Now streaming–65: A 1980s throwback sci-fi thriller that deconstructs Planet of the Apes

Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s not many modern science fiction movies that double as historical fiction, and 65 may be the most unusual historical fiction flick of them all.  It’s also a rare movie that you can compare to classic winners, like Enemy Mine, the Predator movies, Lifeforce, and Outland, and modern memorable creations like Logan and Midnight Special It might be an overstatement to compare it to Jurassic Park, but it’s not an overstatement to say that it is better than all the Jurassic Park sequels combined.  65 is comparable to so many great thrill rides, but it’s good enough to recommend on its own merits.  Who wouldn’t rather watch this kind of sci-fi and action after all the same old, same old we’ve been getting?  Get ready for some nail-biting action in 65, now streaming on Netflix.

What makes 65 great but not brilliant is the absence of nuance.  Adam Driver (Star Wars Trilogy #3, BlackKKlansman) plays Mills, the pilot of a deep space charter who is racing to get needed medical help for his sick daughter back home, played by Chloe Coleman (Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, Avatar: The Way of Water).  En route to his destination he is approaching an uncharted planet, which we are told is Earth of 65 million years ago.  This throws out the window what could have been a nice Planet of the Apes brand of surprise for the finale–in a way the story is a deconstruction of that story, asking: What came before? instead of What comes next? 

An unidentified asteroid belt causes his ship to crash on Earth’s surface (some scenes match the coast of Oregon).  Yes, the movie is set a long time ago, and not far away but right here, and its events take place in what amounts to the real world, only the real world of the very distant past.  The asteroid belt is part of a bigger event, an event including that infamous asteroid coming to pummel the Earth and make the dinosaurs extinct.

Along with nearly destroying the ship for good, all the inhabitants in cryosleep (like the travelers in Passengers) are killed in the crash (just like the female astronaut at the beginning of Planet of the Apes).  All except Mills and a girl, called Koa, played by Adriana Greenblatt (Love and Monsters, Avengers: Infinity War).  Now you’ve basically met the cast of the show.  Mills and Koa don’t have the time to display actual chemistry, but both actors seize their roles with perfect performances.  This is a survival story of a man and a daughter figure, which may bring to mind The Last of Us.  Except Driver and Greenblatt run circles around the leads of that series.  This is closer to the relationship of Logan and young Laura in James Mangold’s Oscar-nominated movie Logan.  Greenblatt has what it takes to be the next Dafne Keen–she turns in our next kickass heroine for the year.  She’s that rare young actor who is believable, and her character is written to be smart, almost an equal to Driver’s tech-savvy pilot, unlike the typical wisecracking, mouthy kid in every other modern show and movie.

We’re not back at Jurassic Park, but back at the real deal.  The dinosaurs aren’t showcased, but serve as obstacles to Mills and Koa as they try to get to a part of the ship that broke apart and landed on the top of a mountain.  Mills thinks it can launch them back into space to be rescued.  That’s not to knock these dinos–they work just fine.  But this is an action-thriller, not a Crichton adventure, but all those horror bits, jumps, and starts, will make you think they came straight from one of his novels.

“They’re so screwed.”

You may say that sentence several times while watching this movie.  As movies about hopeless situations go, count this at the top.  There’s plenty of harrowing situations our heroes get into.

Like the sci-fi classic Enemy Mine, we have two people of different languages who must work together to survive.  Mills’ video communication from his daughter conjures Sean Connery’s futuristic communications way back in Outland.  Like Predator, Midnight Special, and Lifeforce, this is a genre mash-up where you’re not certain if writer/directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods are going to work a change-up on you at any point.  Even at the end, you’ll be waiting to see if a Xenomorph cousin will make an appearance.

If you’ve followed borg for years, you may recall our discussion of Frank Cho’s Guns & Dinos series more than a decade ago here, which he previewed for us at San Diego Comic-Con 2011.  Absent an ending where modern day archaeologists unearth a high-tech rifle buried in a dig site with a T-Rex fossil, this movie may be as close as we get to that story.  65 illustrates the great potential Cho’s Guns & Dinos had (and has).

Chris Bacon (Men in Black: International, A Series of Unfortunate Events) and Danny Elfman (Beetlejuice, Batman, Men in Black) turn in an understated musical score, with just the right amount of tension in the right places, and lots of calm before the storm.

Get prepared for what you wanted from Jurassic Park 2.  65 is now streaming on Netflix.


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