65 Doesn’t Put in the Work to Be the Goofy, Gnarly B-Movie Its Dino-Premise Promises

Movies Reviews Adam Driver
65 Doesn’t Put in the Work to Be the Goofy, Gnarly B-Movie Its Dino-Premise Promises

In December of last year, social media was abuzz when the first trailer for 65 materialized. The concept of the numerically titled film seemed simple and familiar: A space explorer crash lands on a strange, possibly hostile planet far from home. The twist? It’s not an alien planet—it’s prehistoric Earth, full of creatures who’d just love to munch up a spaceman for an afternoon snack. Dinosaurs vs. laser guns feels American as apple pie.

But the fanfare was in reaction to both the inane twist and the actor in the pilot’s seat. That actor was none other than auteurist boy du jour Adam Driver, whose career has thus far been marked by collaborations with some of our greatest living directors and, of course, a Burberry ad. The choice for Driver—who seamlessly side-stepped blockbuster fame with Star Wars in favor of eclectic independent and dramatic work with esteemed greats like Ridley Scott, Noah Baumbach, Spike Lee, Leos Carax, and Jim Jarmusch—to make his first foray into sleazy genre fare, directed by the A Quiet Place scribes, was met with unabashed excitement. There’s not much argument against the simple truth that Driver is one of the era’s greatest and most surprising artists of his age, and his plucking from Lena Dunham’s Girls into cinematic prestige has been viewed as across-the-board earned. With highly anticipated comeback films from both Michael Mann and Francis Ford Coppola on the horizon for him, it was thrilling, then, to see the actor diversify his portfolio even further with some good old-fashioned sci-fi schlock.

But as it goes with too much modern genre fare—and perhaps should have been expected from creatives behind a movie like A Quiet Place, an insecure film that also seems embarrassed of the genre it’s in–65 holds back on the schlock as if it’s ashamed to let it go that far, as if audiences of the spaceman vs. dinosaurs movie aren’t there to simply have a rollicking good time. (Directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods feel compelled to “ground” their B-movie concept with “emotion,” as if that’s what has been missing from B-movies this entire time, and these two cracked the impossible code.)

Mills (Driver) leaves his home planet in search of a better one, a two-year mission that will force him to leave his wife Alya (Nika King) and daughter Nevine (Chloe Coleman), the latter of whom is suffering from an unidentified respiratory illness implied to be worsened by the planet’s atmosphere. But while shooting through space, Mills’ ship comes in dangerous contact with an asteroid belt, debris from which damages the ship beyond repair and sends him hurtling down to an unknown world. The rest of his crew have been killed in their cryo-stasis, and it seems all hope is lost—for one dark moment, Mills picks up his blaster with the intention of suicide. But he decides against it, discovering one other survivor from his ship: A young girl who had been on board with her family. Though the girl, Koa (Ariana Greenblatt) speaks a language unknown to Mills, the two band together to reach a viable escape vessel that landed on a mountain many kilometers from their ship.

Though the strange planet has a breathable atmosphere, Mills astutely discerns that there are alien lifeforms inhabiting it. These lifeforms, of course, are dinosaurs, as Mills’ existence on his home planet somewhere among the cosmos runs parallel to the timeline of prehistoric Earth. But eventually the true nature of the asteroid belt becomes clear, and the crash landing has also managed to sync up with the dinosaurs’ impending doom. Reaching the escape pod quickly becomes a race against extinction. 

65 takes admirable care to differentiate the dinos’ look from the movie dinosaurs we’ve come to recognize, both utilizing a number of species that might be unfamiliar to most viewers and restyling familiar ones (like T. Rex). But the dinosaurs, or, really, lack thereof, are just one of 65’s litany of problems, their entirely too brief appearances possibly chalked up to the uncanny CGI, which is at once too sleek and too cartoonish to blend in with the dull, naturalistic surroundings (cinematographer Salvatore Totino worked on such beauties as Spider-Man: Homecoming and Pokémon: Detective Pikachu). It continues to boggle the mind that with such advancements in technology, the best incarnation of dinosaurs that the movies will likely ever see again was from 1994—though perhaps that’s why all other dinosaur films, like 65, are still conjuring imagery lifted directly from Jurassic Park.

The problems with the effects reflect the problems with the film at large, in which the clashing tones manifest a wannabe goofy, gnarly genre picture that won’t put in any of the work to make it so. Macabre images like a river of blood, queasy shoulder dislocation and a frightening insect that attaches itself to the inside of one’s mouth are improperly offset by the film’s insistence on making the pseudo daddy-daughter relationship between Mills and Koa more prominent than it needs to be to make a film like this work. 

But 65 isn’t entirely a wash, and it’s watchable and even a little fun until it falls off into total tedium. Driver, not only one of our best actors but one of our best yellers, showcases some of the most impressive screaming of his career, in a performance otherwise serviceable as “distraught and grizzled protagonist searching for the Macguffin.”  The score—credited to Chris Bacon with a curious co-composing credit for Danny Elfman—is at times magnificently evocative of old school sci-fi adventure music, though during light moments between Koa and Mills, it leans on your standard, insert “comedy situation music” that sounds composed by A.I. The best and only real dinosaur fight occurs at the very end, where two Tyrannosaurs are bathed in darkness and moonglow, a proper lighting decision to shadow the flaws in their creation. Why the previous 80 minutes could not be bothered to do this I cannot tell you.

Instead, the film forces a poorly written, artificial emotional arc upon the narrative. It becomes so utterly contrived that it might as well not be there at all, even though B-movies have proven themselves able to carry some sort of an emotional throughline that doesn’t drag the rest of the film down. Modern films love to arouse the ghosts of a perceived better past without fully embracing what makes us nostalgic for them. Beck and Woods seem to have an entirely misguided conception of what people love about B-movies in the first place and, like A Quiet Place, 65 flounders in this middle ground because it won’t commit to being a genre film. 

Director: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Writer: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Starring: Adam Driver, Ariana Greenblatt, Chloe Coleman
Release Date: March 10, 2023

Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared at Gawker, The Playlist, Polygon, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more. You can follow her on Twitter.

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