Directed by: Dean Isrealite
Premise: A group of teenagers construct a time machine. They begin leaping backward in time and making little changes to their lives but those alterations have larger repercussions.
What Works: Project Almanac centers on a group of teenage characters who get together and assemble a time machine in their basement. As silly as that premise sounds, the filmmakers generally manage to make it credible. The teens are established as being tech savvy, with the main character admitted to MIT, and the way in which they go about building the machine is given some credibility because it involves trial and error. The teenage characters of Project Almanac are engaging and interesting enough. Each of them is ascribed specific character turf; they are a bit stereotypical but the characters are at least defined well enough that each is distinguishable from the other. Unlike a lot of films centering on teenage characters, the lead actors of Project Almanac actually look and behave like actual late high school adolescents. They are smart but a little naïve in the ways of the world. The film is led by Jonny Weston and the actor does a nice job. His character comes into a relationship with a young woman who is outside of their initial clique, played by Sofia Black-D’Elia, and they make a likable on screen couple. As the story develops, Weston and his friends benefit from time travel as their rank in the school pecking order suddenly increases. But the young inventors find that their temporal activities have unintended consequences and when the characters must finally take responsibility for what they’ve done and face the possibly of giving up the privileges they’ve attained, the film has some effective moments. As a time travel movie, Project Almanac does its premise better than many. The filmmakers smartly limit the power of their time machine—it can only send them back a few days—and they make clever references to other time travel movies like Looper and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
What Doesn’t: Project Almanac is a found footage movie and like a lot of films of this sort the gimmick is forced. Certain scenes, such as the experiments, work well in the first person style and the special effects are done convincingly within the handheld camera work. But for most of the movie the documentary style makes no sense. The format forces the filmmakers into absurd situations such as scenes of the high school students videoing themselves taking a physics test. The found footage format also creates a gaping plot hole. The time travel device causes electronic equipment to malfunction but for some reason the teenagers’ cameras work just fine. These inconsistencies and the incredulous use of the handheld footage makes the format of the movie distracting. Project Almanac would have worked much better if it had included some found footage but otherwise told its story from a conventionally omniscient point of view. The found footage of Project Almanac is further distracting because the middle of the movie is so light on plot. In a traditional three-act story structure the middle is usually the most interesting part but the body of Project Almanac is filler in which the teens get back at people who bullied them or go on a vacation in the middle of the school day. Together with the found footage format, the middle of Project Almanac plays like the Vines and Youtube videos that teenagers make on spring break and it’s about as compelling. The film picks up in the ending but the payoff isn’t as dramatic as it’s clearly intended to be and the final twist cheats its main character out of what he was supposed to learn from all of this.
Bottom Line: As a film directed at the youth market, Project Almanac is an acceptable sci-fi movie. For older viewers, Project Almanac is a frustrating film because it possesses the potential to be a much better movie than it is.
Episode: #528 (February 8, 2015)