Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Project Almanac (2015)

Sometimes, reviewing a movie is easy if it tends towards the extreme.  Even if it’s really bad, that’s something to work with.  What do you do with a mediocre movie?  What do you do with a movie that doesn’t do anything really well?  Project Almanac looked like it had promise.  It was about an MIT hopeful named David and his friends finding a time machine.  I know.  What could go wrong?  It turns out, quite a lot.

The first half of the movie is basically a way of dropping names while trying to get the thing to work and subsequently testing their new Temporal Displacement Device.  You have all the obligatory Terminator/Doctor Who/Back to the Future/whatever references.  They even throw in a Timecop reference for good measure.  Ok.  I can buy that.  (I would have gone with Timecrimes.  But that’s just me.)

At this point, the movie can go one of two ways.  One way is to make history better.  One of the friends says that they have to kill Hitler.  Everyone who has ever invented a time machine knows this.  Instead, they go the other way and try to make their own lives better.  This includes, but is not limited to, winning the lottery.  This is understandable.  David gets into MIT, but doesn’t get the accompanying financial aid that he wanted.

You’d think that it would end there, but they decide to go to Lollapalooza once David gets the device working.  They can go back pretty far, but David knows he can do better.  This is mostly because the movie is predicated upon him and his sister finding a recording of his seventh birthday in which his seventeen-year-old self is seen in a reflection.  This also happens to be the night that their father died.

This raises several interesting questions.  If he was able to go back in time, was he not able to prevent his father’s death?  Why is his shirt stained?  If he knows he’ll be wearing a stained shirt, why not bring a clean one?  The one I was asking was how such an old video camera still had a charge right out of the cardboard box it was sitting in.  David is seventeen, meaning it had been sitting there for ten years.

The problem with using a convention, like time travel or found footage, is that it’s very difficult to add anything to it.  Many movies address meeting yourself, but there are only so many ways you can do this.  You also either have a fixed universe or one with many timelines.  Also, found footage was new and interesting once.  Very few movies have been able to do it well and those that did were ones that didn’t rely on it.  (Lunopolis and The Europa Report are the two I remember liking.)

Neither time travel nor found footage is anything new insofar as movies go.  I found Project Almanac to be a cross between The Butterfly Effect and The Blair Witch Project.  You have five teenagers going around, making a mess of history that they have to undo, and adhering to one rule:  Record everything.  The movie doesn’t really do anything well.  In fact, this is what’s notable to me.  I was entertained for two hours, but I came away from the movie not wanting to recommend it to anyone.  It’s not the kind of movie where I’ll be talking to someone about movies and ask if they’ve seen this.  If you can get it streaming through Netflix, fine.  If not, don’t bother

IMDb page

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