Can a movie featuring aliens, dinosaurs, spaceships, one of the main actors from Star Wars, and a giant asteroid about to crash into the planet be bad? Sadly, yes. The movie 65 manages to take what could a been another Godzilla or Kong: Skull Island. instead, it’s a watered-down Jurassic Park. Severely diluted.
I love scifi and fantasy. I’ve been reading it since the mid-1950s when I got my first Tom Swift jr book. I read Jules Verne at age 10, and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series by age 12. I read Dune when it was first released in ’65. I read Tolkien for the first time in ’67. I’ve been watching scifi movies and TV shows since the ’50s, and have a large collection of both on DVD and Blu-ray that I watch and re-watch. And I like monster (kaiju and dinosaur) movies: I’ve seen all of the Jurassic Park and Godzilla films several times.
I knew it was not going to be the film I hoped for as early as 0:01:30 when a subtitle rose up that said “Prior to the advent of mankind…” Mankind? That tired, old, misogynistic word has long been replaced by “humankind,” at least among anyone who thinks inclusivity matters in the 21st century. And then at 0:01:53 it says “Other civilizations explored the heavens.” Heavens? What is this, a medieval morality play? Who TF uses “the heavens” to describe space in 2023?
And it isn’t just other “civilizations.” That word has meaning in a human context: “the society, culture, and way of life of a particular area.” No, what they should have written was “species” because these are supposed to be aliens, not earthlings. But wait… on “planet Somaris” at 0:02:13 we meet these aliens. And guess what: they look, dress, and act just like humans. Fortunately for us, they also speak English.
Where is this Somaris? What is it like? Does it have cities? Spaceports? Orbital platforms? Anti-gravity trains? Teleporters? Where in our galaxy is it? What is its sun like? Does it have moons? We never see anything. It’s a cypher.
Yeah, off to a bad start and barely two minutes into the film.
Abruptly, at 0:05:20, the lead character (Adam Driver, aka Kylo Ren, of Star Wars fame) is piloting a ship through space without any lead-up to his journey. Apparently, it’s an exploration vessel, although exploring what we never learn.
Aside from him, everyone else (30 people if you count the icons on the display) is in cryogenic sleep (too few, methinks, to be a colony ship). It’s headed… who knows? Yet it seems a species that can build faster-than-light (FTL) craft can’t build simple radar because before six minutes have passed, the ship hits “unexpected meteor activity.” Our hero is asleep as the ship’s computer broadcasts its verbal warning. He doesn’t wake up until the ship enters the “meteor” swarm and gets pounded by the rocks.
Wait a sec… if the ship is travelling at a slow enough speed that rocks bounce off its hull, then surely the voyage will take more than the two years mentioned at the beginning. More like several thousand years. And if it’s using some sort of scifi warp/subspace/wormhole travel, then it shouldn’t run into the swarm at all. Or if it did, then the energy from colliding with even a small a rock at light speed or greater would be several megatons of explosion. Sorry to get all Newtonian about it, but WTF happened?
It requires manual overdrive to pilot the ship through the rocks because, apparently, a species capable of developing FTL ships and viable cryogenesis can’t make an AI capable of flying the ship safely away from the swarm, or with better reflexes than the fleshware in the pilot’s seat… the ship is damaged and Driver (named Mills in this film) has to make an emergency landing on a conveniently nearby planet (awfully close to an asteroid field that large; shouldn’t gravity have cleared it by now?).
Spoiler alert: it’s Earth, 65 million years ago. Okay, you figured that out. Not sure what that date means? Well, my paleontologically-ignorant readers, that’s the very end of the Cretaceous period, at the time when the dinosaurs were at their evolutionary peak, but were wiped out by the impact of a giant asteroid just off the modern Yucatan. Well, sort of. Maybe a million years earlier. Scientists now assume the asteroid struck 66 million years ago. Picky, picky.
The ship breaks up into two, and a wounded Driver has to find any survivors and make his/their way to the other portion in order to escape before Big Rock hits.
Wait… he’s in the pilot’s chair with the computer, the cryo tubes, and armoury, but the part that can fly is elsewhere? Fifteen kilometers away on a mountain? Fifteen dinosaur-infested kilometers? Sigh… take this ring and throw it into the fires in Mordor, Kylo Ren, while the Nazgul pursue you.
Wait a sec… he crash lands beside a swamp and the first thing the wounded pilot does is wade into the unknown waters. Even armed, that’s hardly a smart move. Luckily, this Earth isn’t as dinosaur-infested as paleontologists would have us believe.
