On the Silver Screen – Project Almanac
Dean Israelite’s found footage time travel movie Project Alamanac tells us what might happen if a group of American high school students were able to build and use a time machine.
I’ll start by saying this, I’m probably not the intended audience for this film judging by what I saw. It appears that this film is aimed at kids/teenagers somewhere between 12 and 18 rather than bloggers in their mid 20s who tear these films apart for kicks.
Having said that, aiming a film at a particular age bracket is no excuse for the rampant stupidity that makes up that film. The story follows David Raskin (Jonny Weston), a super intelligent high school kid who has just been accepted to MIT. A lack of financial assistance stands between him and his dream so he has to prove his worth for a scholarship or he won’t get to go. David looks around his deceased dad’s old stuff looking for inspiration for an invention that will get him noticed and discovers the plans for a time machine. He and his friends build it then chaos ensues.
Time travel as a concept is always a tough one because it can result in some severe plotholes that break the film if not handled carefully. Project Almanac is the sort of film that really doesn’t care about plotholes. The time travel rules are so wildly inconsistent that it just becomes too confusing to be enjoyable. One minute the film goes down the route of everything happening because it has already happened and the next the story is all about changing the past. Which is it? You can’t have both and expect to have something that makes sense.
The characters are all completely one note as well as being completely unlikeable. I might be able to forgive some of the logical issues if the characters had been the least bit compelling but they are all terrible. I would say that David is the most irritating but that’s probably just because we see more of him. For a genius he’s completely lacking in anything resembling common sense. He allows his adolescent crush on Jessie (Sophia Black D’Elia) to endanger the fabric of spacetime and doesn’t seem to really care about the consequences until really late in the game.
Beyond David and his crush the cast consists of his annoying sister Christina (Virgina Gardner), resident class idiot Quinn (Sam Lerner) and the nerdy -but not quite as smart- Adam (Allen Evangelista). Together they make up the most annoying collection of characters in recent memory. The dialogue is so nauseating that it’s impossible to become invested in anything they are doing or saying and there is little more to them than the brief descriptions I noted.
The plot (such as it is) is utterly ridiculous. In fairness it starts off fairly well with the pure intention of trying to save money to go to college and come up with something innovative to get there but the setup takes forever with entirely too much time spent on the trial and error phase of the time machine. By the time the story gets to the time travel I was too bored to care. The film could have recovered if it was used well but it wasn’t. They use it in the most ridiculous ways such as passing a test through tedious repetition, getting revenge on a bully and going to a concert. Time travel mainstays like winning the lottery are also included but none of it comes across as at all interesting.
I’ve mentioned the terrible dialogue above but it can’t be overstated how awful it is. Attempts at a normal teenage conversation come across as completely unrealistic and the script often descends into tiresome exposition as the smarter characters say things and then have to dumb it down for the less smart characters. The worst thing about it is that the “smart” parts of the dialogue don’t come across as all that clever so that only works if everyone else are complete morons. In fairness that part is fairly believable. The characters also constantly reference other time travel movies which does little more than remind me of better films -yes, even Time Cop– that I would rather be watching.
As you might expect the complications arise and the script toys with the moral implications of being able to change the past but it never reaches a level above superficial. By the time the film reaches the third act all momentum has been lost and the unintersting characters make it impossible to care about what happens to them.
Other than that the film suffers from the same problems that every other found footage film has. Namely a camera that can never sit still and characters who insist on filming absolutely everything no matter how inane an event it is. Seriously, Christina films absolutely everything and it seems utterly ridiculous.
A complete wasted opportunity that manages to make time travel seem boring. The film has almost no redeeming features beyond a fairly well executed beginning that sets up the personal stakes for the protagonist quite well.
Too much time is spent on the trial and error phase of the time machine that when time travel finally does happen it’s a little boring. Some really uninspiring ideas around what to do with the opportunities it presents bring it all down even further.
What makes it worse is that all of the characters are unlikeable with David (the protagonist) exhibiting nothing in the way of common sense and repeatedly does the same stupid things while expecting different results. Any chance I had in emotional investment in these characters was destroyed by dialogue that was just painful to listen to.
A lack of consideration for the individual time travel rules really kills this film as well. One minute it was all about repeating what had already happened and the next the past could be changed with no attempt to reconcile the two. These rules aren’t compatible so don’t fit together.
Couple this with the standard found footage issues such as the question of why all of this inane stuff is being filmed as well as shaky camera movements and you have a complete recipe for one to be avoided.