The film begins as a couple of local inhabitants in the Congolese jungle find a bag which has tapes of footage within it, documenting a British group of explorers’ improbable journey into the jungle where they discovered a colony of dinosaurs. Amongst those ambitious explorers – who had set off to Africa based on sightings of an unidentifiable sea creature – are Marchant (Richard Dillane), his troublesome teenage son Luke (Matt Kane), Dr. Liz Draper (Natasha Loring), and Charlie (Peter Brooke), amongst others.
As the group’s helicopter crashes in the wilderness, they find themselves stranded, and as they delve deeper into the forest, they unearth a settlement of the creatures that had been presumed extinct, living together in unison, unbeknown to the rest of the world. Decisions are split between those fearing for their own safety and wanting to go home, with those more tempted to capture this incredible footage and become famous for this miraculous discovery. However, the further in the collective go, the temptation to turn back becomes all the more desirable, as we follow their fateful journey of survival, all thanks to Luke’s inclination towards filming every step they take.
There is a reason as to why so few film makers have attempted to create a film centred around the rebirth and discovery of dinosaurs since Jurassic Park – as the bar has been set so high it’s almost become an area within film that will forever be difficult to tackle, with incessant and inevitable comparisons to be made to Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic.
And it’s when making such comparisons when you realise just how disappointing The Dinosaur Project truly is, not to mention how unrealistic the actual creatures look. They were depicted more realistically in Jurassic Park – and that was made almost 20 years ago, you would have thought that with technological advances, the visual effects would have improved somewhat. I appreciate the fact Bennett doesn’t have the same budget Spielberg was provided, but then if you don’t have the funds, don’t make a film about dinosaurs. It’s imperative we believe in the dinosaurs for this picture to work, and they simply look computer animated, which devalues the entire production.
Film makers also need to realise that the use of the found footage genre is doing nothing but providing ammunition to pedantic critics such as myself. I won’t bore you by nit-picking at the countless inconsistencies and vexations, but just be aware that they do exist. Found footage just feels like too much of an evasion of responsibility, as we shy away from any substantial, action-packed sequences, because every time anything important is about to happen, the camera conveniently cuts out.
There are also issues within the story-line as although potentially straight-forward, Bennett implements sub-stories to complement the narrative, such as the turbulent relationship between Marchant and his stowaway son Luke. Such plot-lines deviate away from the premise and as a result feel entirely superfluous. The acting is questionable also, particularly frustrating given the realism we are supposed to abide by due to the real footage angle Bennett has taken. The one thing this film does need to have is realism, as when found footage can come across as naturalistic, we end up with features such as The Blair Witch Project. When it doesn’t, we end up with features like The Dinosaur Project.
The dialogue simply isn’t naturally performed, and feels false and incoherent. Whilst Dillane is doing his best impression of Sam Neal, Kane is doing his best impression of a mediocre actor, and both succeed. On a side-note, isn’t it amazing that despite the continuous foray of danger and anguish caused upon this innocent group of travellers, Luke manages to maintain a cool, swept-hair fringe look throughout.
It’s such a shame The Dinosaur Project hasn’t worked out, as I am a firm believer in British cinema and an advocate for the British genre movie, desperate for us to expand and endeavour to make blockbusters and provide some form of competition to Hollywood. Of course one can’t help but admire Bennett for taking on such a film, however if we are going to attempt it, we’ve simply got to do better than this. The way things stand, if we’re going to approach the subject of prehistoric creatures in film, probably best we leave it to a certain Sir David Attenborough.