You’d think after 130-plus years of motion pictures, audiences would have seen it all, and that filmmakers might be out of ideas. But no, on March 10, writer-directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, best known for their work on A Quiet Place, plop Adam Driver into the Cretaceous Period to fight dinosaurs with futuristic military tech and outrun a mass extinction event on the horizon. Movies!
Produced by Sam Raimi, 65 was a childhood dream for Beck and Woods, and it shows. The movie makes a big promise — dinos, meteors, laser guns, and a few sci-fi surprises, too — and as the duo tells Polygon, the whole project started at the playground. The Hollywood multihyphenates have known each other since they were 11 years old, and they’ve been dying to make a Dinosauria creature feature for nearly as long.
“Dinosaurs are such magical, bizarre creatures, and when you’re a young kid… it’s incomprehensible!” Woods says. “How did these giant creatures walk the Earth, the same Earth that we walk today? And I think ever since that age, we’ve always wondered, like… Do Spielberg and Universal [Pictures] have a monopoly on dinosaurs? Or is there a way to do one in a way that we haven’t seen before?”
“We love the idea of ticking-clock films, where catastrophic danger lurks around every corner,” Beck adds, citing 1994’s Keanu Reeves movie Speed, which escalates the action every five minutes, as a core influence on 65.
Over the years, Beck and Woods landed on a premise they hoped would give them the same vibe. Instead of finding reasons to bring dinosaurs into humankind’s present, the team cracked a plot that would pit a man against dinosaurs on their home turf of Earth, 65 million years ago. (How they set up that confrontation is far-out, but that’s for the movie to reveal.) Still, Woods says the clever twist that enabled the story didn’t make the task any less daunting, either for the writer-directors or for the studios.
“It’s impossible to escape Jurassic Park’s shadow. It’s one of the best movies of all time, and one of the best executions of visual effects creatures in cinema history. I think all we were trying to achieve here was breaking past the debilitating fear that apparently all of Hollywood has had since Jurassic Park came out: that you can only have one dinosaur franchise.”
But thanks to technological advancements in the art of chompy dino baddies, 65 was more feasible a swing for a studio than ever. And it didn’t hurt that Beck and Woods eventually found famed horror director Sam Raimi in their corner. According to the filmmakers, Raimi organized big table reads of the screenplay and encouraged free-flowing ideas, and in the lead-up to production, he hired concept artists who helped design creatures and other sci-fi accoutrements.
“Sam is such a great mentor to all filmmakers that he works with,” Beck says. “He’s done the best independent films of all time, arguably, if you’re an Evil Dead fan, and some of the best studio movies of all time, the Spider-Man films. He’s done it all, and for us, he was a mentor that walked us from the independent world into the studio world.”
Beck and Woods’ number one priority was likely music to Raimi’s ears: They “just wanted to make dinosaurs scary again.”
“We felt like that threat has been lost,” Beck says. He likens Driver’s situation in the movie to being lost in the African outback. “We wanted the inherent suspense of traversing a landscape that at times might feel totally serene and isolated, and all of the sudden could change on a dime if you run into the wrong pack of dinosaurs.”
In the film, Driver plays Mills, a blue-collar dad type, who winds up protecting a young girl played by 15-year-old Ariana Greenblatt (previously seen as the childhood version of Gamora in Avengers: Infinity War.) Greenblatt says Beck and Woods underlined the threat to the actors with some unusually intense stunt work, much of which was shot on location in Louisiana swamps.
“The stunts were pretty spontaneous,” Greenblatt says, laughing. Her most difficult moment on set involved a scene where her character is being dragged through the sand by a reptile. “That was a very last-minute one. And I was like, ‘OK, let’s just do it.’ […] We tried it a few times, and it just looked too good. I was like, ‘This needs to look way more painful and way more rough.’ So they took the safety rig off and they just started dragging me fully!”
Figuring out which dinosaurs should drag their stars through the mud involved a mixture of historical record and dramatic license. The result: realistically rendered beasties whose bone structure was vetted by paleontologists, but were still maximized for terror.
“We had a Venn diagram, where one circle was all about science,” Woods says, “And then in the other Venn diagram circle, we had Ridley Scott’s Alien, one of the scariest movies ever made. And so we just wanted to kind of combine interesting science and also something that’s frightening.”
By all accounts, no dinosaurs or people were hurt in the making of 65. But will audiences go for a dinosaur romp (stomp?) that isn’t adorned with the Jurassic Park logo? Woods believes they will.
“Why aren’t there as many dinosaur movies every year as superhero movies?” he asks. “Who doesn’t love dinosaurs?”
65 opens in theaters on March 10.