Calling all procrastinating time travelers! Read this review of “Project Almanac” today tomorrow!
Like most of you reading this I will bet, my introduction to the ever-so-popular science fiction concept of time travel was the Back to the Future film series. Thanks to the imagination and excitement that trilogy brought to my life, as well as the illustrated adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine my mother bought for me as a gift, time travel quickly became one of my favorite subjects to think about while putting off science homework. I also have Back to the Future to thank for my unrealistic expectations of what high school would be like. Boy was I silly to think that by age 18 I’d have a girlfriend, sick skateboarding skills, superb traffic navigation skills, a mad scientist for a best friend, crack shot skills at Wild Gunman, Dennis the Menace’s mother as my mother, a high tardiness record (wait, that one’s actually true), and the ability to perform a new and improved cover of “Johnny B. Goode.” Only the rich kids could afford those things.
Like the blockbuster that influenced it, this new time-travel adventure titled Project Almanac is also set in high school. David Raskin (Jonny Weston) is the leader of a student pack that documents their science experiments with a camcorder and then submits the videos to prestigious technological universities. There is no Doc Brown aiding these kids. They have plenty of brilliance within themselves in spite of the typical teenage blues kicking in now and then. David’s latest invention: a hand remote-controlled aircraft, impresses the Massachusetts Institute of Technology admissions office enough to grant him an acceptance letter. But unfortunately, the scholarship necessary for paying tuition was not included. Now dismayed and desperate, David searches through his late father’s (an inventor himself) belongings in the hope of finding a link that can help him create something revolutionary and convince MIT to reconsider their scholarship snub. He stumbles upon an old video camera along with a recording of his own seventh birthday party. The footage contains something shocking and unexplainable: a brief shot of David at his current age.
Under the basement’s floorboards, David and his four friends uncover the blueprint for something that might explain how that miracle came to be: unfinished plans for building a time machine. A series of trial-and-errors later, the gang obtains the power to travel back to any point in the past, as often as their stolen supply of hydrogen canisters allow.
What to do with this power? There are of course the obvious options. Assassinate Hitler, warn everyone about 9/11, or scare the Puritans. But the movie is honest here. Make life awesome first! The gang’s first few “jumps” are self-serving. The unlucky friend travels back with winning lottery numbers to become rich. The academically-challenged friend retakes the same chemistry quiz over and over again Groundhog Day-style until he saves his report card (my personal favorite scene). And the bullied friend uses the element of surprise to turn the tables against her tormentors.
It’s not until a fateful trip to Lollapalooza when David first realizes the dangerous ramifications his golden ticket potentially holds. Upon realizing that he blew his chance to win the affection of his crush Jessie (Sofia Black D’Elia), David jumps back in time alone (without notifying the others) to correct his error. Doing so causes a devastating ripple effect in the timeline with five-digit casualties. David continues to jump alone to fix unwelcome consequences and keeps failing to make the situation acceptable…until there is one last remaining hope. Stop the time machine from ever being built and kiss MIT goodbye.
Project Almanac tells its story using the divisive “found footage” style. While many films of this type use the gimmick for few reasons other than to be different, there’s a lot of sense in using it here. David wants all of his exploits, study, obstacles, and genius documented on camera for the MIT professors to see. After all, what science foundation would pass up the chance to be associated with the inventor of time travel? It frustrates me however to report that the movie cheats with the found footage like crazy. Slow-motion shots heighten the nail-biting tension. (Who is conveniently there to press that button?) Action close to the camera is muted while dialogue from far away is picked up clearly. (Don’t tell me the camera operator carried a boom microphone everywhere too.) Shots cut to different angles in the middle of action and dialogue, even though we’re supposed to be watching everything from the lens of only one camera. (This could only make sense if David had already discovered how to teleport, in which case why is he chasing this time travel nonsense when the revolutionary discovery he’s been looking for is already there?!) And then there are the logic questions such as “Why would you film yourself breaking and entering into a school to steal their equipment?” Does illegal activity look good on a college application? Did none of these kids ever watch a courtroom drama in their lives? (Hint: hide/destroy the evidence!)
The movie’s idea of time travel laws are questionable too. Yeah yeah, time travel isn’t real, so how would I know, right? But things like this are in sore need of explanation: A stowaway dog accompanies the gang on their first jump. As they tour around the neighborhood of yesterday, they see “Lost Dog” notices placed on telephone poles. Why would the dog be considered missing in the past if it disappeared in the future? Shouldn’t it also follow that the kids are missing too and there should be search parties for them as well? The laws also fail to cover how the time travelers can repeatedly revisit the same spot without encountering their own selves.
The flaws are plentiful as you can see, but none are deal-breaking. Project Almanac earns credit for delivering the popcorn thrills it promises. Aside from the lengthy trial-and-error machine test sequence, the story is well-paced and knows how to up the stakes while the viewer is off-guard. There’s also a thoughtful reminder about how the failure to be alert at the right moments can cost us some of life’s greatest things. David’s relationship with Jessie teaches him too late how to make each new situation count.
The story finishes strong with a re-visitation of what came before – this time with new enlightenment. The overall experience is a fun watch, but don’t set your hopes for another Back to the Future quality classic. Like most of you reading this I will bet, my introduction to the ever-so-popular science fiction concept of time travel was the Back to the Future film series. Thanks to the imagination and excitement that trilogy brought to my life, as well as the illustrated adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine my mother bought for me as a gift, time travel quickly became one of my favorite scientific subjects to think about while putting off science homework. I also have Back to the Future to thank for my unrealistic expectations of what high school would be like. Boy was I silly to think that by age 18 I’d have a girlfriend, sick skateboarding skills, superb traffic navigation skills, a mad scientist for a best friend, crack shot skills at Wild Gu……..
None of you will ever realize it, but I just saved the world.
Premise: 8 (out of 10)
Characters: 7 (out of 10) (Less cliche than you’d think.)
Plot: 4 (out of 10)
Style: 7 (out of 10)
Thrills: 8 (out of 10)
8:00 AM: Asleep
9:00 AM: Asleep
10:00 AM: Asleep
11:00 AM: Asleep
11:48 AM: Rolls over, checks the time, realizes he’s almost three hours late for wo…LATE FOR WORK!!??
11:49 AM: Panics
12:02 PM: Still Panicking
12: 20 PM: Begins building time machine
7:15 PM: Finishes time machine
7:18 PM: Enters time machine
8:00 AM: Dumps bucket of ice on past self to wake past self up
8:05 AM: Donates five dollars to the ALS Association
8:10: Figures he might as well kill Hitler while he’s at it
Overall: 6 (out of 10)