Waste of Time, by Rudie Obias
I am not a big fan of the found-footage sub-genre. While there are a few standouts like The Blair Witch Project, Chronicle, and Cloverfield, there are many, many more that are inexplicable, messy, and simply, incoherent. For Project Almanac, the latest film from Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company and first-time director Dean Israelite, it’s definitely the latter and then some.
Project Almanac follows David Raskin, played by Jonny Weston, a high school senior on the verge of entering M.I.T. after developing new technology to control drones with pure motion-control. David’s sister, Christina, videotapes the experiment and most of Project Almanac, so that’s a character we don’t have to worry about in the movie. While we met David as he’s submitting his video application for the prestigious college, the events in the first scene are only there to present Project Almanac’s found-footage form and nothing more, because it never factors into the film’s plot and is simply forgotten. In fact, a lot of Project Almanac is a lot like that first scene – something is introduced into the movie and then immediately handled like an afterthought in favor of the new and shiny.
David’s family can’t afford to send him to college, so he looks around his house for his father’s old experiments to try get scholarships for school. David’s father, who died in a car accident when he was seven, was also a brilliant scientist and inventor, you see. David and Christina then stumble upon an old video of his seventh birthday party and notice that older David is somehow in the video too. He soon realizes that his father’s old experiments are the key to unraveling this mystery.
Surprisingly, Project Almanac is really science heavy. Not real science that could give the film an edge, mind, but fake movie science that’s really silly and completely unnecessary. The first act of Project Almanac dives deep into how time travel works, but not how the time machine works itself. I’m not joking, the first 30 minutes of the movie is full of movie science mumbo-jumbo that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. I was seriously waiting for this teen movie about time travel to start being fun. Once the movie starts playing around with time travel – the kids try to win the lottery, get revenge on school bullies, and become popular – it’s never as fun as it should be.
None of the events or scenes in the movie informs the audience as to why the characters are making decisions, but they seem to be making these decisions because they’re in the script, which is lazy in a lazy sub-genre. A teen movie like Dazed & Confused presents high school parties as something you want to be part of, while Project Almanac presents high school parties as something annoying and grating. Maybe that speaks to my age, but, sadly, I can’t go back in time to when I was a teenager to experience Project Almanac.
One of the movie’s biggest problems is its relative lack of story or conflict. The teens build a time machine and have fun, but only start to feel the repercussions of time travel an hour and a half in. The final act of the movie holds all the drama, as David tries to undo the film’s pitfalls by going back in time to fix everything, only to find out that he’s making things worse. These events should’ve happened much earlier to give an audience a sense that there’s something going on in the movie instead of just watching people party, having fun, and spend buckets of money.
The characters in Project Almanac are stock and generic, so the film doesn’t work as a character study. The time travel in Project Almanac simply doesn’t work as fluidly as others like Back To The Future, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and Looper – although it references each of these films and other time travel movies through its two-hour running time. Did I mention that it’s a two-hour found-footage movie? And Project Almanac doesn’t work as a teen movie either, as its characters are only concerned about sex and partying, and very little else. I’m sorry, but I would like to give teenagers a bit more credit than that. Project Almanac doesn’t even work as a found-footage movie because it never really takes a stand on why it should be found-footage in the first place. In fact, it could’ve worked much better if it was just a straight up narrative instead without the found-footage gimmick. Project Almanac just doesn’t work.