Blu-Review: The Dinosaur Project

Directed By Sid Bennett
Starring Richard Dillane, Matt Kane, Natasha Loring, Peter Brooke, André Weideman and Abena Ayivor

With the found footage genre providing an easy way for anyone to throw together a Blair Witch knock-off on the cheap, there’s new shakey-cam horror movies popping up almost weekly. But while it’s an easy concept for anyone to take a whack at, there’s precious few filmmakers who can put together a genuinely effective found footage film. The Dinosaur Project at least has an original concept to help separate it from the pack – “It’s Jurassic Park meets Cloverfield!” – but while it boasts some gorgeous scenery and a decent idea or two, it’s a film that squanders its potential with unbearable characters, uneven CGI and a complete absence of tension, scares or any sense of adventure.

Renowned explorer Dr Jonathon Marchant (Richard Dillane) leads a film crew on an expedition deep into the Congo in search of Mokele Mbembe, a mythical water creature that might be the last living dinosaur. This being a found footage movie, things have naturally gone awry, and no sooner has Marchant discovered that his unbearably annoying teenage son Luke (Matthew Kane) has stowed away on the trip than a flock of pterodactyls knocks the plane out of the sky and strands the group deep in the jungle, where they’ll find more dangerous dino discoveries than they bargained for.

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The decision to show as many dinosaurs as the paltry budget will allow will undoubtedly please those who aren’t fond of the found footage genre’s tactic of keeping monsters hidden, but it’s ultimately The Dinosaur Project’s biggest problem. When they’re good, found footage movies work expressly because of their subtle approach; natural, improvised acting adds a sense of urgent, visceral realism, while unexplained sounds in the night and fleeting glimpses of unidentified horrors prove much more scary for leaving things to the imagination (and that’s also a great way to obscure the lack of a special effects budget).

While the prehistoric creatures look pretty cool and creepy during an early night-time attack when they’re shrouded by darkness, The Dinosaur Project then ultimately decides to ditch the Jaws/Alien cardinal rule of monster movies (‘Don’t show the monster until the end’) and unveil all its dinosaurs almost immediately without any sense of build-up. The result is not only a movie that never comes close to building any tension at all, but one that quickly and frequently shines an incredibly unflattering light on its wildly uneven and sometimes laughable effects work. It’s easier to overlook clunky CGI in campy Saturday afternoon adventure nonsense like Primeval, but when a film is striving for naturalistic realism, shoddy animated creature effects don’t exactly help sell the illusion, especially when the legendary Mokele Mbembe pops his head out of the water looking like a CGI sock puppet.

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The rather pointless and ineffective found footage framing wouldn’t be so bad if The Dinosaur Project had some plot and character to fall back on, but it’s mostly cobbled together bits stolen from the Jurassic Park trilogy. There’s the unbearably grumpy paleontologist Dr Marchant, who’s a shameless fusion of Jurassic Park’s Alan Grant and Robert Muldoon without the presence, charm or gravitas of either, Marchant’s insufferably annoying kid Luke stows away on the trip (a-la Jeff Goldblum’s daughter in The Lost World) and he’s a dead ringer for the son from Jurassic Park 3 as well, only not remotely as likeable. It’s not hard to see why his estranged, absentee dad avoids him so much considering the first time we meet Luke, he’s unpacked all his father’s luggage merely to rifle through his belongings for no reason other than to be a nosey little douche. The two spend the whole film constantly one-upping each other in the ‘most annoying character’ stakes, to the point where their thinly-drawn family drama falls flat and you just hope they both get eaten.

The film dispatches one of its more likeable and appealing characters far too soon and kills off another so unceremoniously you’ll wonder when or how it happened. The rest of the cast are comprised of lazy, half-sketched stereotypes including – but not limited to – the lazy, slobbish comic relief guy who eats and farts a lot, the “You shouldn’t have come here!” native guide who yammers on endlessly about ancient evils and mystic dangers, and the sketchy, unhinged one (played with such a level of hammy overacting by Sam Rockwell lookalike Peter Brooke that he easily rivals the dinos themselves for the amount of scenery-chewing done). The cast aren’t helped by a clunky screenplay that gives them all their fair share of daft, unbelievable dialogue and inconsistent character – as quickly as Luke does something relatively clever and resourceful to earn points, he’s back to acting like a dumb, stroppy child again – and Matthew Kane is saddled with more than one Heather Donohue “I’m so sorry…” Blair Witch rip-off monologue.

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There are a couple of cool ideas that enliven things a little, like Luke befriending a baby raptor-like dino who he dubs “Crypto”. It’s perhaps quite telling of the script’s lack of character that Crypto instantly has more charm and proves far more likeable than any of the humans, but he’s brought to life by some of the better effects in the film. There’s also a half-clever idea in the group strapping a mini remote camera to Crypto for some dino-POV found footage action, but the shaky script never finds anything to do with the concept, and lazy filmmaking means it yanks you further out of the film, too.

If the found footage camera setup strains credibility for you in better movies, then you’ll certainly scratch your head when they collar the camera around the throat of a dino with a long neck and snout, yet his head never once pops into frame, and it’s probably best not to ponder how these fancy high-tech cameras survive underwater voyages and being tossed down cliffs yet they cut out at the slightest nudge when the filmmakers need to gloss over something (like, puzzlingly, the death of a relatively major character). At the very least, the film is a scenic treat, and the eerily gorgeous South African locations look stunning.

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In the hands of a more capable filmmaker, The Dinosaur Project could’ve been a great little dino-romp, but sadly it squanders its occasionally clever ideas and concept with alarming ease. There’s none of the primal terror of The Blair Witch Project or the tense, visceral thrills of Cloverfield, none of the awe-inspiring spectacle and character of Monsters nor the charm, adventure and humour of Troll Hunter. Lazy direction, a misused central concept, woefully uneven effects and some cringeworthy writing converge to make this a found footage movie that’s better off undiscovered.

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The Dinosaur Project is a fantastic looking film thanks to some beautiful locations. The Blu-ray transfer shows that off wonderfully and in stunning detail, which only serves to highlight the film’s less impressive CG work.

There’s a choice of 2 Channel Linear PCM English audio or an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. It’s a film that makes almost no effort to engineer any scares, so there’s not many ‘jump scare’ stingers or anything, but it delivers clear dialogue and impressive jungle ambiance. There are no subtitles included.

It’s a film unfortunately light on extras, with only the following special features on the disc:

  • Evolution of The Dinosaur Project
  • Trailer

The ‘Evolution of The Dinosaur Project’ is a by-the-numbers behind-the-scenes feature that clocks in at around 24 minutes. There’s a couple of interesting peeks at the logistics of filming a found footage movie, but other than that there’s little of interest. Indicative of the lack of effort that’s gone in, someone’s ‘New Email’ chime has inexplicably made it on to the doc’s soundtrack score a couple of times, which had me instinctively about to click to check my messages until I realised I was nowhere near a computer.

There’s also the film’s trailer, in which literally every single dinosaur money shot is shown, so if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen it all.

The Film:

The Blu-ray:

The Dinosaur Project is out on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from 27th August 2012.
Click here to order the Blu-ray from