UK Release: 16/02/2016
Directed by: Dean Israelite
Starring: Jonny Weston, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista
Every few years, someone has a bash at the classic sci-fi staple – a time travel movie. And this time around, we get one with a bit of a twist.
Project Almanac asks a simple question – what would you do with your very own time machine? It’s a thought that will have crossed your mind one point or another… But would you use it for good? Would you use it to save the world? Project Almanac shows us exactly what any teenager would do in that situation – use it to win the lottery and get one over on the school bully.
Directed by Dean Israelite, it’s a very simple premise. And perhaps that’s the single most disappointing part about Project Almanac.
David Raskin (played by Jonny Weston) is a 17-year-old aspiring inventor… and in the opening scenes of Project Almanac we’re treated to his MIT application video as he flies a motion-controlled drone around using his hands. It’s all shot on a rather shaky camcorder.
And sadly, that sets the tone for the film. The thing about Project Almanac is that it takes a found footage approach to the notion of time travel. And after a lot of exposition (showing all the hardships David faces on his quest for education) we finally get down to the crux of it all – a group of friends documenting their attempts to assemble a time machine.
Of course, young David didn’t invent the thing himself – no, that would be the honour of his long-dead father, who apparently hid a top-secret DARPA-created time machine underneath the floorboards in the basement of their family home.
Because, you know… who wouldn’t?
Still, the motley crew of all kinds of geek begin to assemble their time machine. And we’re subjected to what feels like several hours of high school antics as they struggle to get it right. Fortunately, there’s a certain amount of chemistry there – so when Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista) continually lark around, at least it’s sometimes amusing.
After what feels like several more hours, the time machine is finally finished. And if you weren’t already sick of the shaky camcorder footage, don’t worry – there’s still plenty to come.
Firing up their time machine, the gang eventually takes a quick trip to the past. But due to the machine’s low battery capacity, they can only manage to travel short ‘distances’. And so, the next portion of the film is obsessed with developing the machine further as David attempt to increase the distance they can jump.
All the while, using the time machine for… well… just messing about, really.
Unfortunately, the film’s rather basic grasp of time travel theory soon begins to unravel… and that’s the least of its worries.
Put simply, Project Almanac makes the mistake of combining various different theories about how time travel works. During their tests of the device, we’re shown that objects which travel backwards through time appear to have always been there – in this case, a toy car that was embedded in the wall of David’s basement.
But then shortly afterwards, we watch his old pal Quinn drawing a smiley face on the back of his past self’s neck… and the face appears in real-time on his own neck, too. Of course, it’s a neat way of visually showing how what they do in the past affects the present.
But surely that smiley face would have been there all along?
Unfortunately, this is a common problem in time travel flicks, when directors choose to ignore the restraints of the rules they have seemingly set themselves. And more often than not, it’s merely a case of wanting to make a cool-looking sequence… like the smiley face.
But the biggest problem is in David himself.
Time and time again, his friends warn him of the pitfalls of time travel… and causality is even mentioned in passing. But the young MIT-wannabe seems to have no concept of the rippling effect of his own actions. And when the timeline begins to replace normal events with catastrophic ones, he’s seemingly dumbfounded.
Oh and he carries on time travelling regardless.
If you ask me, this makes David an entirely unsympathetic lead… and when you’re dealing with this kind of found footage thriller, it become problematic. By the end of the film, I just wasn’t rooting for him to get home. I really wanted him to have to face the consequences of his actions.
But that moment never really came.
There’s a brief glimpse of how his obsession with time travel begins to endanger those he loves… but the film seems to wimp out on the notion rather than delivering a satisfyingly gritty conclusion.
By the end of Project Almanac, David seems to have learned nothing. And it left me wondering – just what was the point of it all?