Time travel never seemed so boring
First Posted: 2/2/2015
When it comes down to it, good time travel movies aren’t really about time travel as much as they’re about distracting the audience. Good time travel movies realize they’ll never be able to fill in every plot-hole that is already built into its premise so they ensure the film moves so quickly, you’re never given a chance to reflect on how ridiculous it really is. Good time travel movies know enough to bang the filmic equivalent of a garbage can lid and tell you to, “look over there” as they make you laugh, gasp or present a future in which a familiar face is buried under mounds of unconvincing old-age makeup. Good time travel movies never make you scream, “This is bullshit” as you storm out of the theater. Instead, they make you say, “Ha, ha. Yeah, that movie was bullshit. But that Biff Tannen was quite the character” days later as you’re sipping cocoa in a large overstuffed leather chair presumably inside a Thomas Kinkade painting.
“Project Almanac” is not a good time travel movie because it doesn’t seem particularly interested in distracting you. Its glacial pacing, generic characters and derivative storyline (it’s basically a cheaper, less fun “Chronicle”) all seem to indicate that the filmmakers wanted the audience to fall headfirst into the gaping, mile wide plot-hole that passes for story, here. To start with, “Project Almanac” is based on one of the flimsiest; ‘oh, come on’ eliciting premises in film history: while watching camcorder footage of his seventh birthday party, a precocious teenage genius (Johnny Weston) is convinced that an obscure, barely visible figure in the background is his modern-day self. Apart from those who must deal with the unending shrieks of the bad, bad ghosts that live inside of their brains, who would ever jump to that conclusion? Especially when that figure is just an infinitesimal blur that can only be seen if you pause the footage right at the exact moment for whatever reason. Nonetheless, this unlikely discovery leads to another even more unlikely discovery: Weston’s absentee father has the parts and blueprints for a working time machine. From there, Weston and his pals and gals go about building a time machine.
For unexplained reasons, “Project Almanac” feels compelled to walk us through its entire time machine creation process. Over an hour’s worth of screen time is spent on watching characters shop for parts at Wal-Mart, steal hydrogen out of their high school science lab and eventually place their time machine through a series of vigorous field tests. Why is this here? Who wanted this? Imagine if most of “Back to the Future’s” running time revolved around Doc Brown as he traveled around used car lots trying to find a DeLorean or his various shady dealings with Libyan terrorists (actually, on second thought, that would have made a pretty amazing prequel). Who cares?
Eventually, almost as an afterthought, the time travel portion of our time travel movie finally kicks in with Weston and his quirkily quool outsiders using their time machine to settle petty scores, pass chemistry tests and hang out backstage with Imagine Dragons at Lollapalooza. However, their actions carry indirect, unclear consequences as they’re punished for their various time crimes even though you would think listening and being forced to interact with members of Imagine Dragons would be punishment enough. It’s up to Weston to finally go back to his seventh birthday and destroy the contraption in an ending that will make you go Huh? Buh? Wha? I don’t – Buh?
Reportedly, “Project Almanac” was supposed to be released in June of last year but was sidetracked by a series of lengthy reshoots. Because of this, it would be easy to blame the film’s failure on nervous, studio executives. It would also explain why a film that’s supposed to be raw, unedited footage would contain a few musical montages or a Matrix-y, bullet-time sequence as well as an inexplicable (but happy) ending that implies what would have happened if Terry Gilliam took the studio’s notes on “12 Monkeys” seriously. However, “Project Almanac’s” problems run deeper than mere reshoots and seems to have existed during the early scripting stages. For example, why are five people going back in time less dangerous and complicated than one person going back in time? If you kept going back to the same moment in time several times, wouldn’t you keep running into multiple versions of yourself? None of this explained.
For what it’s worth, “Project Almanac” has earned the dubious distinction of being the only time travel movie worse than “The Butterfly Effect”. Better luck next time, director Neal Isrealite. Should there ever be a next time.