Is a twist a twist if it turns well in the first five minutes of a movie? According to Sony Pictures, yes – that’s why marketing for 65 has emphasized the part where Adam Driver fights dinosaurs on a prehistoric planet Earth rather than answering the question of how he got there in the first place. But the truth absolutely made me giddy.
“After a disastrous crash on an unknown planet,” reads Sony’s carefully worded plot description 65“pilot Mills (Adam Driver) soon discovers he actually stranded on Earth… 65 million years ago.”
But here’s the point: Mills doesn’t discover that he was stranded on Earth 65 million years ago!
(Ed. remark: The following interview contains spoilers for 65.)
That’s because Mills has never been to Earth, or even heard of the planet. There’s no time travel in it 65; the pilot’s crash was simply a work accident during a routine shipping mission across the galaxy coordinated by beings from another planet. Driver is not “human” – he is an alien!
Finding an organic path back to the time of the dinosaurs was, of course, a tricky business, according to writer-directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, and even more so when they came up with the idea that Mills would arrive on Earth from an entirely different civilization.
“We needed to feel grounded,” Beck says of the challenge. “There were wild ideas that were left on the page, like Adam speaking a different language, or different facial modifications (to make him look more alien). But we had to find a mix where we didn’t lose the audience in the first five minutes. We were always busy testing.”
The duo spent much of the pre-production on 65 Weighing world-building options with production designer Kevin Ishioka. The questions ranged from basic Has this civilization embraced digital technology or do they rely on analog? – to the fantastic. At one point, Beck and Woods considered a design of Mills’ galactic freighter that would be made entirely of stone, unlike anything the average moviegoer would immediately recognize as a starship.
“We talked a lot about how the technology in the film has to be futuristic sometimes — that is, more advanced than our technology — and then backward,” says Woods. “We wanted to draw that line between futuristic and retro, a hybrid of old and future. That was the benchmark for us.”
The film’s opening scenes, set on an alien beach dotted with spiraling vertical rock formations, give us only traces of a larger world settled in the far reaches of space. The focus is more on the soul-searching of Mills: the only reason he took his job in the shipping industry was to earn enough money for a drug that might or might not save his terminally ill daughter. When it all goes wrong (thanks to an ill-timed chunk of space rock that sends his ship spiraling toward Earth, a harbinger of a much larger meteor heading for the planet), Mills’ struggle for survival is immediately strained by the need to survive. going home to his child, and to protect another survivor, a young girl named Koa (Ariana Greenblatt), who is also stranded in the Cretaceous.
“We’re trying to show more than explain,” Driver tells Polygon, “but you know what the relationship means to him in his reluctance to talk, when he’s faced with someone who reminds him of his past in every detail .”
Mills is not a conventional hero. While Jurassic Park emerges as an obvious sci-fi touchstone for the film, Driver Mills compares to Harry Dean Stanton in Alien. He’s just a worker tapping a time clock. “It could almost be considered the equivalent of a truck driver. It’s not a planet where being a pilot is foreign to them. There is no hierarchical thing (because he is an alien). This is what he does.”
While 65 does get fleshy, also quote Beck and Woods Alien as a way of rooting the potentially far-fetched setup in something real. While creating a new planet and shaping a world where aliens like Mills transport cryogenically frozen humans as cargo, they eventually take him to a familiar planet, where he is confronted by creatures that the public already knows a lot about. That meant respecting the known science about dinosaurs and diving into science fiction at the same time.
“We had a Venn diagram, where one circle was all about science,” says Woods, “And in the other Venn diagram circle, we had Ridley Scott’s Alien, one of the scariest movies ever made. And so we just wanted to combine interesting science with something that is frightening.”