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-[Film Reviews]-, English Language Film Industries, Hollywood

’65’ (2023): The Closest to a ‘Turok’ Movie We’ll Ever Get

Directed by: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods || Produced by: Sam Raimi, Deborah Liebling, Zainab Azizi, Scott Beck, Bryan Woods

Screenplay by: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods || Starring: Adam Driver, Ariana Greenblatt, Chloe Coleman, Nika King

Music by: Chris Bacon || Cinematography: Salvatore Totino || Edited by: Jane Tones, Josh Schaeffer || Country: United States || Language: English

Running Time: 93 minutes

Long have I lamented the sheer absence of dinosaurs in modern film outside the Jurassic Park/World (1993-2022) franchise, which has long since run out of gas, creatively speaking. As grateful as I am to the special FX breakthrough and popular culture influence of Steven Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park (JP), the series’ lackluster characterizations and inconsistent at best screenplays have left a bad taste in my mouth. I’m tired of the forced environmentalist themes, the constant retroactive franchise continuity, and the inexplicable inability of any human character to shoot a dinosaur dead. I understand these prehistoric birds are really “majestic” and all, but they’re still just animals, right?

Enter Scott Beck and Bryan Woods’ 65, a wonky science-fiction survival thriller about humans (see below) fighting their way through ecosystems of the late Cretaceous period. On paper, 65 — a reference to the mass extinction event that wiped out around 70% of all life on earth, including non-avian dinosaurs, about 65 million years ago — is most everything I’ve long wanted in a mid-budgeted Hollywood genre film and original intellectual property: A non-JP, schlocky, unromanticized portrayal of dinosaurs chasing after well armed humans.

An unidentified predator stalks Adam Driver and Ariana Greenblatt in 65’s most identifiable shot.

The film is in many ways reminiscent of one of my favorite video game series, Turok (1997-2008), where advanced, spacefaring, presumed long forgotten human civilizations (think Star Wars‘ [1977] “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” setting) come into contact with ancient dinosauria thanks to a blend of fictional alternative history. To be more specific, protagonist Adam Driver works as a sort of space trucker a la Alien (1979), transporting materials and passengers across distant solar systems; his vessel gets damaged by space debris and crash-lands on Mesozoic earth after a brief prologue depicting Driver’s familial backstory. Thereafter, Driver rescues the lone other surviving passenger, costar Ariana Greenblatt, and despite their language barrier, strategizes how to reach their downed vessel’s escape shuttle located several kilometers away.

Not long after the opening act, I could tell why 65 would appeal to monster-movie fans like me but few else; minus a few snazzy shots of space travel and limited screentime of the dinosaurs themselves, 65 feels conservative in diegetic scope and simple in its narrative ambition. I like how the film paces out the dino action and keeps its handful of set-pieces grounded against its wildlife survival backdrop, but I understand that’s a big yawn to most general audiences. On the character side of things, Driver’s stock backstory and predictable relationship with child actress Greenblatt don’t offer much beyond rhythmic plot-beats we’ve seen a million times before, though I’d argue Driver elevates his material through another solid performance. Other weaknesses I’ve seen discussed include expository devices like unnecessary on-screen text that describes the sci-fi setting, as well as several futuristic tools Driver uses that provide convenient voiceovers for the audience; relative to the script overall, though, this is minor stuff and feels largely harmless. 

On the other hand, I like the slow reveal of the prehistoric ecosystem that Driver explores, how the wildlife creeps into the story as Driver and Greenblatt progress deeper into the wilderness. The set-pieces are diverse and memorable, like when Greenblatt has to reset Driver’s dislocated shoulder as a group of mesopredators close in, or when a fictional prestosuchus-like theropod stalks the two of them from outside a cavern, illuminated by lightning and rainfall. As for the cinematic violence, it feels gritty, grimy and uncensored, and I appreciate how the script incorporates Driver’s weaponry and tools in ways that are foreshadowed earlier in the film.

The nice outdoor photography helps the mood of these action sequences, too. Locations in Louisiana and Oregon meld seamlessly to create a believable ancient earth and feel refreshing next to so many southern California deserts and Sierra Nevada landscapes common to most other Hollywood movies set in the great outdoors. The dinosaur special FX further blend into this natural backdrop to the extent where not a single shot looks out of place.

Earlier in the film, Driver scouts the area near his crashed ship and finds a Tyrannosaurus skeleton.

All in all, 65 is the unofficial Turok movie I always wanted, much like how Julius Avery’s Overlord (2018) was the off-brand take on the Wolfenstein (1981-) games I never thought we’d get. Those are personal, subjective biases that favor me toward these types of “B-movies done A,” sure, and I’ll admit 65 is less memorable than Overlord, but both are competent, auteur (yes, auteur)-driven genre films with considerable production values. Scott Beck and Bryan Wood’s latest feature won’t convince those uninterested in schlock sci-fi that doubles as a(n unintentional) homage to the likes of Turok, but for those with even a passing interest in the aforementioned, don’t let critics overthink this one for you: It’s better than the vast majority of the Jurassic Park and World franchise.


SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Small in scale for an FX-driven Hollywood sci-fi tale yet admirable in its precise focus, 65’s straightforward survival narrative about retrofuturistic humans shooting dinosaurs is, as I’ve said several times before, the sort of mid-budgeted, auteur and premise-driven genre film that Hollywood doesn’t make anymore.

However… general audiences in need of regular action every 10 minutes or cinephiles looking for anything beyond strict genre formula probably won’t be convinced. The stock character beats are vanilla and much of the exposition is unnecessary.

—> ON THE FENCE; a for-all-ages crowdpleaser this ain’t, but rather a niche treat for dinosaur aficionados and monster-movie fans.

? Apparently, the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction occurred closer to 66 millions years ago than 65.

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.


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