65 released in Indian cinemas on March 10, 2023.
Remember 2011’s Cowboys & Aliens? 65 is a movie that dares to take that same simple idea of a kid smashing two of his favorite toys together and give us Space Dad & Dinosaurs, a breezy sci-fi survival mission that delivers what’s on the tin and little more. Writers and directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods – who wrote the much fiercer invasion stunner A Quiet Place and pulled double duty on the gruesome yet underwhelming Halloween horror movie Haunt – emphasize ferocious special effects, a fast tempo, and adventurous tension. It’s a straightforward story of a man protecting a child that will someday fit well into syndicated Father’s Day marathons on channels like TBS or TNT. Don’t expect the next Jurassic Park or even Jurassic World. 65 pleases the most basic expectations, and that’s good enough for the entertaining concept to survive for 90 minutes.
Beck and Woods favorably draw from ‘80s and ‘90s action movies centered around a hero whose family-driven motivations are more compelling than another cardboard action-hero cutout trying to beat a body count record. Adam Driver’s space pilot Mills survives a white-knuckle crash landing filled with asteroid damage that drops him on Earth 65 million years ago, and it’s not long before dinosaurs start trying to take bites out of the stranded visitor. Adding Ariana Greenblatt’s young survivor, Koa — who speaks a different language — creates a fatherhood instinct that drives Mills. Thanks to her, Driver gets to do more than shoot energy bullets at animated dinosaurs, which suits his flair for expressive facial reactions and outbursts. Koa needs Mills’ tactical skills, Mills needs Koa’s daughter representation, and 65 needs their parent-child dynamic to elevate even a single notch above point-and-shoot generics.
That father-daughter relationship acts like tossing some Hallmark warmth into a prehistoric episode of Survivor (…with futuristic tools [scratches head]). Driver’s commitment as an overprotective caretaker shines, while Greenblatt’s playful scamp can be a delight. The communication barrier between the two might not add much to the story, nor does their emotional journey go anywhere special, but Driver and Greenblatt mold a sweet relationship together that make it easy to root for Mills and Koa as they overcome separate familial subplots. It’s something like After Earth, but far better.
Nothing here will beat the T-rex or raptor animatronics from the original Jurassic Park.
Visual effects supervisor Chris Harvey led efforts to present lifelike digital dinosaurs and gets plenty of credit for 65’s success in that arena. Nothing here will beat the Tyrannosaurus rex or raptor animatronics from the original Jurassic Park (perhaps nothing ever will), but 65 delivers creatures big and small that appear pretty darn polished and worthy of a reported $90 million budget. Harvey’s dinos favor menacing reptilian attributes like massive predators running on all fours, like a blend between a T-Rex and Komodo dragon — they’re somehow more unsettling by resembling animals we see everyday. Driver and Greenblatt’s chemistry when threatened by them sells everything from cautious wonder to fear-stricken danger, especially with some choice cinematography, like when a rainstorm lightning bolt reveals a massive T-rex-type outline behind our worried leads.
65 isn’t a non-stop creature feature, though. Beck and Woods balance less-frequent dinosaur attacks with natural obstacles like cave-ins and quicksand, showing an environment where death is one wrong step away. Driver brings intensity, whether challenging razor-clawed predators or exhaustively chipping away at rocks to clear claustrophobic escape tunnels from dank caverns. 65 embraces the wildness of wilderness excursions, and while suspense might subside when dinos vanish for longer stretches of time, there’s never too long to wait before Mills and Koa have to defend against another snarling adversary.
It’s never too long before Mills and Koa face another snarling adversary.
What 65 lacks is any ambition toward grander world-building. Beck and Woods’ screenplay gives us a glimpse of an advanced cosmic race of humans that arose long before our own, complete with solve-all gadgets that can be too convenient for their own good and interstellar travel. Mills and Koa’s backstories are completely unexplored because 65 is dedicated to being a movie about fleeing from gaping dinosaur jaws and a quest to locate a lost escape pod – but the microscopic focus feels slight and unfulfilling given the setup. Mills’ never-quite-emptied blaster (the fact that it recharges itself undermines a fair amount of survival tension) and their holographic GPS tracker are neat devices, but they beg for expanded lore about the people who built them.
65 is a capable action-thriller with a softer side when it comes to its family-centered survival motivations. That doesn’t negate the excitement when Adam Driver must square off with fearsome, great-looking dinosaurs. Writers and directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods don’t overcomplicate 65 beyond acting on primal instincts, and while that leads to sci-fi storytelling that leaves so much unanswered intrigue on the table, they deliver respectable humans vs. beasts entertainment. 65 has a few oddly cruel moments that hit out of nowhere, which can throw off balance in a way that feels like a family-friendly The Land Before Time movie colliding with the feeding scene in Jurassic World, but it’s also a competent 90-minute gauntlet where survivors race against time and extinct foes.