It took a bit longer for me to make it out to the theater and see Project Almanac than I’d originally planned, but this week I finally got the chance to go see it. As usual – and particularly in the case of a film such as this – the usual warnings about potential spoilers apply. But in this case, I’ll try to keep them to a minimum because it would be far too easy to give away the ending and truly ruin the experience if you are still considering seeing it.
The basic premise of Project Almanac is pretty much covered in the official trailer for the film above, as well as many of the advertisements you’ve probably seen. David Raskin (played by Jonny Weston) is a high school senior with an IQ presumably in the stratospheric range who has been accepted to MIT but can’t afford the tuition. David’s father either died or disappeared ten years earlier during a secretive career with DARPA. Fortunately for David, dad left behind complete plans for how to build a time machine hidden in the basement, along with the nearly magical glass device which acts as this film’s Flux Capacitor to make the premise work. Along with his two geeky friends, his sister and David’s love interest, Jessie, (Sofia Black-D’Elia) the teens set out to construct the machine and launch into the time travel business to enrich their lives and ostensibly help out humanity if they ever get around to it.
The interesting part of the film for me (and what originally attracted me to it) is their handling of the always problematic question of how they would treat time travel and the paradox built into any such story. When you travel back in time and make a change, does that change show up in the future of your own timeline? Does your appearance in the past spin off new, alternate timelines? Project Almanac goes with the former school of thought, and there is the usual suspension of disbelief required to go along with the sometimes fun, yet frequently dark premise and results.
At this point we run into the issue of how much more can be said without totally spoiling the film. I’ll just say that the story is fun and very original in some regards. I was intrigued as to how the characters would deal with the spiraling problems which emerge from their adventures and was able to ignore some of the laughable technical explanations they inserted to make the plot twists work. The dark nature of the story left me with a lot to think about when it was over, but it wasn’t so dismal as to ruin the experience.
With all that said, the movie definitely has some issues. The principal actors have a hard time pulling off being teenagers (Weston is 26 and D’Elia is 23 and, while very youthful, seem a bit seasoned for 17) the motivation for some of the characters’ decisions stretches credulity a bit. (David’s sister apparently has no interest in time travel beyond getting revenge on a girl who bullies her in high school.) The more the butterfly effect spirals out of control and the more problems they cause in the present, the more extreme and ridiculous their attempted solutions to fix things becomes. Perhaps the biggest issue I had with it was the resolution which is reached in the end. I won’t ruin it for you here, but I was left wondering whether the original issues were resolved at all or if we’re meant to conclude that the entire project was a disaster. If that was the intent of the director it was a bit frustrating to no apparent end. And, finally, the film is shot pretty much entirely using the rather tired device of being film recovered from somebody’s personal video camera after the fact. It’s not as shaky and annoying as Blair Witch, but it gets to you after a while.
Project Almanac is rated PG-13 which is about right. It’s fine for kids except for the very young, has some mild language and some very mild sexuality between David and Jessie. (No nudity or anything excessively suggestive.) The special effects are good, but it’s not relying on them as an extravaganza to the point where you couldn’t enjoy it just as well on your TV at home as in the theater. With that in mind, I’m giving Project Almanac a 3.5 out of five on the Ed Morrissey scale.
5 – Full price ticket
4 – Matinee only
3 – Wait for Blu-Ray/DVD/PPV rental or purchase
2 – Watch it when it hits Netflix/cable
1 – Avoid at all costs
It’s still in theaters and might be fun at matinee prices, but you could easily wait to watch it at home.