A film review by Craig J. Koban March 28, 2023

65  jj

2023, PG-13, 93 mins.

Adam Driver as Mills  /  Ariana Greenblatt as Koa  /  Chloe Coleman as Nevine  /  Nika King as Alya

Written and directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods




For the absolutely hypersensitive when it comes to spoiler culture...consider yourself warned...

65 is a weird conundrum of a science fiction thriller.  

It comes from the writer/director tandem of Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (they previously and most famously co-wrote the ingenious A QUIET PLACE) and has a premise that's equal parts baffling and intriguing.  Moreover, they lay all of their cards down in terms of the screenplay's secrets early on (like...waaaaay early on) to the point where I was left wondering whether or not they could have been best left as a twisty reveal in the film's final passages.  I posted a SPOILER WARNING for this review, but since the marketing of 65 completely tipped off its big revelation, then I'm not sure why I did in the first place.  The story itself concerns a human from another Earth-like planet that takes a lowly job to travel through space, but ends up crash landing on Earth...65 million years ago.  It's almost like the twist ending of PLANET OF THE APES, albeit with this astronaut going back in our planet's history, not forward.  The rest of the film features this man and the ship's other survivor - a young girl - fighting their way through dinosaurs to make it to their escape pod (which separated from the main ship and is several miles away). 

Think THE LAST OF US meets JURASSIC PARK...but suckier. 

All of this sounds pretty cool, from a retrograde sci-fi sensibility. But why tip off in 65's opening sections that this planet is Earth from the distant past?  Why not let the reveal develop gradually and organically as the plot unfolds?  The first few minutes of the film goes completely out of its way to explain to audiences - through some fairly unnecessary title cards - that humans existed a long time ago and in galaxies far, far away (actually, 65 million years ago, to be exact) and one of these humanoid aliens from a distant planet becomes stranded on our dino-inhabited world.  Oh, we're also told that there are a multitude of Earth-like planets sprinkled throughout the galaxy as well.  This premise is equal parts mind-blowing and problematic for the limitless number of questions it poses to viewers, but thinking about 65's underlining premise may be a fool's errand.  But, again, why reveal this so early?  Why not wait until the end of the picture?  Once we know that these doomed and stranded aliens are on Earth, it kind of erodes any semblance of storytelling momentum.  Since we know who these people are and where they landed, all we're left with are the action sequences and visual effects to propel the film forward, some of which are good, but aren't enough to save the film as a whole.

The galaxy spanning astronaut in question is Mills (Adam Driver, who literally looks like he just came off the set of STAR WARS with his Kylo Ren mane of hair and attitude), who lives on the planet of Somaris with his loving wife and sick daughter, Nevine (Chloe Coleman).  Despite the fact that Somaris is a limitlessly advanced human civilization with technology well beyond what we have now, Mills' child is dying of an unspecified illness and her medical bills are piling up (one thing Somaris shares with parts of our Earth is the lack of universal health care for its inhabitants).  Desperate for a quick payday to help Nevine, Mills decides to take a high paying, but dangerous job to captain and pilot a two-year deep space mission with dozens of others (all in cryo sleep for the long voyage).  During said voyage, Mills' ship comes to a massive asteroid belt, with one of them striking the vessel and sending it crash landing on - yup - Earth from the Cretaceous Period.  The ship is torn into two sections, with the other being the most vital to allow for Mills and any survivors to get off the planet, but it's extremely far from the main crash site.  Plus, there are hungry dinosaurs lurking everywhere that want to make anything that walks and crawls in their vicinity their lunch. 



