Note* Written in 2012.
There’s a case to be made that my love of horror films, and film in general comes from my first exposure to old dinosaur movies from the 50s -70s. I wanted to be a paleontologist when I was younger, and books about dinosaurs were among the first I fell in love with. In short, I love movies with dinosaurs, and even if they’re mostly shitty I’ll still enjoy them. I went into Dinosaur Project with low expectations – I knew none of the cast, it seemed uber-low budget, and the trailer wasn’t great. If anything, I was expecting a Scyfy Channel disgrace in the vein of Sharknado. Imagine my surprise when the performances were good, when the effects where pretty great, and the story was as riveting as those I used to enjoy. It may not be the highest praise considering the competition, but The Dinosaur Project is the best dinosaur film since Jurassic Park.
The film follows a group of explorers and scientists led by Jonathan – a man who has dedicated his life to trying to prove the existence of specific cryptids – animals who may have a basis in mythology or literature or historical documentation, but for whom no actual scientific proof exists. His latest expedition will take him to the Congo, where he wants to investigate the myths and rumours of the area’s own Loch Ness Monster. Jonathan’s group includes the sponsor/money man Charlie, a local guide called Amara, Doctor Liz, a pilot, and two cameramen to catch any footage. To add in some drama, Jonathan’s sort-of-estranged-son Luke stows away for the journey. In a similar event to Jurassic Park 3, on route to their destination their plane crashes after apparently colliding with a flock of flying reptiles. Naturally the movie depends on you to suspend your belief, but my only real problem with the movie is this first meeting – I’m pretty sure planes fly over this area fairly frequently, so why has no-one spotted these creatures before?
The group crash lands, lost in the Jungle. Their pilot is dead, and much of their equipment is broken. When they find that a nearby village has been destroyed, the group theorizes what could have happened, but it isn’t long before the truth becomes known – they appear to have stumbled upon a Lost World where dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes are frolicking about. From here the action heats up as the group fragments, argues, and get picked off one by one. Father and son grow close, tempers fray, yet the urge to keep exploring and documenting weighs heavily – will anyone get out alive, and if not, what will become of their footage?
The film obviously is done in a shakey-cam style, but in most cases this is much less disorienting and annoying than you would expect. The dinosaurs appear early in the movie, and often after that. The cast each do a great job and though I hadn’t heard of any of them before the movie, they are people I would love to see more of. None of the characters are particularly annoying even if they do stick closely to the standard genres tropes of leader, villain, red shirt, guide etc. I highlighted the effects in my introduction, and while they can’t compete with the billion dollar big-hitters, they are still very impressive – all the more so due to the small budget. I liked the ambiguity in the movie – the fate of certain characters is left hanging, though this doesn’t seem like a cynical attempt at leaving the door open for a sequel. It seems more reasonable to assume that in a situation like this, you would not capture every second of every person’s movements, motivations, and decisions.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed The Dinosaur Project – a rip-roaring example of how to make a tight adventure movie with a small budget, and one which I would recommend to fans of found footage or dinosaur movies, or anyone looking for a quick and exciting 90 minutes. Let me know in the comments what you thought of the movie, and if there are any others in a similar vein which you have enjoyed over the years.