By Bill Arceneaux
The appearance of the MTV Films tag at the beginning of Project Almanac is nothing to worry about – honestly. Not to say that MTV should be guarded from all criticism; they did, after all, make a movie about a cockroach infested New York apartment (which I actually kinda liked). Even though this particular generation of youngsters both impresses and frustrates me (as do most people in my generation), an MTV logo in front of a movie cast with nothing but these kids is NOT something to concern yourself with.
No, it’s the Michael Bay production company Platinum Dunes tag that ticks me off.
This critic admits to liking Transformers: Age of Extinction, in spite of all reason. Bay may not be a caliber auteur who holds respect for his audience, but he isn’t the worst at what he does (Rob Cohen comes to mind). That being stated, attaching his name and/or likeness to any movie is almost an M. Night Shyamalan kiss of death. It gives a very specific impression about the movie you’re about to watch – one that isn’t good at all.
Project Almanac begins like just about every found footage movie before it; the main character talking directly to the camera, goofing off a little, with a few cuts in footage that suggest what we’re watching are outtakes from an intended documentary for video.
Found footage isn’t always easy to follow, as the “footage” in most recent movies have been pulled not just from the main characters, but from anyone and anything nearby. Who has “found” this footage? The opening in this movie works to establish our leads’ relationships with one another, as well as internal and external conflicts. So, aside from the inherent issue of recent films of the genre, things were off to a good start.
From there, things get silly and convenient. Intimate moments that shouldn’t have been captured are captured, and even shot like it’s a movie and not a video by an amateur. The building of a time travelling device is interesting and cute, going from Home Depot DIY to modifying an XBOX – cool stuff. However, it all kicks off when our hero “finds footage” of his current self in a video from the past. It comes off hokey, especially when he lets his friends know. Any rational person would blow it off immediately. Then again, this is an irrational situation, involving unexplored science. Wait… isn’t that similar to the excuse used for the making of the first three Transformers films (It’s about robots!)?
The movie’s height comes during an extended (and awfully sincere) concert film of Lollapalooza, where Imagine Dragons perform to a crowd of fresh-faced bouncing kids. See, our leads time travel a few months back to the festival, and have the time of their lives. It makes sense that this invention would be used this way by high schoolers, but not only does it go on too long, it feels like some sort of commercial with no product. If the kids were holding Coca Cola bottles, I might excuse things a bit.
How did the camera footage survive the tension of space time? Wouldn’t some of it have been erased? Didn’t something similar happen in Contact? Whatever the case, Project Almanac is high quality January filmmaking, which equals to it being generically acceptable. Time travel is hard, found footage is hard and teens are harder. Why combine all three? Heck, why combine Michael Bay with MTV? Isn’t that TOO obvious of a pairing?
For more from the author, follow him on twitter @BillReviews and bookmark his new online movie zine site CriticalNO.com (launching soon).