Dir. Dean Isrealite
Starring: Jonny Weston (David), Sofia Black-D’Elia (Jessie), Sam Lerner (Quinn), Allen Evangelista (Adam), Virginia Gardner (Christina)
I love time travel movies and when I see one that shows even a modicum of promise, I’m on board. Project Almanac had that shimmer of promise, so I looked into this movie. At the end of the day, Project Almanac didn’t really deliver as I hoped. What started as a very interesting science fiction story featuring teens turned into something a bit less interesting as it focused entirely on a romance. At the end of the day, it is all the potential that the movie had that becomes it’s enemy as it fails to fully deliver. What it does do is give us a look that feels genuine rather than slapped together. The characters feel real and their attempt to cover their bases for the time travel aspects were admirable. It is all the potential that the movie has that should be the reason people seek it out.
Potential Spoilers Ahead
Full disclosure: I saw this movie for free in an advance screening.
One should generally be nervous about a movie that has been pushed so far out from it’s original release date. Project Almanac was scheduled to be released on February 28th, 2014, which explains why the entire film kept referencing 2014 as present. It took a long time to find someone who would distribute the film. Many movies get pushed into a limbo and often end up being dropped somewhere with little impact. Project wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t the disaster that deserved being pushed around searching for a release only to be given January. It was watchable, even if it was forgettable.
The initial group of friends comprising of David, his sister Chris, and his best friends Quinn and Adam are enigmatic. David is most certainly the most realized character as the main character of the film. He’s brilliant and quite frankly, gorgeous, but more than anything he’s caring. You really get a chance to get a feel for his character. As fr the others, they aren’t as deep. Quinn is painted as a goof off, while Adam is portrayed as another intelligent guy. His sister is bullied, and the girl he likes ia longed after by many. It is actually Jessie, the girl he likes that doesn’t make quite as much sense. We are told that she is popular, yet we never really see that. In fact in her early appearances, we see her running, eating alone, and going to a party late with one friend. There are no guys clamoring for her other than the MC and no friends flocked to her sides. Possibly the most irritating thing about her character is that she is only there to be a love interest, rather than bringing any real impact to the team. Each of the characters are interesting in their own way, but around the midpoint of the movie, the development of any character other than David and Jessie are left behind.
The stakes in the film didn’t feel as strong as they could have, largely because of the sudden shift to romance. However, that’s not the whole problem. As the group is time traveling, they quickly establish the rules that they are going to follow. They promise that if anything they do throws things out of whack they will go back and fix it. When things do finally are thrown out of whack, we are treated to a series of disasters that don’t really have any impact until the final problem. The first instance of things going wrong when they shouldn’t have is so far removed from David and so low scale on the grand scheme of things that you don’t feel the importance. Yes, it makes perfect sense that the disasters that begin to happen because of the changes that were made would deeply effect David. He felt guilty, but the stakes just didn’t feel high until the end. When David finds out that his attempts to fix things ends up putting one of the group in the hospital, he’s desperate to right his wrongs. However, we don’t get much time to linger with the effects.
One of the biggest downers of the film was the sudden focus on the romance. In the opening 20 minutes there is a strong focus on getting the time machine to work. The group is sorting out problems, speculating and dicking around. It was fun and also extremely refreshing to know that the story wasn’t centered around a romance. It seemed like they had their priorities elsewhere. Yes, there were hints that David liked Jessie, but it didn’t seem to overtake the plot. This abruptly changes and solving some of their more compelling problems are brushed aside for the budding romance between the two. The fact that David desired to go back to see his father before he died is brushed away almost entirely until the end. Then there was the entire bout of stupidity and selfishness surrounding David’s actions that comprised the third act of the film. On a positive note, David and Jessie did at least have some chemistry on screen. This diversion into romance could have been forgiven if it was able to fully commit and make us really fall in love with David and Jessie as a couple. Unfortunately, it didn’t invest us deeply into that relationship enough.
Time travel movies are difficult. There are finite rules that you need to follow down one of two paths. Project Almanac’s attempt at tackling the subject matter wasn’t a disaster, but left open far too many lose ends that we are supposed to gloss over. On their very first jump, they established that the sort of time travel they were dealing with was ultimately Butterfly Effect territory. Every change they made in the past, effected the future. When they accidentally brought a dog from the past back to the future, they found missing dog posters. This is the sort of time travel that we were dealing with. Everything is fluid rather than static. Thus when we reach the climax we see this same effect completely shatter under the pressure. We are delivered a complex series of events that the group was able to trace back to one specific moment. Unfortunately, we are never really given any understanding of how the change (which David further exacerbated) connected to their actions. Thus we have to make assumptions about how to connect. In fact, the entire climax featured things continually going wrong and David had to fix them, but we never got an understanding of why it went wrong and how it was fixed before we moved on. By the end of it all, paradoxes were being created and the rules of time travel were convoluted.
Found footage films have lost much of their luster. There simply have been far too many of them over the past 5 to 10 years. One of the charms and challenges of this style is it’s choppy nature. You are robbed of the whole grasp of the situation in favor of feeling more authentic. The movement in Project Almanac was jarring. The way it was being filmed at times could be distracting. It wasn’t so distracting that you couldn’t get the story. That said, it did nothing new with the medium. They did make the found footage aspect tie into the story, but it was at the sacrifice of not being quite as smooth. There was simply too much shaking and odd angles that detracted from being fully sucked into the film. It kept me at a distance rather than bringing me in. Perhaps if it I wasn’t constantly noticing the style I may not have been so frustrated with the romance plot.
Project Almanac had a lot of potential, and while it didn’t quite live up to it, it didn’t fail miserably. Rather it presented what could have been an interesting story with a good minor subplot and instead made the subplot the sole focus. It was full of ideas and a cast of characters that was interesting to follow even if they weren’t explored as deeply as they could have. Rather than making me long to watch this movie again, I instead wanted to go back and watch Chronicle which was in some ways similar, but more compelling,cohesive story. Project Almanac suffers from just not being memorable enough. It reached for the stars, but fell short. It was the reach that damned it more than anything else. It’s like when you get frustrated at something that is okay because you see it could have been so much more.
What did you think of the movie?