With his first feature length debut, Dean Israelite directs the sci-fi thriller Project Almanac, a film which proves that the perfect way to rack in the dollar signs is product placement and slapping producer Michael Bay in the credits.
David Raskin (Jonny Weston), an average twenty-something-year-old in high school, because apparently casting agents refuse to hire actors under twenty to play teenagers. David is MIT bound, but with the death of his father at an early age and a mother struggling to pay the bills, his dreams are too far to reach. The first scholarship only acquired him a few thousand in financial aid, but luckily, a second one is still available. David must create a proposal for a new invention and thus, decides to go through his father’s old belongings for inspiration. After finding a video camera with the last tape documenting his seventh birthday party, David notices his current self reflected back in a mirror. With a little more rummaging around, David and his friends locate the blueprints and equipment for a time machine. It’s at least got some originality going for it.
Project Almanac is filmed entirely on a hand-held camera, so if you can survive the nauseas, this film may be enjoyable. That’s not to say that a shaky cam film cannot be done effectively. 2012’s Chronicle was a sleeper success and the Paranormal Activity movies, although mostly low on ratings, managed to usher in a whole franchise. At least Project Almanac is documenting something revolutionary as opposed to a teenager zooming in on a demon’s face.
With most films oriented on time-travel, consequences follow when you attempt to change the future. At first, their motives are moderately unselfish. Quinn (Sam Lerner), points out that David is broke and his sister is a victim of bullying. Once that is taken care of, David uses the technology to get a second chance at love, and that’s when things take a turn for the worst. However, that is also when the film finally kicks it up a notch, and whether it’s due to the sense of panic or the mere dizziness of the shaky camera, the audience is just as out of breath as David is. The film could have easily removed all of the other characters since clearly David is the one we care about and feel connected to the most. We laugh at his romantic awkwardness and sympathize with his conflict of morality.
Despite the thousands of unanswered questions (How can a secret government agency just forget about the time travel machine they let David’s dad keep in his basement? Why haven’t any government agents come to collect it upon his death? How come none of David’s neighbors notice the extremely loud noises coming from his basement?), Project Almanac grabs you by the ankles and drags you in towards the end. If only the film started out that way, we could have had a somewhat decent movie on our hands. But the film spends too much time forcing itself on a younger audience. Music festivals? Check. Product placement? Check. Modern-day movie references? Check. Barely- clothed girls? Check. Is that Imagine Dragons? That’s what happens when MTV Films helps with production. I wouldn’t be surprised if the movie turns into a spin off series on MTV.
Editing-wise, this film resembles a tutorial on Youtube, where the cuts are milliseconds before the character is about to say something. It’s almost as if they choose to justify the poor cinematography based on the fact that they are using a hand-held camera. Project Almanac has potential, but there is too much fluff to see it clearly.
Sammi Brennan can be reached at Sammi.Brennan@spartans.ut.edu.