Teen Time Travel Tale Project Almanac Struggles to Take Off
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2015 29 Jan
DVD Release Date: June 9, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: January 30, 2015
Rating: PG-13 (for some language and sexual content)
Genre: Science Fiction
Run Time: 106 min.
Director: Dean Israelite
Cast: Jonny Weston, Sophia Black-D’Elia, Sam Lerner, Alan Evangelista, Amy Landecker, Gary Weeks, Virginia Gardner
Time-travel movies are among the most time-tested (no pun intended) of movie genres, and the characters in Project Almanac are among its biggest fans. As the group discovers and experiments with its own form of what they call "temporal relocation," they name-check the films that have done the concept proud: Looper, the Terminator series, even Timecop. All are modern classics (okay, maybe not Timecop or Terminator Salvation) and most are better than Project Almanac.
That doesn't mean Project Almanac is completely pleasure-free, but one hopes that if the filmmakers were given the chance to go back in time for a do-over, they'd ditch what doesn't work and spend more time streamlining a story that bogs down at crucial moments and lays on the exposition at others.
David (Jonny Weston, Chasing Mavericks) is an aspiring MIT student who spends his days with his good friends Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista), as well as sister Chris (Virginia Gardner), who totes a video camera everywhere the boys go. That's the first inexplicable element of this story, which plays as "found footage" from Chris's incessant recording. The conceit never feels justified, and the boys' encouragement to "tape everything from now on" serves only to draw attention to the most glaring problem with Project Almanac.
Time travel enters the story when the teenage David, while watching an old video of his seventh birthday party, sees the teen version of himself in the background of the footage. It's a similar setup to last year's doppelganger drama Enemy (itself a problematic film, yet one with many more moments of eerie effectiveness), but Project Almanac is nowhere near as dark in its examination of the human condition.
The revelation of the birthday video leads to the discovery of a secret stash in the family basement, with time-travel instructions left by David's father, who died right after David's seventh birthday party. Soon David and his friends are jumping through time—first for an hour or two, then days, weeks and longer. Along for the ride is high-school heartbreaker Jessie (Sophia Black-D’Elia), who finds herself drawn to David’s boundless sense of wonder and desire to experience things he missed earlier in life.
Project Almanac starts as more playful than serious, toying with the notion that we might use time travel for personal pleasures like seeing live music acts or attending the Star Wars premiere in 1977 rather than righting history's great wrongs. But it's precisely in fulfilling one of the teens' mild fantasies that the film—already on shaky footing from its rapid-fire explanation about time travel and its repetitious special effects of spinning, floating objects—falls apart. The key sequence involves a concert during which David misses a moment to declare his love for Jessie, then returns later to that same event to win Jessie's love with a perfectly timed expression of affection. But in doing so, he violate the group's rule to never time-travel on his own.
When the ripple effects from David's solo trips back in time keep complicating things in the present—including a plane crash that kills hundreds of people (yes, Project Almanac goes there)—David's friends shun him, things start to go further awry, and David's increasingly desperate attempts to fix things backfire so badly that the police end up hunting him down. A moment of family reunion late in the film should provide an emotional payoff, but it doesn't gel, leaving an ending with no emotional punch.
Project Almanac isn't terrible, but there's nothing to distinguish it from other found-footage or time-travel films, other than it being below average in both departments. The handheld camerawork's amateur-video aesthetic quickly grows wearisome, as do the film's ideas about how changing the past can have unforeseen ramifications down the road.
Let Project Almanac be a lesson to future filmmakers looking to past time-travel films for inspiration: skip this derivative movie in favor of the better genre films its characters reference. And if you can't justify the found-footage conceit, skip it. Its time has come and gone. The future belongs to more creative approaches to storytelling.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):
- Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; the “f” word; numerous uses of foul language; “what a douche”; David makes sexually suggestive comments about a friend’s mother; a girl says a student will be “screwing” another boy soon; jokes about having sex with numerous girls
- Drinking/Smoking/Drugs: None
- Sex/Nudity: Kissing; flirtatious comments and ogling of teen girls by teen boys; a reference to masturbation; David and Jessie have sex, and we see them in bed afterward (no nudity); a girl removes her top and has a bra on; Jessie gets out of a shower, wrapped in a towel, and shows herself to David, although the camera sees only her towel; cleavage and sensual dancing; a girl asks a boy if he's picturing her naked
- Violence/Crime: Explosions; a boy is hit by a car and injured; a plane crash and descriptions of deaths; David breaks into a school; a bloody hand; police officers point guns at David
- Marriage: David’s mom is a widow, and David wonders about the circumstances surrounding his father’s death when David was a child
- Religion/Morality: David says he won't "play God" by going back in time again to fix a problem; the kids use their time travel advantage to win the lottery, earn better grades at school, and get even with snobbish peers
Publication date: January 29, 2015