Film Review | Project Almanac
Cinema has seen plenty of found footage and time travel films, but rarely have the two concepts been combined. Enter Project Almanac; Produced by Michael Bay and directed by Dean Israelite, it works well as an entertaining teen movie without doing anything revolutionary with the aforementioned narrative devices.
Project Almanac centers on David Raskin (Jonny Weston), a 17-year-old science whiz who is desperate to get into MIT. The answer may lie in his deceased father’s old belongings, as David discovers an old video clip of his seventh birthday party which unexplainably features glimpses of his current self, along with blueprints for a time travel device his father was working on. Together with fellow classmates Quinn (Sam Lerner), Allen (Adam Le), his sister Christina (an underused Virginia Gardner) and high school hottie Jessie (Sofia Black-D’Elia), the group construct the device and begin putting it to use but it doesn’t take long before their actions in the past start producing dangerous consequences in the present.
Before those negative side effects start popping up, Almanac wisely spends an adequate amount of time on the fun aspects of time travel. Some have said that the characters come across as unlikable, but this is merely adolescent wish-fulfilment at its shallowest and the young actors sell it well. There’s a fun play on winning the lottery, an extended sequence at a Lollapalooza music festival and other impulsive ‘what if?’ scenarios that give our teens short-term gratification. Some of these acts are actually quite relatable – who wouldn’t want another shot at their high school crush after initially screwing things up? – and the decision to keep things more or less personal pays off.
Like Disney’s recent animated blockbuster Big Hero 6, Almanac also does a solid job of making science both interesting and cool. Indeed, the opening scene – which features David controlling a drone using hand motions – is a testament to this fact, effectively setting up what’s to come. The early tests along with the constant upgrades and improvements in the opening act helps to ground events too, and when called for the special effects are generally slick and stylish.
With that said, Project Almanac still runs into the problem of many a found footage film before it in that there are multiple instances when filming should be the last thing on these characters’ minds. Used sparingly the gimmick would have worked well and made much more sense, but the admirable commitment to the format makes scenes in which our teens film themselves committing crimes a dumb necessity. More problematic are the inconsistencies which start to crop up the further we get into the narrative. There’s nothing wrong with establishing a clear set of rules so long as you follow them, but there is more than one occasion when the script from Jason Pagan and Andrew Deutschman chooses to ignore an imperative loosely established earlier in the film.
Thankfully, the chemistry between our young cohorts means we’re not paying too much attention to the science while we’re watching. Weston is the standout in this ensemble, and though Jessie isn’t as well-rounded Black-D’Elia also impresses. The two infuse what could easily have been a by-the-numbers romance between their respective characters with a lot of heart.
Project Almanac doesn’t hold a candle to any of the time travel movies it references, but it remains a fun ride with plenty to enjoy. No need for a do-over machine here.