Can someone in Hollywood bring something new to the time travel genre? Director Dean Israelite definitely tried with the found footage film Project Almanac.
The movie focuses on David Raskin, played by Jonny Weston. He has aspirations to get into MIT, and gets accepted. However, he does not get the full scholarship to go so he cannot afford tuition. Not to be denied, he decides that if he can find some of the devices that his genius father created, he might be able to acquire an additional scholarship.
While looking through the attic, he finds an old video camera with a tape of his seventh birthday party. To his surprise, in the background of the movie, he sees a second, 17-year-old version of himself headed toward the basement of his house. While down there, he finds the plans to build a time machine, and he and his friends complete it. What happens after that is, sadly, a not fully flushed out series of events that, while potentially intriguing, fail to live up to the film’s potential.
Perhaps my biggest complaint is with the characters themselves and their naïveté. Whether it’s as a result of just being young or out of contrivance for the film is impossible to determine. For example, while constructing the time machine, all of his friends begin to speculate on all of the things that they would love to do; such as killing Hitler before his rise to power, going to Woodstock, etc. However, David explains to them that all of this is impossible, because the time machine can only take them back three weeks. Three weeks; despite the fact that the only reason they found the machine and are eventually able to build it in the first place is because they saw an image of David clearly ten years in the past.
To the film’s credit though, it was a fairly astute and accurate representation of what, more than likely, teenagers would do if they had knowledge of the future. One of them uses it so that he can pass his oral chemistry final and not have to repeat his senior year. One of them uses it to get revenge on the girl who had been picking on her for so much of their high school lives. And, of course, they use it to buy a lottery ticket to attempt to increase their wealth, which actually results in a mildly entertaining twist. What’s more, prior to using the time machine, they actually watch a series of other time travel movies so they can note which pitfalls to avoid, and implement a series of rules to abide by; such as no traveling alone. Of course, it is only all the more frustrating when they eventually deviate from said rules, beginning their eventual spiral.
The found footage aspect of this movie only truly works in certain points. One of the rules for time travel they implement is that all of them are going to record all of their jumps so that they can make note of everything they did, so that if something gets messed up they will know what to fix and how – a very genius idea, and a novel approach. Unfortunately, this does not account for footage of David watching said recordings, nor of any of their actions prior to the completion of the time machine other than a quirky member of the group.
Project Almanac works on a lot of levels. It takes a somewhat realistic perspective to the creation of a time machine while doing enough to keep it in the realm of fantasy, and it demonstrates a very real exposé on how teenagers would handle such power, as well as showing legitimate growth and development of said characters. However, there are a lot of aspects of time travel that aren’t touched on, both as a limitation presented by being a found footage film as well as the limited scope of understanding of its central characters that serve as a significant detriment to the film.
As a result, the audience gets a movie that isn’t bold enough to be original enough, and as such is left wishing they had seen superior movies about time travel. The amount of emotion elicited by the central characters does make it a movie worth seeing; however, there just isn’t enough here to really warrant a high recommendation.
In theaters, Jan. 30th. Watch the trailer.