IN CINEMAS: August 10th
RUNNING TIME: 82 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Following the disappearance of an expedition into the Congo jungle in Africa led by renowned explorer Jonathan Marchant, two local fishermen find a rucksack containing tapes and hard drives containing over 100 hours of footage. What we see is the best of the footage edited together. Jonathan sets off on the trip to find ‘Mokebe Mbembe’, Africa’s equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster and a legend amongst the Congo area’s indigenous people, but has to contend with his son Luke who has stowed away but is already recording the majority of the journey with an arsenal of personal recording devices he has. Suddenly their plane flies into a swarm of flying creatures that look suspiciously prehistoric and which bring down the craft, killing the pilot. Jonathan, his son and their four companions are now stranded in the jungle…….
The ‘found footage’ genre, which is generally considered to have began with The Blair Witch Project but actually had its origins with Cannibal Holocaust, is one on which people seem divided. The concept of telling a story from the point of view of recordings done by one or more who were present sometimes seems to me like an excuse for bad filmmaking and actually sometimes makes me feel sick with all that shakycam, but it done certainly be very effective if done well. Every time the genre starts to fade out, a new film seems to come along and revive it. This year we’ve had the rather fresh Chronicle and the somewhat underrated The Devil Inside Me as two pretty good examples, and I was hoping that The Dinosaur Project would continue the quality. I mean Cloverfield, which also featured a creature rather like a dinosaur, was awesome, was it not?
Rather than deriving from giant monster-on-the-rampage flicks of the Godzilla kind, The Dinosaur Project seems to be more inspired by Jurassic Park, and even more perhaps by earlier dinosaur tales like the twice-filmed The Lost World, where the dinosaurs exists in the middle of a continent in an area where time has stood still. What I found most interesting about The Dinosaur Project is that it is the first major ‘found footage’ picture to be aimed not at adults but at families. There are certainly some intense dinosaur attack sequences, but, despite the 12A rating, they are no more intense than what you would find in a Jurassic Park picture and have little blood. I’m not entirely sure that the terms ‘family movie’ and ‘found footage’ go together though. The ‘found footage’ film, by its very nature, is aimed at grim realism and seems in some ways opposite to the requirements of a film targeted towards families. The Dinosaur Project is an interesting attempt at combining both, but I don’t think it really works. Despite the current obsession for recording everything on phones etc, I’m not sure children would enjoy the ‘in camera’ style during a whole film and adults may feel certain aspects hold the movie back from being a convincing and compelling ‘found footage’ film.
The production certainly begins promisingly. The lovely idea of a legendary monster, which could be prehistoric, existing in darkest Africa [and which rumours do exists about], made me remember that there has never been a really good Loch Ness Monster movie, a subject which has so much potential, and the main characters have Cannibal Holocaust-like introductions. The early scenes setting out the relationship between Jonathan and his son Luke seem reasonably real but of course you know exactly what is going to happen in the relationship further on. Still, much of this does look and feel ‘real’, with many annoying but convincing bits when the cameras glitch or go to black. I didn’t notice any shot in the whole film which could not have been realistically taken by anyone, though coupled with this I should mention that the shakycam really is shaky and often used in this one, and I did feel sick at times. It’s hard I suppose; the concept is certainly justifiable in this kind of film [unlike pictures like The Hunger Games and Quantum Of Solace], but I just don’t like feeling like I’m about to throw up during a film!
The Dinosaur Project proceeds along fairly familiar grounds, with the group stranded, lots of trekking and occasional encounters with prehistoric life. The CGI dinosaurs, if not quite Walking With Dinosaurs standard, looked relatively real to me and something I really liked was that they don’t all resemble actual dinosaurs; there are these mutated bat-like monstrosities which are based on a creature called Jelopturus but not much is really known about how they look like. I think that, if dinosaurs still do exist somewhere, they may not necessarily be the dinosaurs we all know and love; they might well have evolved somewhat. Often the creatures are shown fleetingly which seems to help though set against all this are scenes where young Luke befriends a baby dinosaur which he calls Krypto, bits which may be cute but are never believable and seem out of place in the film, even if it is aimed more at a family audience. Watching it, I often wondered if it would have been better without the ‘found footage; filmmaking style at all, though you may then have just had a very bland dinosaur movie!
The story does have the occasional surprise in store; for a start, you may be surprised who is killed early on, though there may not be enough dinosaur action for some and too much of the film ends up involving human villainy. When you’re in a land filled with dinosaurs, you don’t want time wasted on a man chasing a boy, however exciting it might be, and it is quite exciting. The film makes excellent use of sound throughout; you may really think you are listening to dinosaurs, and some really effective loud bangs which even jolted me. The film benefits from actually being largely shot in Africa and there are some great shots, especially one near the end, of the lost world the protagonists find themselves in. For what is a low budget production, the film is well made and looks pretty good at times, while the cast members all do a good job, with Matt Kane faring very well as Luke especially when he is in great danger.
There is certainly a fair bit to admire in The Dinosaur Project and it tries quite hard at what it’s trying to do, but it just doesn’t feel right. It seems to be showing nationwide in Empire cinemas, so it isn’t getting the widest of releases and that is a shame for any movie. Even if it popular with family audiences though, I personally can’t think of much worse than a whole load of family-aimed pictures being shot in the ‘found footage’ manner. Traditional filmmaking could very well be sidelined. I’ll tell you what I’d like to see though. A ‘found footage’ dinosaur film which really goes for the gore and the terror. I think it could work brilliantly. Anyone reading?