Complicating everything is that (a) nearly everyone else on board died in the crash and (b) the only other survivor outside of Mills is a young girl named Koa (Adriana Greenbelt) that doesn't speak English (I know...I know...I was left thinking how an ancient human alien race from millions of years ago developed language - especially modern colloquialisms and vulgarities - just like ours in the present...but...never mind).  Realizing that communication will be as tricky as protecting the girl, Mills tries as he can to get the shocked girl to understand him and prepare herself for the treacherous trek to come through the wilds of pre-historic Earth.  Because Mills is a father, he goes into quick protection mode with Koa as they embark on their journey to get to the escape vessel.  65 tries to develop this surrogate father/daughter dynamic as best as it can within the already brief running time of 90 minutes afforded to the film, and Driver and Greenbelt are fine enough actors to forge some quick chemistry together on screen.  Unfortunately, the script simply doesn't have time to thoroughly explore this relationship, mostly because the remainder of the film is a series of loosely assembled action sequences pitting both of them fleeing from all sorts of dinosaurs that are constantly making their castaway lives a living hell.  There's also a ticking time clock element to 65 as well in the form of that aforementioned asteroid belt that Mills' spaceship came in contact with.  It appears that one of the larger chucks from it is on a crash course with Earth within hours.  

Hmmmmm...I wonder if that's the big one that decimated the dinosaurs?

I'll say this on a positive with 65: It looks really good for its relatively modest $80-90 budget, most of which - I'm assuming - went into the visual effects.  And the digital dinos in the film do look convincing enough, whether in small form or inevitably a giant T-Rex, which is revealed in a few shots that seem more than a bit plagiaristic to what Spielberg did in the first JURASSIC PARK (giant footprints in the soil, an eye in close-up looking through a window, or it going into attack mode in the pouring rain).  65 looks consummately polished throughout, and, to be fair, Beck and Woods engineer a few action beats that are genuinely suspenseful and modestly scary (one sequence involving a cave collapse is quite good, as is a nightmare inducing moment involving Mills nearly drowning in quicksand).  Not helping the suspense department, though, is all of the ridiculous high tech gadgets that Mills has in his arsenal, one of which is a video game-inspired laser gun that seems to have unlimited rounds.  It's hard to foster genuine dread and tension when Mills can essentially blast his way through just about any creature that comes his way.  As 65 progresses from one set-piece to another the whole video game vibe becomes more readily and problematically apparent.  What's left of the plot concerns Mills and Koa going from "level to level", facing off after a series of increasingly tough "boss battles" until they get to the "final level" boss that tests their skills and resolve.  I don't mean to disrespect video games (which I do love almost as much as movies), but 65 feels like one of those forgettable and liner point A to B shooters with little creative ambition.   

Here's another issue: Driver is one of our greatest acting talents, but here he takes everything so bloody seriously and plays his role with such stoic intensity that I had to remind myself while watching the film that he's supposed to be a charismatic hero that will save the day.  Mills is so vanilla bland as far as protagonists go, leaving a superb thespian like Driver with little more to do than grimace, growl, scream, and glare throughout the picture.  Maybe Driver - and the film surrounding him - should not have taken itself as seriously as a heart attack.  65 is a movie about stranded aliens fighting dinosaurs.  That should be an unpretentiously giddy time at the movies, but Beck and Woods rarely deep dive into the unbridled silliness of their own premise.  More often than not, 65 tries to be a searing family drama and tale of survival for Mills and Koa, but rarely seems to be having any fun whatsoever with this frankly outlandish mixture of alternate Earths, humanoid aliens from millions of years ago, and high technology waging war against dinosaurs.  That's not to say that 65 should have been dumber than a bag of hammers, but the makers here never manage to embrace their own film's B-movie sensibilities.  And, worse yet, 65 isn't anywhere near as enjoyable as it should have been.  Even at barely 90 minutes before its end credits, much of it is a slog to sit through.

Perhaps 65 would have worked better without the concept of human civilizations spanning the faraway cosmos millions of years ago that managed to accidentally end up on Earth well before homo sapiens were a part of our evolutionary chain.  The premise is, again, thought provoking, but the implications of it are so unfathomably large that all I could think about while watching 65 was how this Somaris alien race developed along strikingly similar Earth lines.  When you're thinking more about a film's premise than you're about simply engaging with and being entertained by it, then that's a problem.  65 doesn't have time for such thoughtful and awe-inspiring discourse, though, while launching into dino spectacle.  It delivers on spectacle, for sure, but everything else about it seems hollow and half baked at best.  

I just hope that the people of Somaris can sort through their health care insurance woes. 

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