24 Lies a Second: Cretaceous Larks

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Cretaceous Larks

If I didn't know better I'd swear that Ireland was going through some sort of mid-life crisis, as it has taken to turning up on screen in all manner of unlikely guises. Ireland turning up in a movie playing Ireland, as in Banshees of Inisherin   – fine and good and entirely reasonable. Ireland turning up as the state of Georgia, as it did in Cocaine Bear? Maybe not. And now Ireland making an appearance as, apparently, the Yucatan region? I really think not, to be honest. I can only assume the Irish government have come up with a really good tax credit system for film-makers, possibly spurred on by the embarrassment of Waking Ned (a 1998 comedy film actually set in Ireland, which was filmed in the Isle of Man).

Anyway, the Irish Yucatan features prominently in Scott Beck and Bryan Woods' 65, a film which is filled with this sort of silliness. It's the product of the same school of film-making as last year's Idris-Elba-being-chased-by-a-lion film, with the killer high concept this time around being Adam-Driver-being-chased-by-dinosaurs.

Now, let's be clear: mutatis mutandis, I love a film with dinosaurs in it. I will give any film with dinosaurs in it a fair viewing. I went to see Paddy Constantine's Tyrannosaur even though it didn't turn out to include a single theropod. So if I turn out to be less than thoroughly positive about 65, it's not down to my having an issue with prehistoric animals, or indeed Adam Driver.

The film gets underway on the distant alien planet of Solmaris, where we find Driver (playing an astronautical dude called Mills) hanging out with his partner and daughter. The daughter has the kind of significant cough which will speak volumes to the switched-on viewer. It turns out that Driver is just off on a long-haul space trip which he doesn't really want to do, but is doing it anyway as it will make a big pile of money to pay for the daughter's significant cough treatment. (Interesting to see that across vast gulfs of space and time, the pernicious scourge of privatised medicine endures. I suppose it's a bit like the socio-political equivalent of Japanese knotweed.)

Anyway, midway through the space trip, some asteroids bong into Driver's ship, which promptly crash-lands in a primeval wilderness. Most of the passengers instantly go from being corpsicles to just corpses, which makes Driver very depressed. But it turns out a nine-year-old girl (Ariana Greenblatt) has survived and been defrosted, which perks him up a bit. However, things are made more complicated when, venturing outside, he comes across a massive, clawed, tridactyl footprint.

At which point the title card kicks in. It turns out that 65 is just the short name for this film, which appears to actually be called 65 Million Years Ago A Visitor From Another Planet Crash Landed On Earth. (I can see why they went for the short version.) The thing is that this is presented as though it's supposed to be a tremendous twist to knock the audience back in their seats, despite the fact there are dinosaurs in the trailer, on the poster, and the title 65 makes no sense at all in any other context.

It's actually a fairly significant problem for the film, as you suddenly realise that as far as Driver's concerned, this is in no way happening 65 million years ago, it's happening in the present day. He has no knowledge of or interest in the fact that, 65 million years after the events of the film, a civilisation will have arisen on this planet in which quirky credible indie actors get lured into making silly overblown sci-fi B-movies. From his point of view this is just another alien planet filled with large hangry reptile-adjacent life-forms.

Which just starts you, as the viewer, wondering why they didn't just make a film about an astronaut in the future crashing on an alien planet with hungry monsters on it instead; it might have been a bit more visually innovative. (As it is the film is sort of depressingly reminiscent of the Smith-Shyamalan clunk-fest After Earth.) And once you're off down this path you catch yourself wondering about all sorts of things. Like: what kind of name is 'Mills' for an ancient astronaut, anyway? For a visitor from another planet he's just a bit too ordinary, too much of a regular guy. The little girl, it turns out, doesn't speak the same language as him (this is mainly a device to allow Adam Driver to be even more central to the movie, which is effectively a two-hander anyway), but then you realise: never mind that she doesn't speak English, neither should he. I know aliens speaking English is a convention of pulp sci-fi movies, but the thing is that there's no obvious plot reason for him to be an alien at all, because the specifics of the story don't actually matter. Never mind Earth 65,000,000 years ago, this could be happening on planet Mingmong in the year 2500 and it would make no substantive difference whatsoever to the story.

All of this probably wouldn't be so much of a problem if the rest of the film was a relentless, gripping, entertaining adventure. However, it is not: most of it is made up of Driver and Greenblatt yomping across Ireland – sorry, the prehistoric landscape, being pursued with an increasing degree of severity by prehistoric monsters. The CGI on the prehistoric monsters is pretty good, certainly good enough to indicate that at least some of these are not 'real' dinosaurs (as in, ones to be found hanging around in the fossil record) but new ones made up by the visual effects department. It's all yomp-stomp-chomp with the occasional interlude of Driver bonding with his young ward.

Unfortunately it ends up somewhere in the netherworld between boring and interesting, which leaves you plenty of time to think about all the odd stuff about the movie which I have already mentioned. The writer-directors rose to prominence for doing the script for A Quiet Place, a high-concept exercise in parental responsibility, and you can sort of see how this is meant to be another swing at the same kind of material. It's certainly a functional movie; they manage the occasional jump scare and some interesting visual touches, but never enough to persuade you to forget the wonkiness of the premise. Apparently 65 started filming in 2020 and has been hanging around waiting to be released for ages: its actual release date was the fifth one it received. You can imagine why: it's not so much being released as jettisoned, at a time when not much else is going on. There's certainly some talent involved in this film – but, special effects aside, you'd be hard pushed to recognise it. Not so much a dinosaur movie as a gap in the fossil record.

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