This storytelling approach is the main, albeit not too original, feature of the film and is being used as its selling point. The faux-documentary style, complete with shaky-cam, video glitches and wonky angles, isn’t particularly annoying and it doesn’t overstay its welcome thanks to the brief running time of 83 minutes. The only stylistic bother is found in the numerous cuts from one camera to the next and almost as bothersome is the lack of conviction in the approach taken.
There was clearly a lot of effort put into portraying The Dinosaur Project as real (although given the subject matter it would only convince some children, eternal optimists or severely gullible adults). The opening frames state this in no uncertain terms and the difficult believability of the ‘found-footage’ technique is reinforced by the many, many on-screen cameras. Despite all of this though (and the aforementioned stylistic choices), there are some shots that are a little too perfect - too straight, too photogenic, too far removed from the cameras’ actual positions. Given that the frequency of these occurrences destroys the credibility of his efforts, one has to ask director Sid Bennett: “why bother?”
The answer could be of course that it is supposed to add to the suspense and drama of the narrative. Certainly there are some genuine moments of tension and these are probably the film’s greatest assets. The use of the cameras’ viewpoints are, at times, used to great effect to create a foreboding atmosphere where the audience are in the same position of knowledge as the characters. This is definitely a good thing but the scenes are set up in such a way that they could be presented exactly as they are even if the rest of the presentation was removed of its excessive contrivance. The choice to present The Dinosaur Project as reality isn’t a failure (it is executed mostly well) but it definitely takes away as much as, if not more than, it adds.
The other selling point of the film would have to be the topic of the story. The concept of a group of people strolling the deep jungle looking for a prehistoric beast isn’t exactly original but it has potential for both narrative entertainment and some impressive visuals. Unfortunately, this is where the restrictions of the production become apparent. The CG effects are convincing enough but are far from jaw-dropping given that similarly executed shots are now commonplace on TV and in other low budget features. The number of ‘money shots’ is also disappointingly low, even during the final act.
So with the visual side being merely serviceable, it’s up to the story and characters to provide substance. Unfortunately these also have nothing special about them. The script provides no exciting twists and is rife with cliché and poor dialogue. The narrative itself is actually structured fairly well but any potentially impactful moments are brushed aside in the name of realism due to the docu-style editing. There is also some humour to be found and the tone throughout can be said to be consistent.
The characters are probably the weakest element however, being underdeveloped and representing the usual archetypes (reluctant guide, disposable but ultimately heroic comic relief etc). The cast are decent enough in general but, most crucially, the lead character Luke (Matt Kane) is particularly annoying. This is the fault of both script and actor but his existence, as well as the relationship with his father (Richard Dillane, in a role devoid of any likeability), reeks of further cliché and contrivance.
In fairness, The Dinosaur Project doesn’t do many things badly. The central character may be annoying and the script is pretty poor but the film’s biggest fault is that it doesn’t do anything particularly well. The direction, the character beats and the visuals are all well-intentioned but fail to impress. There isn’t anything about this feature, be it technical or artistic, that asks for it to be recommended. So while there are certainly worse ways to spend an hour and a half in front of the big screen, there are, unfortunately for these filmmakers, many better ways as well.