2 out of 5 stars

Back in the days of film projection, occasionally a projectionist would forget to run one of the reels or get their order mixed up. The resulting viewing experience would be baffling (why is time running backwards for these characters?), or it could remain oddly coherent and leave audiences with only a mild sense something was missing…

The latter is my response to 65. It’s difficult not to grasp the basic plot; indeed, the film adroitly destroys any potential for surprise by literally spelling out its premise at the beginning with text reading “65 million years ago a visitor crash landed on earth”. (No Planet of the Apes-style final reel surprise here!) And almost everything that happens next is so predictable that discovering a missing reel wouldn’t make much difference.

Still, this weird mash-up of Jurassic Park (1993) and Deep Impact (1998) gives the impression that a greater profundity is about to be revealed. But the big revelation is… there isn’t one. 65 is an extraordinarily pedestrian sci-fi action thriller that manages to take two narrative elements, both rich in potential—an extraterrestrial visit to Earth and an asteroid about to hit the planet—and goes absolutely nowhere with them.

This is a surprise in a movie helmed by writer-directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who co-wrote A Quiet Place (2018)—not a blockbuster lacking in originality—and which has the great Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead) listed amongst the producers.

Mills (Adam Driver), a spaceship pilot from the planet Somaris with a sick daughter, agrees to take on a long-distance job to pay for her treatment. We learn nothing about Somaris or its culture except that terminal illnesses causes the same decorously wan symptoms as it always has in Hollywood movies. (He does, later in the film, intermittently rewatch footage of his daughter stored on a curiously 1970s-looking device, though it’s difficult to understand why the writers believe anyone would care. Being chased by dinosaurs: boring! Being chased by dinosaurs while getting maudlin over a child whose only function is to be sick: bring it on!)

His craft is hit by an asteroid and crashes on a planet which, it will amaze nobody, turns out to be ours… but 65 million years ago. It’s also unsurprising when Mills soon encounters both a giant footprint and the skeleton of a dinosaur, before finding another survivor in nine-year-old Koa (Ariana Greenblatt). And together they set off to reach a conveniently undamaged escape vessel that, after the crash, ended up on a mountain some miles away.

On the way this due come across—spoiler warning—dinosaurs! They also bond a bit, which I bet you didn’t see coming. Koa, who speaks a different language from Mills, even learns a few words of his. Quite why 65 sets up a linguistic barrier is a mystery because it reduces opportunities to fill out these rather flat characters with great dialogue, and the verbal connections the pair do achieve have little of the resonance of similar scenes between Tom Hanks and young Helena Zengel in Paul Greengrass’s News of the World (2020), for example. They largely seem an excuse to repeat the word “family” over and over, in case we didn’t get the message.

Meanwhile, as many will already have anticipated, an asteroid much bigger than the one that struck Mills’s craft is heading toward ancient Earth… and we all know how that ends.

In storyline terms, 65 is pretty much a wash-out, albeit a generally fast-moving one. On the (limited) plus side, both Driver and Greenblatt do the best they can— which is quite a lot in both cases—with such undeveloped roles. They’re the only characters of any significance in a film made during the first winter of the COVID-19 pandemic, when a tiny cast might have been a decided plus).

The settings (many of them in the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana) are often atmospheric, especially in a cave sequence: good use is made of a geyser, there’s a grotesque mouth-roosting bug, some melting flesh too for those who relish such things, and visual wit including a fight which is mostly not shown directly but instead depicted on a scanning device. There’s also, inevitably, a Jurassic Park prowling T-Rex moment near the end.

The film also benefits from a better-than-average score by Chris Bacon (a frequent collaborator of Danny Elfman going solo here), which is rarely sentimental or overly melodramatic and trends more to the anxious. There’s an unusually playful section of music for one forest scene, and perhaps even a sense of irony when Bacon resorts to “ethnic” flutes while Koa rescues a baby dino from a pool. One might be expecting an emotional beat reminiscent of the dinosaur sequence in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (2011), but instead the infant creature in 65 is promptly eaten.

Indeed, the Earth of 65 is brutal; everything here is pure peril. It’s a hostile world and the imminent extinction of most life on the planet seems to be welcomed, if anything, as long as the two central characters are okay.

Isn’t that a rather trivial goal for the film, though, given all the implications of the premise? One would expect the outrageous coincidence of these humanoid aliens visiting Earth in the very week that an asteroid impact set off the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event to mean something… but it doesn’t. You think you’re missing something, but you’re not. There’s no forgotten reel. So while there’s nothing that’s outright terrible about 65, a deadening air of pointlessness hangs over it.

USA | 2023 | 93 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

writers & directors: Scott Beck & Bryan Woods.
starring: Adam Driver & Ariana Greenblatt.