“Project Almanac” is a good reason to catch up on your reading this winter
As I approach my thirty-third year on this Earth, it seems an interest in youth culture has finally passed me by. I suppose it’s inevitable, although I could argue that my participation in it was marginal at best even in my teens and early twenties, and almost entirely peer influenced.
Everyone reaches this point eventually. It’s a time when popular music sounds more like noise, when easy philosophies wear thin, and the concerns of the young seem increasingly trivial. Living is a process of experience, and the more a person experiences, the less satisfying simplicity becomes. Still, much of film is aimed at the young and ignorant, or those with limited imaginations.
Film is capable of appealing to both the thoughtful and the thoughtless—and one group buys more movie tickets than the other. Hence, a film like “Project Almanac” gets made and released widely. Produced by Michael Bay and MTV pictures, “Project Almanac“ is what happens between January and May. Oscar season is over, summer blockbusters aren’t quite here and the desert is endless and miserable. It’s a time to catch up on your reading or to look for any good films you might have missed from the previous year.
Daniel Raskin (Jonny Weston) wants to go to MIT. We know this because the film begins with his video application, where he controls a drone with his fingers using a remote technology he apparently developed between classes at what appears to be the most well-funded public school in Atlanta. (As an interesting side note, even though the film allegedly takes place in Georgia and was filmed there in 2013, none of the main actors have even a hint of a Southern accent.)
At any rate, Daniel soon is accepted to the school—only to find out that they are only offering a $5,000 scholarship. Having never heard of a FAFSA, Daniel’s mother immediately sells their house to fund his education, while Daniel and his irrelevant and interchangeable friends inadvertently discover plans for a time machine buried in the basement.
If this seems sudden or inexplicable, “Project Almanac” is not the film for you. What follows is a series of teenage wish fulfillment fantasies involving time travel, like punishing a bully or acing a presentation or going to Lollapalooza during fifth period.
These actions supposedly cause a Ray Bradbury-esque change in history, but none of the effects are sufficiently explained, or indeed, even worth mentioning. Each scene jumps from one nonsensical action to the next without any reason, save making sure the movie reaches a contrived and pedestrian conclusion.
There might have been a worthwhile movie in the mess that is “Project Almanac,” but any narrative coherence is lost due to it being presented as “found footage.” While this style is meant to add to the verisimilitude of the story, in fact it makes the film nearly unwatchable.
For the story to be told, the film needs the camera to be constantly on, at all times, even when it isn’t clear who is filming who, especially during the tender emotional scenes between starry-eyed teens.
The shakiness of the camera makes it hard to focus on the action and even harder to connect with the characters. This isn’t to say that the characters have much to connect to. They are a collection of clichés, a cavalcade of teenage angst and anxiety. The characters believe that having a girlfriend/boyfriend is very, very important and so is getting people to like you by giving them stuff. In addition, all actions are justifiable so long as no one you like gets hurt and you learn nothing in the process.
The time-travel theories presented in the film are less believable and coherent than anything found in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”—it’s almost as if the filmmakers wrote the titles of every time-travel movie ever made on slips of paper, dropped them in a hat, drew them out at random, and combined them into the stupidest script they could imagine.
Of course, this film isn’t aimed at me. It’s aimed at teenagers who think “Looper” is a classic time-travel movie. To that end, the film is successful because the target audience is too busy awkwardly groping each other in the dark to pay attention to the plot.
For those of us who no longer count bases, “Project Almanac” is simply a waste of time and resources.