June 20, 2018

The Dinosaur Project – Africa’s Answer to the Loch Ness Monster

The found-footage film genre has been one of the most prolific developments in modern cinema, in particular, within horror. Dating back to the eighties, the found-footage film received a renaissance just over a decade ago, with 1999’s The Blair Witch Project. Since then, shaky Handy-Cams and minuscule budgeted horror films have blossomed, such as Cloverfield (2008) and the Paranormal Activity franchise. This latest release from Studio Canal sees another example of the found-footage movie being unleashed onto unsuspecting viewers, whereby a potentially “real” story is presented, and asks the audience to determine how much they believe to be true.
Set in the deepest, wildest throngs of the African jungle, The Dinosaur Project is an ambitious quest by a team of western explorers, hoping to find a water creature, whose origins are rooted in myth and fantasy amongst the indigenous people. The head of the expedition, an Indiana Jones look-a-like, has his plans for a successful trip spoiled though, after his helicopter is brought down by a flock of enormous birds (that look suspiciously dinosaurian) and to add to his troubles, he also has to look after his stowaway son, who has sneaked onto the trip.
Luke, the stowaway son, is the film’s main narrator; with an arsenal of personal cameras at his disposal, the young techno-geek captures every minute of this Project, which soon becomes a lesson in survival. The team quickly discover all is not well in this jungle, and encounter some extraordinary creatures, most of which civilization has presumed extinct for millennia!
Advertised as “Jurassic Park meets Cloverfield”, The Dinosaur Project is an excellent example of how a found-footage film should operate. The premise, whilst borderline ludicrous, stimulates a primal interest in audiences, whose appetite for dinosaurs and wild beasts can never be quenched, allowing them to immerse themselves within a “realistic fantasy”. Given the action-packed, adventurous nature of the plot, the movie also squeezes in some poignant character development between Luke and his father, examining their near-silent relationship with increasing pathos.
The film benefits from excellent editing, often the downfall of the found-footage genre, but rather than haphazard sequences stringed together clumsily, The Dinosaur Project maintains an traditional structure, seamlessly moving between the events in the film without distraction or misdirection. A cohesive storyline is put together, and the sequences seem smoother than typical ‘lost’ footage. Also, the camera work very rarely uses the infuriating technique of pointing the camera at the floor whilst the characters are fleeing a dangerous situation. Instead, the audience are given a better glimpse at the peril. In places, dead air is utilized superbly, where the camera cuts to black, with no sound, and the audience is left in limbo during a climactic point in the story.
Found-footage films do, however, hold several other pitfalls which sadly The Dinosaur Projects plummets straight into. First of all, the “realism” effect which is inevitably applied in these films means that the actors reek of low-grade acting, as if they are not actually performing for an audience. This, in essence, spoils the enjoyment of the film. The character of Luke in particular gives many nauseating video-diaries and self-interviews, where he theatrically pretends this is all really happening, however, the result seems like some atrocious you-tube broadcast by a borderline schizophrenic.
The golden crown of this film though, is the special effects. Moments where the creatures attack are genuinely frightening, and the perilous atmosphere maintained in this African jungle will keep you glued to the screen. Even with the messy script, the film should be applauded for its editing and camera work, which manages to seem contemporary even amongst the you-tube generation, and though the story is quite simple, it can be hugely immersive in places, sucking you into this treacherous landscape with some magnificent dinosaurs.

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