“Time Travel. Since my first day on the job as a Starfleet captain I swore I`d never let myself get caught in one of these godforsaken paradoxes – the future is the past, the past is the future, it all gives me a headache.” Thus spoke Kathryn Janeway as she described the essence of time travel, a Starfleet captain who despite her stated determination endured more than her share of temporal adventures.
While one of the most popular and overused driving forces of the science fiction genre, the idea of time travel itself is not very thrilling, too often used simply to bring the characters to a different setting, as was most often the case in the original run of Doctor Who or Irwin Allen’s The Time Tunnel, whereas in a smarter story time travel is just the key which opens the door to many exciting stories and possibilities.
Imagine travelling to the past to see events long gone and maybe fix the mistakes of yesterday, or to the future to see the progress of humankind and the outcome of present decisions. Without a compelling story and the characters to tell it, with just the novelty of the temporal displacement itself as the whole of the plot, it may end up as little more than a two hour narrative lecture on quantum mechanics and time travel paradoxes.
The makers of Project Almanac (debut feature director Dean Israelite, writers Jason Harry Pagan and Andrew Deutschman, now scripting Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, possibly in crayon), a found footage time travel drama, waste two hours on that kind of lecture, showing a dozen banal, juvenile and selfish uses of time travel before finally establishing what should be blatantly obvious to anyone with any knowledge of the genre: what if going back in time was doing more harm than good?
The premise is promising, as young and brilliant future student of MIT David Raskin (Insurgent‘s Jonny Weston) discovers in his dead father’s belongings the blueprints of the time relocation device, which his father was developing for the military. David decides to finish his father’s work with help of his sister Christina (Glee‘s Virginia Gardner) and friends Adam Le (Allen Evangelista) and Quinn Goldberg (Sam Lerner).
It could be expected that with access to this godlike technology David would try to fill the shoes of his time traveling predecessors like the curiosity of H G Wells’ unnamed chrononaut or James Cole, seeking the Army of the Twelve Monkeys, hoping to achieve something significant or over even as obvious as to reveal the circumstances of his father’s death, maybe even save him, but instead this the audience are witness to something akin to an episode of Jackass with time travel; even Bill S Preston and Ted “Theodore” Logan managed to achieve something more excellent when given access to the breadth of human history.
Before becoming enlightened with the realisation that time travel is bad Project Almanac will forces the helpless audience to aimlessly follow the unimaginative, childish fantasies of David and his friends as they win the lottery and timehop to Loolapalooza, Christina takes revenge on the school bully by materialising out of nowhere to soak her tormentor with soda, Quinn cheats during the chemistry test and David uses the time machine to get together with the popular girl at their school and secure their relationship in the future.
All these scenes are non-essential to anyone with an intellectual capacity beyond that of a teenager, especially since they are shot with super shaky, ugly and unfocused photography which makes it impossible for anyone with a developed attention span to enjoy the movie, and even then their interest to the target group is debatable beyond a theoretical novelty value which it never fulfils.
Project Almanac wants very hard to follow the stylistic footsteps of Chronicle and the plot of The Butterfly Effect (itself inspired by Ray Bradbury’s short story A Sound of Thunder) but where in those movies there were real characters with real emotions, a dilemma of honest human drama and pain, Project Almanac is little more than a textbook case of arrogant teenagers acting stupidly for two hours which cannot be revisited to be more wisely spent.