Growing up, one of my favorite books was Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, the story of a boy whose plane crash-lands in the Canadian wilderness and who must then fend for survival with only a single tool. 65 tries to pull off something similar, but with dinosaurs and sci-fi weapons. And bizarrely enough, it’s a far better B-movie than it has any right to be.
Yes, the setup of this film is seriously convoluted. Adam Driver stars as Mills, a long-haul space shipper who works for a spacefaring human civilization based on a planet other than Earth. When his vessel collides with an unexpected asteroid belt, he’s forced to crash-land on Earth — 65 million years before the present day. That’s right: this film takes place a long time ago, but in a galaxy not quite so far away.
Most of the vessel’s passengers are killed outright, except for Koa (Ariana Greenblatt), a little girl who reminds Mills of his own daughter. With more asteroid impacts imminent, Mills and Koa must make a fifteen-kilometer trek through forested country to reach an escape vehicle in the crashed remains of Mills’s ship.
Oh, and there are dinosaurs. That’s probably why you went to this movie in the first place.
All of this, of course, is eminently ridiculous. And the absurdities just mount upon reflection. Why do the “alien humans” of the technologically advanced past all dress like Californians? Why is our hero’s name Mills? Why don’t any of these spacecraft seem to have energy shields to deal with meteors?
Yet despite all these issues, there’s something about 65 that really works.
Maybe it’s the fact that this is a profoundly earnest film in the best of ways, one utterly devoid of snark or sarcasm. That’s not exactly what you might expect from a story about a hardened old warrior and a spunky young teenager (the banter between The Last of Us’s Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, for instance, makes up most of the show), and is explained by the fact that Mills and Koa have a language gap that forces them to communicate haltingly. But in a cinematic marketplace increasingly defined by Marvel-style humor, the sheer seriousness of the proceedings here is a real asset. Everything doesn’t have to set up a joke.
Here, quite the opposite. Tonally, 65 mixes the elegiac mood of The Road or Logan with the rough-around-the-edges, Americana-flavored survivalist energy of The Hunger Games. Those are, for sure, highbrow points of comparison. But at its best, 65 manages to channel that same reflective sensibility, that quiet respect for a natural order red in tooth and claw. (This is probably attributable, at least in part, to directors Scott Beck and Brian Woods’s choice to avoid a bombastic techno-inspired score in favor of a stripped-down acoustic soundtrack.)
Indeed, for a movie whose original pitch was probably something like “spaceman Adam Driver battles dinosaurs,” there’s surprisingly little actual dinosaur mayhem onscreen. That’s not to imply the movie prefers sweeping Jurassic Park-style shots of migrating herbivores — I think it’s safe to say the film’s carnivore population rate is anomalous — but that dinosaurs simply aren’t the main attraction. Rather, this is a story of man against nature in a much bigger sense, of Mills’s confrontation with a vast, nonhuman world that existed before him and will exist long after him. That’s existentially haunting stuff, and it drives the drama here.
Clocking in at ninety minutes, 65 is a pleasingly spare genre flick that never wears out its welcome. There’s no turgid world building or plot lines that go nowhere. Once you commit to the outrageous setup, the film gets right to the point. Maybe this doesn’t quite merit a trip to the theater, but it’s at least worth a stream.
In the end, 65, to its great credit, is a lot less schlocky than anyone would’ve thought. It might not be profound, but it at least feels grown-up in a sort of surprising way. And that’s a win in its own right.