I have an unshakeable, and probably misguided, belief that any film that has dinosaurs in it can’t be totally bad. I even enjoyed Jurassic Park III, to my shame. I’m also sick to death of the whole “found footage gimmick. Despite giving us some decent fare like Cloverfield and REC, it’s also become a tedious excuse for replacing storylines and actual filmmaking with screaming and shaking cameras.
So, with that in mind I wasn’t sure how I would feel about The Dinosaur Project, a found footage movie about scaly prehistoric beasties. It tells the story of an expedition by the British Crypto Zoological Society that disappeared in the Congolese jungle as they searched for Mokele Mbembe’, a dinosaur-like creature known as Africa’s Loch Ness Monster. Weeks after the expedition was last heard from a rucksack containing their lost documentary footage is discovered by a pair of fishermen.
We of course get to watch this footage which features renowned explorer Jonathan Marchant (Richard Dillane), his adventurer friend Charlie Rutherford (Peter Brooke), young doctor Liz Draper (Natasha Loring) and Marchant’s stowaway teenage son Luke (Matt Kane), who survive a plane crash caused by a suspiciously large bird and then find themselves stranded in uncharted territory (apparently such a thing still exists) and encountering some unusual wildlife.
The first thing to point out about The Dinosaur Project is that it’s a family adventure film rather than a grisly Cloverfield-style monster film. So anyone hoping to see shaky footage of savage dino attacks will be sorely disappointed, as whoever’s holding the camera always conveniently looks away whenever someone gets eaten. It also spends a lot of time exploring the relationship between the dedicated explorer and his neglected son and does tend to drift into soapy drama that may test the patience of younger viewers. Older viewers may find the young Luke incredibly irritating as he’s the kind of precocious movie kid who’s smarter than all the adults and ends up saving the day this despite the fact that emo-haired Matt Kane looks like he wouldn’t survive ten seconds in the jungle, even if it wasn’t full of hungry dinosaurs.
With its mix of dinosaur action and sentiment it’s fairly obvious that director Sid Bennett is taking his cues from Jurassic Park. And although he’s no Spielberg, Bennett’s background in British TV documentaries does allow him create a convincing and immersive atmosphere. The whole point of a found footage film is to make the audience feel they are in the middle of the action and The Dinosaur Project manages this with aplomb, often feeling more like a theme park ride than a film, especially during a white-water rafting sequence. It’s also a pleasant surprise when the dinosaurs show up to find that they’re actually relatively well done. Clearly, more care and attention has gone into the CG effects then in a lot of recent bigger budget films.
It’s far from perfect, there’s some pretty shoddy acting and the script is childishly simplistic (halfway through a member of the expedition goes completely insane for no apparent reason other than the story needed an antagonist) but it’s target audience of pre-teen fans of dinosaurs and adventure will find plenty to enjoy. Older dinosaur obsessive viewers will probably count this a guilty pleasure.
Overall Verdict: A fun and immersive adventure with surprisingly effective effects that will keep young dinosaur enthusiasts entertained until Jurassic Park 4 gets here.
Making Of Featurette: Evolution of The Dinosaur Project
Reviewer: Adam Pidgeon