I broke my unwritten rule about seeing a review for a movie I plan to critique and watched one for Project Almanac. I do not know what I was thinking. It might have been my unwillingness to actually see it based on some details I discovered in the trailer. Regardless, I saw the movie from beginning to end and will render judgment based on my opinion alone.
If you are interested, here is the link to the review:
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Explaining the physics of time travel is like trying to figure out who or what created the Universe. It is impossible, pointless, and not worth the time and effort because you cannot put an equation or god to something that is beyond comprehension. But when it comes to time travel in entertainment media, there is an explanation, and at least two theories that work.
The first is Linearity:
This subscribes to the idea that time is linear, a straight line or a closed loop in which everything that will happen in that line has already happened. It is a fixed chain of events that lead into each other, either due in part to an uninterrupted sequence or traveller interference. The best examples of this are Back to the Future I-III and Predestination.
The second is Divergence:
This theory postulates with every jump in time, a new line is created in a branching path from the previous sequence. No matter what future you change, the original future will remain intact, while another possibility is created at the same time. This theory is more akin to Parallel Dimension Theory, but the idea is still the same. Therefore, the means by which to travel requires more than your run-of-the-mill DeLorean. The best examples of this are Looper, Star Trek (2009), Pax Romana, and Red Wing.
Combining the two theories or disregarding either will no doubt lead to a time travel story collapsing in on itself. Terminator 2 failed because there was no forethought on how it was supposed to handle time travel. What began as a great action movie unraveled in the last few minutes and in the sequels there was no hope of correcting the damage. Does Project Almanac suffer the same fate or did it keep itself together?
As alluded in the beginning, Almanac fails because the people who wrote it had no idea what they were doing. It was clear they had some understanding of time travel, going so far as to pay homage to Back to the Future, but by failing at logic, Almanac consumes itself like a time paradox.
Explaining the faults of this film requires spoilers. If you plan on seeing this movie, skip to the last paragraph for my recommendation.
The first issue occurs at the very beginning, which is also in the trailer. The main character David, played by Jonny Weston, finds a camera that has footage of his older self at his younger self’s birthday party. Fast forward to the end of the movie, David arrives at his own party and destroys the time machine. But if he destroyed the time machine in the past before he used it in the future, how is he in the footage of himself at the party? If he destroyed the time machine, then he would have no means to go back and appear in the footage.
You could tie it to the Divergence Theory, where perhaps instead of destroying the time machine, David did something that allowed the branch of the movie’s plot to proceed. But at the end of the movie, David finds not only the first camera, but the second camera on which the entire movie was shot. If that is the case, how did the second camera find its way into the future, if the time machine was destroyed, which allowed the second camera to appear, which was brought to the past by David, who disappeared because he destroyed the time machine? If anything, the second camera should have appeared in the beginning of the movie to actually make sense.
Do you see where I am going with this? Do you see how insane that sounds? After the trailer I made up my mind the movie would not make sense, but after seeing the whole thing I am even more convinced.
There are other problems with the time travel physics, but I am going to keep it simple to avoid going on another extended tangent.
For one thing, the Paradox Annihilation concept from Timecop is just the stupidest thing in the world. It makes no sense and why Almanac saw fit to include it is even more stupid, especially when you do not have Jean Claude Van Damme to make it awesome.
Furthermore, when David starts altering insignificant moments in the past, it creates a Ripple Effect that causes other events to occur. How minute changes to the continuum of a teenage kid could cause forest fires in Brazil is ludicrous. It comes off as a lazy attempt at adding stakes to what starts out as a fun concept.
By including a Ripple Effect, it negates the Divergence Theory, because if the changes created by David do not cause a branching path, then he is altering a linear sequence, thus creating the GIANT plot holes in the beginning and end of the film. You can tell the film follows Linearity Theory because the other travellers in David’s group are aware that the events caused by the Ripple did not happen before he made changes.
But does that make Almanac a bad film?
To be honest, the movie is quite good. The characters feel real with a great group dynamic and dialog that fits their age and status. The first two Acts are probably the best because it is just these kids getting away with petty antics using a time machine. As a found footage movie (FFM) goes, if you can suspend your disbelief, you will find no fault. I do not watch many films in that style, but compared to Chronicle, the best FFM in my opinion, it does not hold up.
I am of the opinion Project Almanac completely fails because of it’s botched time travel mechanics, but it more than makes up for it in the characters and performances. If you are a stickler for fictional physics, you will not enjoy this movie. If you want to see an FFM with a cast that feels real, I recommend giving it a look.