The Dinosaur Project (2012)
Company: Moonlighting Films
Runtime: 83 mins
Format: Imported DVD
Plot: A team of explorers go searching in the Congo jungle for proof of the mythical legend Mokele-Mbembe. When their helicopter is brought down in an undiscovered part of the jungle by a flock of strange enormous birds, they discover prehistoric creatures that civilization thought was extinct for millions of years.
Review: I know it's not a popular opinion, but I am totally in love with the Found Footage style of filmmaking. I also am (and always have been) totally in love with dinosaurs, so this should be a winning combination for me, but previous experience with this combination has left me a tad cautious here. See, The Dinosaur Project is actually the second movie of 2012 to combine the two together, with the first being Area 407, and that movie turned out to be a pretty large disappointment and mostly utter crap. With that fresh on my mind after having just watched it a few days before this, I approached this movie at a pretty weary pace.
To start, the whole Mokele-Mbembe myth of the Congo jungle is one of my favorites in the cryptozoological realm, so I was pretty happy when The Dinosaur Project started and one of the first things it talks about is that whole myth and it was great to see it get further explored as the movie went on and was, in fact, the backdrop for this movie. Even though I was cautious about it, this movie knew how to grip me from the get-go; Ever since found footage movies started being popular, I've been saying that I wanted a found footage movie to tackle a Mokele-Mbembe expedition, and by scott here we finally have one! Of course it quickly expands upon the myth, for where-in the classic legend is only about a single dinosaur (or type of dinosaur) and for the sake of the movie they've broadened that into an entire Lost World filled with many dinosaur species', both herbivores and carnivores, but I ended up being fine with that. Also surprisingly, and unlike most found footage flicks (especially the dreadful Area 407), you actually get really good solid looks at these creatures as well – sure, there's a few quick-cut/hard-to-notice shots, but only at first and it doesn't take long before we start seeing the dinosaurs in their full-on glory, which of course probably wouldn't have worked out quite so well if it wasn't for the fact that, despite this being a low budget affair, the creature CGI effects actually looked really damn good and loads better then I was expecting.
Something else this movie has going for it is that it's filled with a great sense of adventure, from the plane ride over the Congo when they first start to catch glimpses of mysterious creatures, to their physical trek through the thick jungle and murky rivers after they crash as they try to journey their way back to civilization, to their discovery of creepily-abandoned Native villages, to the fun wonderment as they discover a pack of small playful dinosaurs that they play around with for a bit, to the wide range of thrilling action scenes as they get chased by one vicious dinosaur or another – those that love adventure flicks will find plenty to enjoy here. And fear not about getting motion sickness or headaches from the camera, because even though this is a found footage movie, the camera holders (most of the time) are meant to be a professional camera crew, so for the most part the cameras are held with a very steady hand and there's not a whole lot of frequent quick panicky moving and bobbing around of the equipment.
What the movie does lack however, are strong likable characters. Nobody in the movie is really all that likable – The stern father that ignores his son and puts his TV show first, the whiny bratty son that does everything he can to ignore anything he's told and then complains about it, the argumentative fame-seeking producer of the show, the pushy superstitious guide that is leading them into the Congo – all of them are quite bland and/or annoying and just not fun to watch at all. The couple characters that did seem to have a personality about them and actually seemed like they might be ok to stick around with for the duration of the movie were of course the first couple of characters to get killed off early-on.
Another thing that kind of bothered me was the decision to not include a Tyrannosaurus Rex in the movie. I mean, I know not every dinosaur movie needs to have a Rex in it, but they're so incredibly common in them, what with being the King of the Dinosaurs and all, that their presence is indeed missed here. I'd be interested in hearing why the director decided to go that route, especially since he did include another large Rex-like species in the movie, which makes the absence of a Rex all the more puzzling. I mean, if you're going to throw in a large predator of that size, why not just go with the classic and beloved King? It also annoyed me a bit that not only did they not include the T. Rex, but after everything the characters (and us, the viewers) go through in the movie, it all results in a simple and mostly-dinosaurless man vs man climax, turning one of the characters (predictably enough) into a villain. I'm always ranting about how much I hate human villains in a killer maneating animal movie because I feel it takes the threat and impact away from the title creatures, and that could not be more true then with this movie. All the build-up during the movie of one dinosaur attack scene after another and it all builds to a simple, and quite-frankly overlong, confrontation between two humans.
Sure, the movie may only have a small few complaints from me, but those few complaints are things that bother me quite a bit and certainly amount to a bit of a lower score then I was planning on giving upon initially watching things unfold. However, there's still quite a lot to enjoy here as well and in the end this came out as quite the fun adventure of a found footage flick, and for those looking for some thrilling dinosaur chase scenes in the jungle, this one has that in spades. If you crossed the TV show Destination Truth with Jurassic Park (but removed the likability of Josh Gates), this would pretty much be the end result.
It's also miles and miles ahead of the craptastic Area 407, so if there's only one Found Footage Dinosaur movie you check out, make sure it's this one.
7/10 rooms in the Psych Ward