At 0:10:52 he’s barely knee-deep in the water, yet a fin from a large creature rises behind him, then dives back into the seemingly deep water. Huh? It seems rather too big for water so shallow he could walk through it. Spoiler alert: whatever that fin belonged to doesn’t do anything more than swim around. No jump scares, no monster emerging from the swamp. Driver doesn’t get to meet his first dinosaur yet. Soon, though. Have to build up the suspense (well, sort of… the movie isn’t very suspenseful).
At 0:12:15 Driver is back in the ship to send out an emergency broadcast. Wait… he’s light years from home and he’s using radio? Won’t that signal take years, decades, or even millennia to reach home? Okay, let’s pretend he can make FTL broadcasts that reach his home planet immediately. He says that “My ship was struck by an undocumented asteroid belt.” Didn’t the ship say it was a “meteor activity” earlier? Big difference between them. And the belt didn’t strike him: his ship struck the belt because he lacked basic scanning equipment to warn it was just ahead.
But he gives away the future by saying it was a “small cluster from a much larger asteroid system.” Cue the dum-dum dum-dum Jaws soundtrack in your head.
Nudge, nudge, wink, wink: that rock is about to devastate the planet and wipe out the dinosaurs. The clock is ticking down. But let’s not dwell on that now. “Nine escape pods have been destroyed and two are missing,” Driver records. Wait… escape pods? And only nine? Did I miss something? Wasn’t everyone else in some cryostasis chamber? How did they get into an escape pod? And what happened to the other 21? He adds, “all passengers are dead… send help.”
But doesn’t send his message. He decides to erase it, and instead send a message saying there’s “no reason for recovery.” Aw, brave, suicidal soldier willing to die alone in the wilderness of an alien planet. And by shooting himself… until he thinks better of it. He goes looking for survivors at night and in the rain on an unknown planet. Can you say stereotype plot mechanic?
Fifteen minutes in and he finds a cryo pod with a survivor. A young girl (Koa, played by Arian Greenblatt) whom he rescues.
Wait… what TF is a child doing on an exploratory vessel? Spoiler alert: you’ll quickly learn she doesn’t speak his language (English) which further confounds me: why would an exploratory ship bring anyone who couldn’t communicate, let alone a nine-year-old girl? But is she even from his home planet? No idea. It introduces a Plot Complication for them to try and communicate. Whatever…
The rest of the film is about the two of them bonding and trying to speak to one another, while being chased by dinosaurs and avoiding being lunch. But here’s the thing: despite the capabilities of today’s CGI, there are not a lot of dinosaurs to be seen on this planet. It’s not Jurassic Park with flocks of ornithosaurs or sauropods. There are some small carnivores (a bit like Alvarezsaurus or maybe Bambiraptor), some small raptors (Dromaeosaurus), a few pterosaurs (which don’t react with the pair), a couple of Tyrannosaurs and some bizarre, but huge, theropod-like predator at the end.
The species of dinosaur in the movie ’65’ include Tyrannosaurus Rex, Dromaeosaurs like Utahraptor, Deinonychus or Velociraptor, possible prehistoric crocodilians like Deinosuchus, pterosaurs including Dsungaripterus and Quetzalcoatlus and unknown species resembling a hybrid of ankylosaurus and T-Rex.
See what’s missing? Right: no herbivores. No grazers. No herds of ceratopsians or sauropods. No small mammals or birds. But later this same page lists others that can be seen (some of which I apparently missed), but some of which are either misplaced in space and time, and some are just guesses:
Deinosuchus (a crocodile; or possibly Sarcosuchus), Atrociraptor (or possibly Utahraptor), Dsungaripterus (which lived in what is now China, not North America and not in the late Cretaceous), Tyrannosaur, Oviraptor (another one from Asia), Ankylosaurus (only seen briefly in the background), Pterandons (and maybe Quetzalcoatlus), and something like a Nothosaurus (a Triassic dinosaur).
And then there’s that bizarre T-Rex-sized quadrupedal predator at the end… (by the late Cretaceous all big carnivores were bipedal)
Screenrant lists 15 species it found (not all are dinosaurs), including an incongruous “Woolly Mammoth” (seen only as bones; it was a Pleistocene mammal that appeared about 63 million years after T-Rex). It also lists a few I missed, although I question their identification of some, including a Parasaurolophus (seen only as a carcass) and calling the mysterious end-game predator a Fasolasuchus, while that was a late Triassic (231-201.4 million years ago) predator from what is now Argentina. It was further in time from the late Cretaceous than we are today. Screenrant calls the cave-dwelling dinosaurs Oviraptors, but these were primarily oceanside dwellers, not usually found in caves high up a mountain.
It’s missing a little authenticity. Okay, a lot of authenticity. And I’m not the only one to notice. As written in BusinessInsider: in an interview with actual paleontologists:
One example is Deinonychus — a bird-like dinosaur that resembles a Velociraptor that shows up in the film.
“We’ve known for about 20 years that these animals were totally coated with feathers. They would have looked like big, weird, scary ground-running birds,” [Danny] Anduza said. “So it’s just kind of frustrating that these movies are still out of date.”
But, as the article also notes, “It’s a movie, not a science lecture.”
Wait, there’s more: the Asteroid. Yes, the big, dinosaur-killing Asteroid is about to hit Earth and end their 165-million year reign. It’s preceded by a shower of meteorites that set fires and make some special-effects explosions, but don’t do much else. We can see the Asteroid itself in the sky, burning its way toward the planet. It’s a powerful reminder that Driver and his young girl need to get a move on.
Wait… you can see the Asteroid for several minutes as it arrives, a big burning sky rock. I cringed.
First, it didn’t hit anywhere in the region where Driver was supposed to have crashed (apparently mid-North America). It hit near the present-day Yucatan peninsula. And estimates of its speed suggest it travelled at 20km/second (about 12 miles per second).
In order to see its blazing trail, the Asteroid has to be within the atmosphere itself, otherwise, it wouldn’t have anything to burn. The Earth’s atmosphere extends to about 700 km (440 miles) from the surface, although the densest part is below the stratosphere (50 km or 31 miles). At 20 km/sec, the Asteroid would take about half a minute between the time it entered the thermosphere to when it crashed into Earth. But, as Wikipedia tells us, there are few molecules in that region, so few in fact that the Asteroid would not likely be visibly burning until it was far closer to the planet:
The air is so rarefied that an individual molecule (of oxygen, for example) travels an average of 1 kilometre (0.62 mi; 3300 ft) between collisions with other molecules.
By the time the Asteroid hit the upper edge of the stratosphere, it would be only 2-3 seconds from hitting. But in the film, the protagonists have about 15-20 minutes during which they can see it coming.
Spoiler alert: they escape. Not before they have to battle and escape from a pair of hungry Tyrannosaurs, and get pursued by a giant predator (the suggested Fasolasuchus) which they defeat, and then make it to the ship and blast off as the Asteroid slams into Earth.
The basic rule of Hollywood is that kids in movies survive, and usually with any accompanying adults, although not always. Not unexpected of course: from the beginning it was clear the pair would escape. It was only a matter of how exciting and interesting the filmmakers made the process. And, disappointingly, not very. The entire film is predictable as the pair hop between chase scenes. There’s even a quicksand scene where Driver gets pulled under but is saved by Koa. I thought quicksand in plots went out with the Tarzan movies from the 1960s. As Daniel Engber wrote for Slate:
Quicksand once offered filmmakers a simple recipe for excitement: A pool of water, thickened with oatmeal, sprinkled over the top with wine corks. It was, in its purest form, a plot device unburdened by character, motivation, or story: My god, we’re sinking! Will we escape this life-threatening situation before time runs out? Those who weren’t rescued simply vanished from the script: It’s too late—he’s gone.
Did I mention the bizarre scene where a parasite enters Koa’s mouth while she sleeps? Shades of the Alien franchise… or was it from John Carpenter’s The Thing? Trope, after trope.
And we don’t get to see their rescue or rescuers at the end. Who or what plucks their damaged remnant of a ship from the vacuum of space is unknown. How did it get there so fast that they didn’t die or hunger or thirst in space? What happens to them now? Do they separate? Or become family? Go back to Somaris? Does he get punished for flying the ship into the asteroid field?
Sure, maybe I put too much emphasis on authenticity. It was, after all, just a movie made for entertainment, not realism. It didn’t attempt to make a scientific rationale for everything like Jurassic Park did. But still…
Adam Driver is okay, if somewhat wooden. His person is two-dimensional: stoically grumpy. Never laughs, smiles, or weeps. We get to see some of his backstory at the beginning and at various times during the film, so he has a past. Arian Greenblatt is more expressive, but we learn nothing about her past or background aside from her parents being among the dead. Another cypher. Aside from these two, the only other actors are the woman who plays Driver’s wife (onscreen for a very brief time) and his daughter (who, we learn, died while he was on his voyage but details about her illness are thin).
I can’t recommend you rush out and buy this film on DVD, at least until it shows up in the $5 bin at Walmart. I’d give it one star out of five for rating. But if it shows up on your streaming service, you might be mildly entertained by it, as long as you don’t care much about paleontological accuracy.