I may be showing my age a bit with this review. It’s easy to forget, in this modern age of cinematic universes and big budget extravaganzas, just how much Star Wars shifted the paradigm, and how much movie studios tried to follow in its success in the 1980s. A lot of it died on the vine, or wound up on cable on repeat for months and years.
We may have a bounty on genre movies now, but when I was a kid, it was harder to come by, and my days were stuffed with movies like Enemy Mine, or Explorers, or The Last Starfighter. It was a good time to be a science fiction fan, and even if 90% of the movies never reached that elevated space that STAR WARS occupied, it was a lot of fun to see those filmmakers try.
65 is very much in that vein. Even though it has a huge effects budget, it feels scrappy, like if the filmmakers didn’t have computer-generated dinosaurs, they would have been perfectly happy with monsters of the stop motion variety, and the movie wouldn’t have suffered for it.
This is an old school adventure story, and not exactly the movie that the trailers have been selling, but I still found myself pleasantly surprised by just how much economy the movie uses in crafting its thrills.
Scott Beck and Bryan Woods learned the excitement of keeping everything as grounded as possible from their work on the Quiet Place films, and they bring that sensibility here. 65 gave me a serious shot of nostalgia throughout its tight 90-minute run time – it felt like I was in front of my TV on a Saturday afternoon, looking for anything genre related spread out among 60 cable channels.
The premise is so simple, it’s hard to imagine why it hadn’t been done before – Mills (Adam Driver) is a spaceship pilot transporting human passengers across uncharted space. When the ship crashes on a desolate planet, only Mills and a young girl named Koa (Ariana Greenblatt) survive.
As the title reveals – this planet is Earth, 65 million years ago, and everything that stomps, walks, or crawls the surface of the planet wants to eat Mills and Koa. Their only hope is to make it to the escape pods and to the rescue ship – but they’re running out of time. An extinction-level event is coming straight for Earth, and Mills and Koa must race against the clock if they are to survive.
65 doesn’t waste much time – it’s a tight 90-minute movie, and that alone, when other movies are pushing three hours or more to tell their bloated stories, is cause for celebration. 65 isn’t wall-to-wall dinosaurs – the world around them is dangerous as well, and Mills is struggling with his own tragedies and traumas while trying to keep Koa alive.
Mills and Koa don’t share a common language, and as they struggle to understand each other, they bond in the harsh environment. Adam Driver and Ariana Greenblatt have a nice chemistry together even if they don’t speak the same language, and while Driver knows how to get emotional when it counts, this isn’t a movie that spends too much time getting touchy-feely.
There are some effective jump scares, and like A Quiet Place, Beck and Woods have a field day with the sound design. This was meant to be seen with a great speaker system and a big screen.
But what makes 65 so refreshing is its simplicity. This isn’t trying to create a huge, multi-film tapestry – it’s just a great genre yarn, well told, and it’s not ashamed of its pulp roots. 65 plays a lot like a Saturday matinee, with each turn of events leading into a cliffhanger and the audience wondering how their heroes will pull it out in time.
Even parts of the movie feel like it was done on some backlot somewhere, but the film also knows when to up the scale and the scope. When I call 65 scrappy, I mean it as a high compliment – if the movie makes you jump in your seat at least once, that’s fine by the filmmakers.
I have to admit being jaded a bit when it comes to these big budget entertaiments as of late. A lot of it seems like work – needlessly convoluted, trading sincerity for snark, office floors of computer graphics engineers plugging away and making bland, dull product and content. I miss the days when filmmakers thought outside the box, inspired by Star Wars not to repeat what those films did but instead striking out with visions of their own.
65 is the kind of movie that Joe Dante or James Cameron would have made back in the 1980s, with barely enough money to cover the catering but pushing forward through sheer will and excitement. Sure, 65 probably has a bigger budget, but there’s a sense of kitchen sink filmmaking to it, of throwing anything against the wall to see if it sticks.
I grew up on movies like this, and 65 hits a very warm, cornball sentimentality that’s very reminiscent of those films of my youth. All that was missing was the morning bowl of cereal. If audiences give 65 a chance, and not overload it with expectations, I think they may find themselves pleasantly surprised. I know I did.
65 REVIEW SCORE: 7 OUT OF 10
Sony Pictures‘ 65 is now playing in theaters. The film is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi action and peril, and brief bloody images.