I know the found footage horror sub-genre is considered tired and most people are done with it. I’m actually still cool with it since they seem to keep finding new things to find footage of. Haunted houses, giant monster attacks, viral outbreaks, dumb things happening in space, all sorts of ideas have been attempted and in my eyes, that’s what has kept the whole thing from getting stale.
This one brings something new to the table as this time they totally find dinosaur footage!
A group of people, explorers and such, are off to check out a rumour of a plesiosaur living in I believe Africa. That’s the kind of shit that deserves to be on camera so naturally they are filming the entire thing. When flying over the island a bunch of “birds” fly by, one of them hitting the blade and causing the copter to crash, killing the pilot in the process. Then the helicopter blows up. Then their satellite phone breaks. Their expedition is not off to a terrific start. Little do they know that pretty soon, dinosaurs are going to happen.
The dinosaurs themselves actually make their presence known pretty quickly into the movie, attacking the crew during their first night on the island and killing one of their members. This is the best time to highlight the movie’s greatest asset – its special effects. It would be very easy for this movie to keep the dinosaurs off camera, only providing you with fleeting glimpses here and there. You know, have the character holding the camera start flailing wildly whenever a dinosaur is nearby so they never have to give you a good look. But The Dinosaur Projectdoesn’t fuck around and it doesn’t take long before dinosaurs are lingering on camera, with the focus being put squarely on them. It looks surprisingly good which is crucial since if they looked fake, it would obviously ruin the entire idea.
The most interesting idea here is that the lead guy’s son befriends one of the dinosaurs and almost has him as a pet. The dinosaur itself is fucking adorable, like a large kitty cat. It immediately became crucial for me that this dinosaur survive the length of the movie. The human characters, eh, sure, if they make it that’s all well and good. But if that little guy died I think I would have had to shut off the movie and go straight to bed because that would have been it for me. There’s a scene where they have strapped a camera to the little guy’s neck and we see him as he is bobbing up and down through the surface of a river. Knowing full well there are underwater dinos, this was the most suspenseful scene for me hands down as I was fully expecting something to show up and eat the poor thing. I won’t say what happens, but my god I was nervous watching this part unfold. Once again, owning cats has completely changed the way I watch these movies.
In all honesty though, as a whole the movie is not all that suspenseful or scary. There’s a couple of effective jump scares and the dinosaur attack sequences that exist are properly disorienting and well-executed. However any time there aren’t dinosaurs on screen, the movie simply isn’t engaging since none of the human characters are particularly interesting. The plot is nothing more than your standard Jurassic Park III situation of “We gotta get off this island but dinosaurs man!” They do present an interesting concept that these dinosaurs have had millions of years to continue to evolve so they have dramatically changed physically, but they don’t really do a whole lot with the idea. There’s a great movie waiting to be made about evolved dinosaurs who can now speak or fly or dance or rap or whatever. Alas this movie is not it. Oh and there’s almost zero blood if that’s what you’re in the market for here.
Actually, The Dinosaur Project seems to be targeted more towards kids overall. I’m certainly not opposed to the idea, but I feel the same way about this movie that I did about Cloverfield (a movie I love for the record). PG-13 found footage feels weird because you can’t sit there and tell me everything the characters were saying wouldn’t just be “Oh fuck man! Did you see that shit? A fuckin’ dinosaur man! Oh fuck! Shit’s chasing us! Shit’s chasing! Fuck fuck fuck fuck! Shit man fuck! Fuckin’ dinsoaurs what the fuck!? Shiiiiiiiit!” I can buy into the reality stretch that somebody would keep filming during these circumstances, but I can’t buy that they wouldn’t be cursing constantly at the same time.
The acting in this is I would say passable. It’s not so bad that it breaks the whole illusion of this being real, but it’s definitely pretty stiff and nobody amongst the cast stands out as being particularly strong. Granted most of what they are required to do is scream or yell out other characters’ names so there wasn’t much of an opportunity for anyone to stretch their acting muscles.
Something I did appreciate, and I touched on this briefly when talking about the viewers being allowed a good look at the actual dinosaurs, is the camera work itself. These kinds of movies are often disorienting to the point where you have absolutely no clue what you’re even looking at anymore. I remember several of them even required theatres to post warning about audience members potentially getting motion sickness. The Dinosaur Project has the good sense to keep the camera still the majority of the time, allowing us to actually see things and understand what is going on. The production does seem bizarrely slick looking to be amateur video, but I’ll let that slide in favour of not spending most of the running time wondering “wait…is that a building? What am I looking…oh was that a dinosaur?! Or….what….where did he….hold the god damn camera still!”
The Dinosaur Project does have its moments and the effects are incredibly impressive. However the execution doesn’t match up to intriguing idea of a found footage movie featuring dinosaurs. What we get here is reasonably fun, but I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing someone else take another crack at it, preferably in an R-rated version.