By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Adam Driver, Ariana Greenblatt and Chloe Coleman
Written and directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods
It isn’t a spoiler to note that 65 is not, despite initial appearances, about time travel, though the movie has gone on something of a time jaunt itself. Shot two years ago, it has bounced around the schedule for a while, before being dropped opposite SCREAM VI and only critic-screened at the last minute. Such treatment can often suggest the worst, but 65 turns out to be not bad at all, and better than any number of movies given more attention by their studios. It’s also superior to Sony’s rather similarly themed MONSTER HUNTER, though it does share with that film an issue that compromises its emotional impact.
One sign that 65 underwent some behind-the-scenes tsuris is that originally announced composer Danny Elfman was replaced somewhere along the way by Chris Bacon, whose music does bring the appropriate grandeur, starting with the opening scenes in space establishing that its hero hails not from our planet but from Somaris, a remarkably Earthlike world that he’ll be leaving for two years. Mills (Adam Driver) is captaining a transport mission into space that will allow him to afford much-needed medical care for his daughter Nevine (Chloe Coleman). Unfortunately, his ship runs into a rogue asteroid field that causes it to crash-land on an Earth that’s in the midst of the Cretaceous Period, and of its passengers who were hibernating in cryostasis, the only survivor is a 9-year-old girl named Koa (Ariana Greenblatt).
Mills quickly discovers that Koa is from a different “territory” than he and thus does not speak English, which causes initial problems in convincing her to join him on the 15-kilometer trek to a mountain where the portion of their ship containing an escape craft has landed. It causes a problem for 65 as well, just as a similar gambit in MONSTER HUNTER did: Since Mills and Koa can’t communicate via any but the most basic gestures, there isn’t the chance for meaningful bonding that the audience can share. Writer/directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods were the original writers on A QUIET PLACE, in which the characters’ enforced inability to speak to one another was an important story factor, but here, it comes across as an unnecessary impediment to developing Mills and Koa’s characters. (It also makes 65’s final release-date landing in the direct wake of HBO’s THE LAST OF US an unfortunate accident of timing, given the comparatively much more intense dynamic between that series’ Joel and Ellie.)
Mostly, Mills fulfills the simple role of Koa’s protector as the two journey through forests and fields crawling with all kinds of prehistoric menaces. If the lack of significant character interaction means that 65 becomes largely a strung-together collection of setpieces, they’ve been staged and put together by Beck and Woods to elicit some solid jumps and thrills, so on a moment-by-moment basis, the movie frequently does deliver the goods. They consistently change up the settings and the creatures, with the latter ranging from the familiar T. rexes and velociraptors (here presented at their correct size, unlike their counterparts in the JURASSIC pictures) to occasional odder-looking denizens. And while the narrative is limited, this is a pretty full-blooded production, with handsome photography by Salvatore Totino of locations in Oregon and Ireland, which contrast effectively with a lengthy portion set in a claustrophobic cave system.
Driver fills the bill as a stalwart but sensitive man of action, driven by the specter of his long-unseen daughter to take care of Koa. Greenblatt (who took part in another similar scenario in LOVE AND MONSTERS) very effectively portrays a girl dealing with both a man from another culture and the threatening world they’ve been dropped into, and also figures in a really squirmy gross-out scene (the bit where you can most feel the influence of producer Sam Raimi). If they’re not given much more to do than struggle to both survive and communicate, 65 has been edited tightly enough (by Josh Schaeffer and Jane Tones) that the movie never seems to drag, nor does it seem overly rushed or pared down despite its long period of postproduction. And if it remains, in the end, little more than a well-polished B-picture, it’s also blessedly free of the distractions that weighed down JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION.