It’s sort of surprising how many time travel movies we’ve been getting in the past couple of weeks. We’ve had the very well made (but not widely seen) “Predestination”. Then we have this movie, “Project Almanac” , and very shortly we will have “Hot Tub Time Machine 2”. The best part is all these films are different in their tones and what they set out to do. Are time travel films making a comeback? Only time will tell.
What isn’t making a comeback is the found footage genre. It’s a genre that was widely popular after the first “Paranormal Activity” was released and exploded it into fame; and it felt like we couldn’t escape the genre. There was a lot of them coming out, and they were all cheap and easy to make a buck on. The trouble is eventually (actually pretty quickly) they are grew stale, boring and predictable. The only breaths of fresh air would be “End of Watch” (which only uses some elements of found footage and isn’t really part of the genre) and “Chronicle”, both of which not horror movies (which was another welcome addition). Still though even with a couple of notable exceptions the genre has been dying but here comes along “Project Almanac” a non- horror found footage movie that looked in a similar vein to “Chronicle”.
Was “Project Almanac” the found footage savior to shed our tears from such train wrecks as “Devil’s Due”, “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” and “V/H/S: Viral”? Well, Yes and no. In one respect “Project Almanac” is a welcome little breath of fresh air after these past few abominations of movies. In another respect it still isn’t all there as a film. “Project Almanac” has many good ideas and some likeable (albeit clichéd) characters; even some thrilling and interesting moments. Still though, the movie’s plot crumbles in on itself with some several gaping plot holes, and the movie’s feels very hindered by the found footage format. Not unbearable to watch, but still not quite good enough.
“Project Almanac” follows a group of friends as they discover one of their fathers (that has now passed away) had at one point invented a time machine. Now this group of highly skilled teens have rebuilt it and started to test it to make all their hopes and dreams come true. Eventually though they realize that traveling in the past creates a butterfly effect for bad things to happen.
In many ways this film is pretty straight forward story. It tells the story well, the pacing is surprisingly sharp and the movie takes it’s time with building up the story. The teens may find the time machine quickly but they don’t travel through time till a good chuck later into the movie. The script takes the time to build up their characters, establish them and get us to care about them. Although the characters are pretty two dimensional cardboard cutout characters, you end up caring about these two dimensional cardboard cutout characters. They are likeable and fun to be around. They act like teenagers without becoming jerks. My problem with a movie like “Project X” are all the characters are unlikeable. Truthfully, they are loud obnoxious, annoying and I could not care less what is happening to them. I actually started rooting against them. In “Project Almanac” I liked the characters, they felt like teenagers and even when they start going back in time to do selfish things, you understood them and still liked them.
As far as time traveling adventures go, this isn’t holy original. Dealing with paradox and the butterfly effect is nothing new, but the movie has enough tricks up its sleeve to avoid the feeling of being derivative. The movie gets tense and even suspenseful at times, you do care what’s going on screen. The trouble the movie falls into is the movie’s own plot.
I said this in my “Predestination” review, with any time travel movie you get some inconsistencies and some events don’t quite make sense if you try to connect the dots from a to b but you have to let some of that go and let the movie have its day. But, when the movie starts to break its own rules it sets up that’s when you have to stop giving the movie it’s fair shake. That’s what “Project Almanac” starts to do. It establishes certain rules in the first third of the movie and then one of the most crucial plot points that later sends a chain of events for the later acts of the movie, breaks one of the biggest rules the movie sets up. This is a crucial moment in the movie, and it breaks the rules so it could only further the plot. The paradox the film tries to set up doesn’t really work either although it seems like a good idea but I personally don’t buy it. Still you could argue it’s one of those time travel things that you have to let go. I am being purposely vague here to avoid spoilers (but I think the point gets across
The last and most curial problem is the formant in which it was filmed. The found footage formant hurts the film severely. There is no purpose for the film to be in this subgenre. At least “Paranormal Activity” had a purpose to be a found footage movie. This movie…has no reason. In fact the movie makes little to no effort to give a reason for why all the characters are filming everything in the first place. Even though I said this is a pretty straight forward time travel adventure the scope of the story is larger than what fits on someone’s Iphone. This movie needed to be able to break free of the restriction of a found footage movie and just be a regular film instead.
“Project Almanac” is all in all a pretty watchable movie. It’s got some likeable characters, some thrilling moments and a few nice tricks up its sleeve. The problem is the movie has a pretty big gaping plot hole in the middle of the movie, and the found footage formant doesn’t match up with the scope of the movie. I ‘d hate to let a few things like that ruin it for me but ultimately it all contributes to its own downfall.