on a 2-year piloting job for an exploratory mission. Leaving behind his daughter and wife is not easy, but the money he earns should cushion the blow. Unfortunately, the ship hits an uncharted asteroid field, and the ship crash lands on an uncharted planet, with only Mills and one young girl Koa (Ariana Greenblatt) surviving. There's an escape pod left from the crash, but it's 15 kilometres away from their position at the top of a mountain, and the route is heavily traveresed by dinosaurs, since the planet they happened to land on is Earth.
Now, a film with this premise doesn't necessarily need an inventive narrative - we know the pair are going to face great physical obstacles, both of the terrain and animal variety; we know that what will begin as likely an antagonistic relationship will eventially grow into a deeper bond through their fight for survival; there might be some inventive work with the creatures they're facing. But even this is so by the book as to set your watch by it. Even the deeper emotional pain that's revealed along the way is sadly, so similar to a recent popular television series, that even if this script was written before, the similarities feel are a bit too absurd.
From my count, Mills and Koa encounter maybe three different kinds of dinosaurs. Not that the film is obliged to show every kind, but the fact that one of the kind basically stalks them makes it seem perhaps that they were once envisioned as human characters with specific malicious intent (aka the 'evil' dinosaurs). Again, it feels like the narrative was barely even an afterthought, since the assumption was 'people lost on Earth in the time of dinosaurs' would be enough.
And maybe it would be, if that part of the film was good. I'm not sure if this happened when the film was shot or in the editing room (or both), but I've rarely seen such terrible framing, such lack of imagination in presentation, that I frequently wondered if the projection had been in error. Only a few times did I feel like i was really seeing the dinosaurs, and rarely did I think the characters were actually in serious danger. But that's also the problem when you have a lazy narrative - it contributes as much to emotional stakes in a film as does the action, and when both the emotional stakes and the action are poorly rendered, the result comes to nil.
I don't fault the actors; both Driver and Greenblatt are doing the best they can with the material given. I can imagine if someone pitched you this premise, you would want to dive in - because, of course, dinosaurs - but the result is just too paint-by numbers, and the narrative device of different spoken languages (coming from different parts of their planet) sadly makes it verge on kind of pseudo-colonial prejudice. They work well together, at least, and even given the predictability of their bonding, they almost made the film somewhat enjoyable.
And that's the key word: almost. So much about 65 could have been good, was almost good, if just more effort had been made, from improving the script, to considering the best way to frame the action, to giving the actors more proverbial meat on the bones, and overall just not relying so much on the mere presence of dinosaurs to make up for the film's many shortcomings.