Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 14, 2015)
When will Hollywoood tire of time travel movies? Probably about the same time they bail on “found footage” flicks: never. With 2015’s Project Almanac, those two genres intersect.
We meet David Raskin (Jonny Weston), a high school senior whose scientific talent gets him into MIT. However, he receives insubstantial financial assistance, and his lack of funds means he probably won’t be able to attend his dream school.
Desperate for money, David pokes around his attic. His departed father kept ideas for inventions there and David hopes to locate something that’ll help him get a scholarship.
David and his sister Christina (Virginia Gardner) find an old video camera that includes a tape of David’s seventh birthday party. As they view it, they discover something bizarre: the image of 17-year-old David in the video.
After a little exploration, David and his pals locate an invention of his dad’s: “Project Almanac”, a time travel device. David and the others explore various uses for this amazing invention, and we follow what happens to them, both good and bad.
As I alluded at the start, filmmakers likely will never tire of time travel movies. Even with the scores of tales about the subject, I think it remains a fun topic. Time travel opens up stories to virtually limitless exploration, so I go into flicks of this sort with interest.
Indeed, I would’ve seen Almanac theatrically except for the “found footage” presentation. I don’t mind movies of that sort, but since they tend to use lots of first-person “shakycam”, my sad little stomach finds them tough to ensure. Motion sickness isn’t much fun, so I save viewings shot like Almanac until I can view them on the smaller screen.
Almanac came with another negative: largely bad reviews. A Rotten Tomatoes rating of 35 percent isn’t absurdly low, but it shows a pretty strong consensus.
Still, I’ve seen plenty of poorly-reviewed flicks that I enjoyed, so with a chance to view Almanac at homes – where the shakycam wouldn’t literally nauseate me – I wanted to give it a spin. The premise seemed fun – how bad could it be?
“Not bad” would be my answer, as Almanac turns into a largely entertaining exploration of the issues that come with time travel. Granted, I couldn’t call it particularly original. Much of the movie feels like a semi-remake of The Butterfly Effect and it does little that stands out as new and fresh.
Also, the use of the “found footage” format adds nothing to the experience. I think Almanac could’ve been shot with traditional techniques and worked just as well – if not better. All that bad camerawork gets old after a while, and the first-person view doesn’t really go anywhere.
Still, Almanac offers enough fun and intrigue to keep me with it. The actors invest in their roles fairly well, and they let us experience the highs and lows that come with their adventures. The story throws the participants into a mix of emotional states, and the performers pull off these moments nicely.
The story also varies the action enough to bring us into the tale. The teens use the time machine for reasons both important and trivial, which makes sense. The parts of the movie that look at how kids would utilize time travel become its highlights.
Despite it flaws – most of which relate to its annoying camera techniques – I think Project Almanac ends up as an enjoyable movie. It provides a lively adventure that does more right than wrong.