Project Almanac has the vibe of a Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield film. Most of the film is from the perspective of a handheld video camera, smart phone, or GoPro. This time, the sci-fi genre adds time travel to the mix.
David (Jonny Weston) is a smart, clean-cut high school student, complete with the Harry Potter-glasses. Achieving his goal of getting accepted to MIT, David, along with his friends and sister (Ginny Gardner) decide to conduct an experiment in film, hoping to win a scholarship. They discover some old documents from David’s deceased father, who was a scientist, along with an old, vintage camcorder . . . . from 2004.
The camcorder holds video of David’s seventh birthday party at his home. It’s the same day that his father dies in a car accident. David discovers that his current, seventeen-year-old self can be seen in a mirror. This sends David and his friends, Adam (Allen Evangelista) and Quinn (Sam Lerner), to the basement where they find instructions – Project Almanac – to build a time machine.
They build the time machine and after a series of failed trials, it works. What follows is a bit predictable. The teens use this new found ability to travel back and forth through time to score higher grades on assignments, win the lottery, and more.
First-time director Dean Israelite does a decent job, though the film would have been just as good, maybe better, without the found footage format. It is not choppy like other found footage films. It lacks full, first-person perspective. Not to mention that it is seemingly impossible that every aspect of this film was . . .filmed. Take when David travels through time by himself. It’s possible/believable that he is filming what he sees. But when the perspective shifts, for example, in the high school storage room right before he time jumps again, who is holding the camera then?
It doesn’t need the first-person, character camera-holding to make the film. The film stands alone without all that. Not to mention the touches most likely influenced by one of its producers – Michael Bay. Bay manages to add his own touch to the film as a producer. The only thing it lacked was an appearance by Megan Fox.
With all the time travel that the teens do, present day events end up changing. David goes from high school nerd to mad scientist. He travels through time on his own for purely selfish reasons, impacting his community and the world in ways he never imagined. They have to go back in time to fix the things they did so the present would not be affected.
David comes to realize that perhaps the time machine is not a gift. When in back in time, he tells his father they “shouldn’t play God.” David destroys the heart of the time machine to remove the temptation to change what was or what will be for selfish gain.
How often do we find ourselves clinging to the past or longing to go back in time? Perhaps things were simpler back then, calmer, less chaotic, and easier to deal with. Perhaps the past is where all the answers lie. Perhaps. But we are in the present. And the present is a gift from God.
We cannot go back in time, but we can be present in the present. I think H. G. Wells would approve.