Project Almanac (spoiler-free)
Cert: 12A / 106 mins / Dir. Dean Israelite / Trailer
This is a spoiler-free review of the film. If you've watched Project Almanac and would like to read a 2,000 word deconstruction of why its time-travel mechanism is inherently broken, I've written one here. Thanks!
An uneasy feeling passed over the audience in Screen 4 on Friday afternoon, as the first two trailers in front of a hesitantly-anticipated time-travel movie turned out to be for Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (an unwarranted sequel to an affable, if pointless, second-tier frat-pack comedy) and Terminator Genisys (an unwarranted reboot/sequel to a series which should probably have just stopped after the second film, to be fair). Were the ads for these dodgy spin-offs supposed to be a pre-emptive strike at a restless audience? 'Hey, no matter how shit the film turns out to be, you can always look forward to the cinematic beige-wallpaper of Rob Corddry and Jason Clarke in the other time-travel flicks this year!' Or were the trailers a soft target for the film to lord it over? 'Hey, never mind their tired old middle-aged bullshit; this here is going to be REAL time-travel with kids like YOU!' Neither was an appealing proposition, frankly.
So, Project Almanac follows a group of science-nerd friends as they discover the plans to make a time-machine, plus an indicator that they're destined to see it through to completion. As the group travel to various points in the past, their changes create ripples which change the present they return to, and they soon have to formulate a plan to restore the integrity of the timeline. Because naturally, the first thing you'd do when using your time-machine for the first time is knowingly break the first rule of time-travel…
Sounds so-so, right? Well for the most part it's perfectly adequate, if undemanding, fare. The origin of the time-machine is sketched out with enough detail to suggest that it's plausible in-movie, but vaguely enough to avoid explaining how it would actually work*1. 'The Rules' and their logistics, however, are a even less rigorous, and will be the subject of another review-post full of spoilers and complaining. The story as a whole is a lot more accomplished than the film itself, despite the script's frequent assurances that it knows what it's talking about. I have neither the qualifications nor experience to call-out the pseudo-scientific bullshit thrown at the camera in the 'technical' scenes, but I've seen enough movies to be able to smell a mile away.
The biggest problem for me, though, was the camera-work. The opening "MTV Films" ident should have been a warning, but the whole movie is presented as found-footage, meaning everything is shot in messy, juddery first-person. The film's opening scenes are shot on our hero's sister's cellphone (which has cinema-grade resolution for obvious reasons), with much of the footage switching to the video camera they discover in the loft (and to be honest, the most unbelievable aspect of the film is that David's father owns a video camera which maintains its battery charge-level after lying untouched for ten years. Mind needs topping up after a couple of days). Aside from the horrible, horrible sight of handheld video being projected on a cinema screen, the problem is that it doesn't need to be presented that way. Other than a plot device which sees the characters watch the footage they've shot, there's no reason at all for the audience to be watching it through their digital devices.
And while I'm on, 1) the camera used to remotely film the 'before the world ends' scene wouldn't have picked up the dialogue across a festival-field, and 2) how come when David's sister Christina puts the camera down so that they can all be in-shot together, the camera keeps swaying like it's still being hand-held? If you can't do something properly, don't do it at all.
Elsewhere, the Project Almanac features plenty of time-travel references and in-jokes. Doctor Who is mentioned in the script, and at one point the gang are researching the technicalities of their project by watching Bill & Ted. Back To The Future doesn't get a namecheck, but the film does feature a red toy car, a blackboard in the workshop and a struggle-to-connect-the-cables homage. You can't say the film's not self-aware, at least. Although I know I'm a middle-aged man when a movie's visual illustration of "OMG you're in the PAST!" is everyone walking around using flip-phones…
But despite all my moaning (and I assure you, there's more of that to come), I did quite enjoy it. An interesting experiment even if it can't be classified as an outright success, and best filed alongside Chronicle.
If you're a fan of time-travel movies in general, you'll at least get some entertainment out of Project Almanac. If you're a fan of structured storytelling and coherent scripting, maybe just watch Back To The Future again?
Cheap Tuesday / Orange Wednesday.
Rent it. The causality is so inconsistent that it'll fry your brain if you attempt to re-watch the film.
Don't know I'm afraid as this was the first time I'd met the young cast.
Not quite, but it has a bloody good stab at it.
There isn't, but there is a boot-shot.
Chief time-meddler David is played by Jonny Weston, who also starred in Taken 3 with Qui-Gon Jinn himself, Liam Neeson.
*1 It's to Project Almanac's credit that it doesn't explain how the time machine actually works. Although to be fair, it has a hard enough job just explaining how time works, so…
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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