It is a rare and special thing to have an entire movie theater to oneself. My most memorable one was actually with a friend, when we saw a restoration of 2001: A Space Odyssey in an otherwise empty auditorium. I still cannot fathom why only two tickets were sold to such an amazing movie at prime viewing time, but an empty theater for a first-run movie is often a sign that the movie in question has failed, critically and financially, especially if this is the case two weeks into said movie’s run.
65 is certainly no 2001.
To its credit, it has nowhere near the same lofty ambitions as Kubrick’s masterpiece, and it isn’t really fair to compare them. Also, perhaps unfair (but inevitable) is the comparison to Spielberg’s masterpiece Jurassic Park, by which comparison it also pales, but then so does every subsequent entry in that franchise. The problem with 65 isn’t that it fails to live up to such great works, but that it fails to live up to even its own more modest potential. Though it wisely doesn’t overstay its welcome at 93 minutes, its fatal flaw is that it is a deeply silly movie that takes itself way too seriously.
From the few teaser trailers I had seen previously, I mistakenly assumed time travel must be involved in Mills (Adam Driver) being stranded on a planet full of hostile dinosaurs, and that was enough to make my (still mostly dominant) inner child determined to see it. In fact, the premise is even sillier, as Mills is a spaceman from another, fictional planet, who crash-lands on Earth 65 million years ago, which is his present day. On his home planet. Where they speak English. And use the metric system. And have advanced space travel and weapons technology. 65 million years ago, on a far distant planet from Earth.
To drive this home, after a lengthy cold open establishing the above, we see the title, “65,” followed by the phrase “million years ago,” then slowly fading up after that, before we’re nearly finished chuckling at the obviousness, “a visitor landed on Earth,” or some such gratuitous nonsense.
As stated before, deeply silly.
One would think from this premise that we are in for some sort of at least amusingly pseudo-clever Twilight Zone-style origin of humanity story, but the movie not only doesn’t do that, it also doesn’t do anything smarter or more surprising or interesting than that. I can only imagine the possibilities of the one-man (and a bunch of dinos) show this almost is, with Driver totally alone on the “alien” planet, survival his only motivation. Alternatively, a few more characters who we as the audience honestly believe might not survive until the end would have been nice, ya know, to create some suspense and sense of real danger.
Instead, we have the well-worn backstory of a father on a mission to save his dying child back on the home planet, who coincidentally finds a new daughter figure to protect in the only other survivor of the crash landing, Koa (Ariana Greenblatt), who apparently comes from another part of the planet where they at least don’t speak English. If this was meant to help make the reality of their fictional planet more believable, though, it’s a net loss in that the ways in which the two survivors are able to communicate vary from difficult and time-consuming to implausibly expedient, depending on what the plot requires.
The initial premise all but begs to be quickly glossed over so the audience can accept its absurdities and get on with the fun dino action, but writer-director team Scott Beck and Bryan Woods insist on reminding you of how dumb it is early and often, all while simultaneously trying to tug on the old heartstrings in the way they managed to achieve in their previous works, the A Quiet Place movies. Trouble is, no one really wants that in their 90-minute spaceman vs. dinosaur movie. Would it have killed them to give us a few honest laughs? Driver, overqualified as he is for this material, has been reliable as a comedic as well as dramatic actor since his breakthrough role on the HBO series Girls, so it’s a shame they give him so little to do here beyond bereavement and grim determination.
At least the dinos are pretty cool. The visual effects work is distinctive and interesting, if nowhere near as iconic as the work done by the likes of Stan Winston and Phil Tippett back in 93. With such good work in the visual and production design departments, and the always reliable Driver in action hero mode, I only wish it was all in service of a better story.