This teen-based drama plays like a found footage version of The Butterfly Effect
The Blair Witch Project has a lot to answer for by creating a trend for found-footage movies that continues to this very day.The latest entry in this sub-genre is Project Almanac which involves a bunch of teens who discover a temporal displacement device in their basement and start messing round with time travel. The film is very reminiscent of Chronicle in terms of its approach, except that was a found-footage film about teens discovering super-powers. Needless to say, all this messing around in the past soon starts causing problems in the present and thus Project Almanac quickly turns into a found-footage version of The Butterfly Effect. The plot centres on a group of teenage friends, one of whom - David - is a bit of a science whizz.
When he discovers that his mother has to sell their house in order to pay for his tuition at MIT, David roots around in the attic for any ideas he could submit as part of last ditch attempt to get a scholarship. It turns out that his deceased father was a bit of an inventor and he's hoping for some inspiration. Instead he finds his father's old video camera, which had last been used to record his seventh birthday. Whilst looking at the recording he notices someone in the background of one shot and realises that it's his seventeen year-old self. So begins an investigation that leads to the discovery of a time machine hidden in the basement.
That's the basic setup and, in fairness to the film, it at least spends a reasonable amount of its running time establishing the characters as they work out how to use the temporal displacement device. So that means calculating how you control it and finding a way of porting ten-year old technology over to an iPhone. They also need to power the device and again the film actually creates a degree of realism by showing how the teenagers go from a series of connected batteries to a Toyota Prius to something a bit more portable.
Of course there are always unanswered questions, such as how come the battery on the ten-year old video camera was still charged and, perhaps more importantly, what exactly was a top secret military project doing in the basement. However the discovery of the seventeen year-old David in his own birthday party video is actually quite fun and establishes a degree of predestination within the overall plot. There's a sense of anticipation as you wait to discover how exactly David ends up at his seventh birthday party and why.
The gang's decision to film all their experiments at least gives some credence to the found-footage concept but ultimately this approach hampers the film's dramatic arc and becomes annoying very quickly. Whilst you can wear Go-Pros as a way of creating better point of view shots, a lot of the footage is still meant to be created by someone holding a camera. This means that they have to conveniently be filming certain key events and also not just drop the camera and run when there's trouble. It's a shame as the film has some interesting ideas and would definitely have benefited from being shot in a more conventional manner.
Whilst hardly original, the film is fun and has some interesting ideas but is let down by a weak ending.
Project Almanac was produced by Michael Bay, so no one's expecting anything too intelligent but the film does at least try to approach its time-travel plot with a degree of veracity. The group agree to only ever time jump together, in order to stop anyone from doing anything silly in the past. They also film all their jumps, not only to justify the found-footage concept, but also so that if they do accidentally change anything they can possibly correct it. They use a toy car as a test subject, which is a nice nod to Back to the Future and they initially only jump back twenty four hours before gradually going further.
The film restricts how far they can jump back in time by initially limiting the power supply but, given we already know that David goes back ten years, it's only a matter of time before that impediment is circumvented. As with any time travel movie you can go insane trying to think about the implications of their actions and possible paradoxes. However if a film can stay true to its own set of internal rules, then you can forget any illogical plot holes and just enjoy the ride. To a large part Project Almanac manages to do this, although it could have had more fun with the time travel concept and it's let down by a weak ending.
Still the film makes a decent enough debut for director Dean Israelite and writers Jason Harry Pagan and Andrew Deutschman and they're smart enough to tip their hat to other time travel films. Aside from the toy car there's another reference to the Back to the Future movies when David tries to calculate the implications of the time jumps on a black board. Although the reason the time displacement device is referred to as Project Almanac is never mentioned, we hope it's a nod to Gray's Sports Almanac from Back to the Future Part II.
Other time travel movies that get a mention include Looper and the Bill and Ted films, whilst there's also a sequence that's a direct homage to Groundhog Day. However the film's most obvious influence is The Butterfly Effect and if David and his friends were more familiar with it perhaps they could have caused less problems for themselves. The young cast of unknowns are quite good in their stereotypical roles and although some of the acting to camera doesn't quite ring true, they generally manage to capture the excitement and fear of the situations in which they find themselves.
Project Almanac is a fun time travel movie that, whilst not exactly original, does at least have some interesting ideas. However the film is ultimately disappointing because it doesn't take full advantage of its premise, its ending is weak and the found-footage format gets annoying after a while.
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