Despite its position as one of the seeming few big-scale “original” sci-fi films to compete with franchises, sequels and reboots for box office real estate, “65” is Frankensteinian at best. Cobbled together from (admittedly some of the best) parts of “Jurassic Park,” “The Descent,” “Armageddon” and more, Scott Beck and Bryan Woods’ post-“A Quiet Place” level-up too strongly resembles its forebears to break new, much less particularly interesting ground. Yet anchored by another in a series of committed performances from Adam Driver and an ensemble of suitably menacing prehistoric beasts that chase him for just over 90 minutes, Beck and Woods’ adventure delivers requisite thrills even if its creativity seems stuck in the distant cinematic past.
Driver plays Commander Mills, a pilot and explorer from “prior to the advent of mankind” who reluctantly agrees to pilot a two-year mission in exchange for enough pay to afford a lifesaving medical procedure for his daughter Nevine (Chloe Coleman). When asteroid debris kills the other passengers and strands his vessel on a Cretaceous-era Earth, Mills contemplates whether or not to even send a distress signal for help. But after locating the only other survivor, a girl named Koa (Ariana Greenblatt) who’s close to Nevine’s age but does not speak English, he commits to saving her from the planet’s many dangers.
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Identifying the distant remains of the rest of their ship using a handful of relics from his technologically advanced culture, Mills and Koa make a difficult trek across terrain filled with quicksand, steam-filled geysers, life-threatening flora and a variety of dinosaur species. But even as they overcome each new hazard, a much bigger one appears: the asteroid that felled their ship is on a collision course with Earth. They soon find themselves in a race against the clock to get to the ship’s escape pod before either dying in a planet-leveling fireball or being eaten by a carnivorous reptile.
Given its title, it’s tough to know what details in “65” qualify as a surprise or “spoiler” — and anyway, the movie immediately tells you when and where it’s happening. What it doesn’t do, however, is tell you why it’s happening; other than its stardate, this is just another story about an overworked father neglecting his kid in the name of providing for her future. There is something broadly welcoming about that familiarity, and Driver of course imbues even quiet moments with more substance than the exposition provided in periodic memory-card flashbacks.
But those quiet moments also give the audience to wonder: so a humanlike species from another planet, armed with the technology for interstellar travel (not to mention laser guns and 3D GPS) came to Earth 65 million years ago, long before humankind existed — and the point is “just” that they’re trying to get back home? Seems like a long way to travel to go nowhere particularly meaningful.
That said, Beck and Woods make dinosaurs frightening for the first time in decades, thanks to some classic misdirection and staging that involves a lot of shadows to make the audience say “nope” when the characters decide to plumb further into them. If their filmmaking isn’t particularly inventive, the duo approach it with the same kind of sturdy proficiency they use when borrowing scenes or genre boilerplate to tell their stories. “A Quiet Place” worked because it gently tweaked a lot of familiar formulas and then director John Krasinski executed the whole thing with a workmanlike attention to detail; “65” doesn’t have the same core emotionality holding it together (this family is fractured, not fighting to stay together), but behind the cameras Beck and Woods merely service their ideas rather than strengthening them from the page.
At just 93 minutes, ”65” feels pleasantly diverting in competition with a glut of sequels that include “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” “Creed III,” “Scream VI” and “John Wick Chapter 4” — not that anything in it is all that original. Then again, perhaps the reason it still falls short is because the idea of a standalone story seems too good to be true in an era of cinematic universes, especially given the fact that buried in its premise, before the title card even, is the idea there’s more than just our own to explore.
In which case, the best thing for “65” would be that no more installments follow, but if it proves a hit, audiences couldn’t possibly be that lucky. Who were Mills’ other passengers? Why was he transporting them? In what way do his “people” relate, genetically, or otherwise, to ordinary humans? These are all questions that you can see Sony salivating at the prospect of answering in a sequel or spinoff, but they all feel more intriguing without some sort of canonical answer. In which case, “65” is a film whose past feels like it was 65 million movies in the making, and its future depends on a several hundred millions in box office revenue. They best way to enjoy it is to let go of all that and be present.
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