out of Five
Running time: 82
The Dinosaur Project has a couple of nice ideas, a likeable lead and some decent CGI-work, but it's let down by a messy script, a certificate-friendly lack of gore, some pacing issues and some ropey acting by a couple of the adult cast members.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Sid Bennett, The Dinosaur Project is a found footage thriller purporting to be all that's left of an expedition into the Congo by British explorer and crypto-zoologist Jonathan Marchant (Richard Dillane), in pursuit of Africa's Loch Ness monster, Mokele Mbembe. Alongside two constantly filming cameramen (Andre Weideman and Stephen Jennings) Jonathan's team comprises ambitious assistant Charlie (Peter Brooke), attractive young doctor Liz (Natasha Loring), local guide Amara (Abena Ayivor) and Jonathan's 15 year old tech-savvy whizz-kid Luke (Matt Kane), who stows away on the trip with a stack of state of the art digital cameras and keeps a handy video diary of the whole adventure.
When their helicopter crashes in the jungle after being attacked by giant winged creatures, the survivors find an abandoned village and camp there for the night. However, things quickly get worse when their tent is set upon by weird beasts, causing them to flee into the night.
Matt Kane delivers a likeable and engaging performance as Luke that marks him out as a future British talent to watch, even if some of his father/son conflict dialogue is a little dodgy. In addition, the landscapes are stunning and the CGI work is fairly decent throughout, though it's a lot better on some creatures than it is on others and never gets close to Jurassic Park level greatness, despite using the effects house behind the BBC's Planet Dinosaur.
The main problem is that there's a certain amount of found footage fatigue among modern audiences and the conceit doesn't really add anything interesting here, beyond the neat idea of the dinosaur turning cameraman at one point when Luke cunningly attaches a camera to a friendly baby dinosaur. Worse, it occasionally raises too many questions and also has several pacing issues, with lengthy, draggy sequences involving cameras being underwater or dragged through the undergrowth and so on.
On top of that, the script is frequently messy, with characters behaving inconsistently throughout, while some baffling decisions are made in terms of the kill order and the film loses one of its most promising characters much too early. In addition, Dillane and Brooke deliver a pair of extremely ropey performances and there are a number of unintentionally laughable moments in the dialogue, not to mention the fact that key death scenes have been noticeably chopped out in pursuit of a 12A-friendly lack of gore.
The Dinosaur Project has a great central idea but the script isn't quite up to the job of bringing it to life and it's ultimately nowhere near as much fun as it should have been.