Confession time: I’m a sucker for stories about time travel. To the point, perhaps, where I’m willing to go see a movie for the intrigue of this premise alone rather than stopping to think about whether it’s actually going to be any good at doing it. Had I done adequate research on Project Almanac beforehand, even so little as to glance at its Wikipedia page, I would have seen that the infamous Michael Bay was co-producer and such dubious suspicions regarding its quality would have been raised. Needless to say in this case, these doubts would not have been unfounded.
The time for impressing audiences with the ‘found footage’ idea (where the entire film is shot from the perspective of a handheld video camera) is also ending. This idea works in certain contexts; if you’re shooting a small scale, low budget movie (as in the case of Paranormal Activity) or want to make your big budget Hollywood movie seem down to earth (J.J. Abrams’ Cloverfield comes to mind), it can help add an authentic realism and creative twist to an otherwise unoriginal premise. This is undoubtedly what Project Almanac was aiming for, yet it quickly falls flat when you realise both the director and main actors are too busy thinking they’re being very clever to actually put together a genuinely clever experience.
There’s a certain smugness running through the movie that smacks of a team who thought they had some sort of post-modern masterpiece on their hands before ever getting down to work on it. References to Facebook and Twitter are thrown in not because they’re relevant, but because the filmmakers are trying to relate to a certain demographic (a nice way of saying they’re subtly begging you to like them, or genuinely think they’re being cool – I can’t decide which).
To their credit, the concept of time travel is initially approached somewhat scientifically, the main character an engineering genius who’s just received an offer from MIT. But while it seems some decent thought went into the theoretical side of things, this is ultimately shown to be only a surface-level investment by a film that cares more about appealing to the casual viewer.
Below that surface, once one looks beyond the special effects the film soon defaults to in order to prevent its audience from thinking too much, you see that it’s all smoke and mirrors. Project Almanac is not so interested in the actual scientific process of time travel; rather it wants to engage the teenage audience represented by its main cast. One that hopefully doesn’t ask too many questions about the gaping holes in its plot.
Sometimes characters are able to meet their past selves (which is apparently only paradox-infusing when their past selves see them – touching them is fine); other times their past selves conveniently disappear. There’s a particularly confusing experience when one of the characters travels back to a time the group had already travelled back to, three months prior (which technically means there would be three of him at that point in time, right?). Changing his interaction with another member of the group there appears to affect the timeline of the three months following in that character’s personal life, despite the fact that the second iterations (or the first future versions of the original ones) immediately travelled back to their own timeline first time around, and therefore didn’t experience that three months in the first place because they had already done so before travelling back. Oh, and the second iteration of that character who originally travelled back first time around? We’re not supposed to think about him.
I guess we’re not really supposed to think like this in general when dealing with this type of narrative right? Even trying to get your head around any inevitably convoluted time travel plot leads to the kind of confusing paragraph I just wrote. But it still illustrates that Project Almanac doesn’t care much for details when those details become too hard to maintain. Compare this to Shane Carruth’s Primer (2004), perhaps the most scientifically accurate (but no less hard to follow) time travel film ever made. There’s no question for me which of these films I enjoyed more, but perhaps someone who doesn’t care as much for detail will feel differently.
That’s what it comes down to in the end. If you enjoyed previous Michael Bay films, such as the Transformers series in particular, you probably won’t be too bothered about giving your money to this one. You may even enjoy it. I didn’t.
2 / 10