I ventured into the movie blindly, although I had been eying off the blu-ray cover for some time, and had absolutely no idea what to expect. The artwork (Australian) suggested a very Spielbergian style of adventure while the various laurels branding the case indicated favourable critical reception. And so with my 15-year old son parked on the couch beside me, we dimmed the lights, turned up the volume and immersed ourselves in an unknown adventure.
I admit that despite the movie's title being a reference – of sorts – to Blair Witch, I had no idea that it belonged to the found-footage genre (if you're a regular reader then you will know that I have a very low tolerance for said genre), and so I was apprehensive within moments of committing myself to it. Fortunately for me the footage itself was quite stylised and the 'shaky' factor was minimal. Yes, I wound up enjoying the heck out of the damn movie!
The premise is simple and writer/director Sid Bennett has torn his narrative directly out of The Lost World's pages. The movie follows a group of television explorers who travel to the Amazon to investigate sightings on a mythological creature from deep within the jungles. Their helicopter is struck by giant flying reptiles before crashing into the dense forrest. It isn't long before they find themselves prey to an undiscovered world of prehistoric creatures, which have been isolated to a remove canyon deep within the jungle. With the use of multiple cameras their entire nightmarish expedition is captured on tape, which the audience is – of course – privy to.
Having seen Bennett's name on the cover art for THE DINOSAUR PROJECT I suspected a certain type of movie. His name was familiar to me and after a quick investigation I realised that he had directed two previous creature-features; PREDATOR X and MERMAIDS (the later being a mockumentary). He also had his hand in the television program PREHISTORIC PARK which, depending on your perspective, put him in good stead to direct a Doyle-inspired adventure such as this.
As it turns out, THE DINOSAUR PROJECT is his most accomplished work to date. I was not expecting it to be a clever, compelling and effective adventure that offers bang-for-buck, and genuine thrills that seem far too intense for it's modest PG rating, but that's what I got. The found-footage component did frustrate me at times, as I genuinely think it would have been a far more absorbing movie had it been shot traditionally. But with that qualm aside, it was quite wonderful nonetheless. Bennett employs an excellent use of CGI to bring his dinosaurs to life and cheekily uses the shaky moments to conceal any of the questionable details. That is to say what we see of the creatures on camera is effective and where the seams threaten to be exposed, the action turns away.
The cast – unknown to me – are good, with Richard Dillane (who has so many substantial credits that I SHOULD know him) and Matt Kane (The Last of Robin Hood) leading the film with confidence. Their performances are genuine and never feel forced as they play a father/son team who reconnect after years of having a neglected relationship. Kane's emotional range is impressive as he switches from fearless to terrified and emotionally drained with ease. Dillane's performance has less depth, however he plays the reality TV star well. The rest of the cast are competent, adding necessary support minimum screen time.
It's time for the found-footage format to be laid to rest. It's all been done before and too many micro-budget filmmakers have proven that you can craft persuasive movies without the need to reply on a tired and cliched formula. Few films within the genre actually work (have you seen The Jungle?) and the style is too easily dismissed, and so THE DINOSAUR PROJECT dodged a bullet by being good. Had I known it was a found-footage movie from the outset then I probably wouldn't have bothered with it. I'm glad I did... ignorance is bliss, huh?