— Sorry Spoilers throughout —
As March 10th 2023 fades further and further into the rearview mirror, the more it seems that so too does whatever internet collective surface tension which has been keeping reviews of this movie from my feed. Or perhaps we’re all just finally getting over the state of stunned bewilderment which was watching and having already watched this strange movie.
Whichever the case, reviews HAVE been coming in, and despite the solid Badass and Child Duo dynamic between Adam Driver and Arianna Greenblatt (see also OSP’s analysis of The Loan Wolf and Cub), all-star writers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place), and the seemingly legendary presence that is Sam Raimi — Oh and the fact that this movie had DINOSAURS in it! — reviews range from derivative stone-age thriller, to ‘meteoric flop’.
I admit that my initial reactions were mixed but leaning along similar lines. What dinosaurs were they actually portraying? (my favorite theory is that one was a Tyrankylosaurus, aka a genetically modified hybrid from the Jurassic World universe which would have mixed T-Rex and Ankylosaur DNA)
And why add a language barrier into a plot that already has more physical hurdles than an olympic track meet? (do they do hurdles in the olympics?) I shutter to think it’s because after the success of A Quiet Place, Beck and Woods believe that a movie can’t be good if the main characters are able to talk.
And finally, would a society advanced enough to be able to freeze people for long range space travel really miss an asteroid field with rocks big enough to cause extinction level events? (if the asteroids in this film are meant to be the belt in our system, chances of a spacecraft hitting one are actually less than 1 billion)
OK. Actually, one more thing. Are we in the past or is it somehow the future? Did we time travel? . . . I had questions.
Despite all of this, I still enjoyed the chemistry between Driver and Greenblatt. I died a little (in a good way) when Koa (Greenblatt) anchored the rope to like a million trees before tossing it down to Mills (Driver). It was simultaneously the sweetest and funniest symbol of how their relationship had progressed and also the most nine-year-old thing ever.
This bit of humor was unfortunately one of only a very small number of attempts at lightening up a pretty dark film.
Enough of all that, Why are We all Collectively Not Liking this Film?
All the things I’ve griped about above are seemingly minor, and might be easily overlooked if ’65’ had not also had a few other larger flaws, namely its misunderstanding of today’s audience.
What was that misunderstanding? Well in order to figure out the answer we’ll need to consider what kind of story ’65’ hoped to tell, and then track how other stories in that genre have succeeded to pinpoint what audiences want, and where ’65’ didn’t measure up.
Why Should We Survive?
At its core, ’65’ is a survival story. The question of this film is not ‘Does this dinosaur exist?’ (although I want to know that), or is humanity’s origin somewhere else in the cosmos than earth (which this movie sorta suggests?). The question of this film has more personal relevance. Who are we, and what would we do to survive?
When Mills is on his own? There’s not much he would do to survive. We don’t know this yet, but he must know that his daughter is already gone, and based on how anxious his wife seemed to be for him to leave, perhaps she’s not worth returning to (she’s noticeably not in any of the other clips from home we see throughout the movie). As such Mills contemplates suicide, even going so far as to load up the gun and have a good cry in the rain.
But with Koa’s introduction, things shift. Mills has a reason to live. If not for himself, then for her. To protect her and get her home.
Does This Seem Familiar?
It should. The Badass and Child Duo I mentioned earlier is everywhere right now. The Mandalorian, is a great example. In video games, God of War: Ragnork. In video games turned hit television series . . . My friend even quipped: “Oh. So ’65’ is just The Last of Us with dinosaurs.” while discussing the trailer.
And in many ways, these are great comparisons since ’65’ has a lot of the same elements. But these stories, specifically The Last of Us, have something that we just don’t find in ’65’ . . .
Survival is Not Enough
Perhaps in the past — pre-pandemic, pre- lock down, pre- recession, pre- inflation, pre- social equity crisis, pre- everything that’s currently going on in the world today — when things were relatively stable and easy, simply removing the almost invisible support structures from every day life and pitching a character into prehistoric earth and asking audiences what we would do to survive might have been a satisfying movie. In those days we might never have had to contemplate our existence, and therefore doing so would be novel enough.
But we no longer have to think about “what we would do” to survive. We know. We have been doing those things for the several years and we’re beginning to wonder if there isn’t something more . . .
Tom Van Der Linden’s youtube channel Like Stories of Old uses the aforementioned The Last of Us to demonstrate this thesis in a remarkable video essay about Why Apocalypse Stories Feel Different Now. He points out two things which I think are relevant to analysis of the movie ’65’:
- The Green Apocalypse: essentially, an apocalypse that “…feels strangely peaceful, alive, and in many ways beautiful. In this vision of the post societal world nature has reclaimed remnants of human society, now devoid of their symbolical meaning and former purpose and reduced them back into the raw materials of the natural world.
This is “. . . reflective of changing sentiment about the environment, the sense of disconnect and the longing for an environment undefined by rampant industry and thoughtless modernity…”
It is “A fantasy in which we are completely free of the complications of our modern existence.”
I would argue the prehistoric setting of ’65’ serves the same kind of “stripping away” of modern complications, but rather than giving humanity a chance to live in harmony with nature (which modern audiences want to see), nature plays an antagonistic role and is again seen in the tired crosshairs of the hunt in which nature must be killed or conquered.
- Other People: The shows referenced within the video (Last of Us, Station Eleven, & The Left Overs), may superficially posit that when those previously mentioned ‘complications of modernity’ are stripped away, we will all revert back to some base form of instinctual survival in which strangers can’t be trusted, and everyone and everything is out to get us. However, the reality is that people are social creatures, and groups are more advantageous to survival.
It’s in our nature to seek out others. To want something more than just basic survival. After 2 years of limiting our interactions with others because of the pandemic, it is not a leap to say that audiences are craving interaction more than ever, and want to see hope of its continuance in their fiction.
Aside from ’65’s two main characters, there are essentially no other people within the film (who serve as more than tragic backstory). And while those two main characters learn to help and protect each other, their task of simply staying alive does not resonate with us because we’re craving something more.
So, aside from gaps in realism or story-logic which audiences wouldn’t bat an eye at in another film, why has ’65’ been reviewed so terribly?
In short, it has fatally misunderstood the zeitgeist and delivered the wrong movie. Renowned actors, writers and producers, massive special effects, and DINOSAURS should have added up to a guaranteed blockbuster, but the movie took the wrong tack with audiences in two critical areas: missing expectations in regards to the environment, and casting the film as a grim and tragic tale when these days we’re needing hope and connection with other people.
Anyway, that’s all I have on this one. Has anyone else watched it yet? What were your thoughts? Let’s hear em in the comments!
Until next time . . .
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