By: Dan Tomasik
For a movie with Michael Bay’s name attached to it, it doesn’t feel like any of the films him or his production company Platinum Dunes have put out since their establishment. For starters, it’s not drowning in drained color and lighting like a watered-down reality of blandness. Second, it’s not suffocating in special effects. Lastly and most importantly, Project Almanac is enjoyable. As in really really fun.
Filmed in much the same vein as 2012’s Chronicle, it follows a group of high school students who discover an incredible power. In this case, a time machine. The first half or so of the film follows these kids as they develop the device from blueprints and a strange videotape. It’s nice to see that they didn’t just figure it out in a couple hours or days. It took a lot of planning, researching, and failed attempts to make this thing happen. Some of the plot and character elements are definitely forced or clichéd, but it still has a lighter feel than some of Chronicle did.
However, from the first successful test of the device, the movie hits its stride. One of the advantages of “found footage” is that, properly utilized, it’s the single best method to capture the spontaneity and organic nature of real life. Project Almanac reaches some incredible highs during the group’s experimentation with their newfound power. Few films have so wonderfully captured the energy and perceived limitlessness of youth. What’s great is that none of the characters feel annoying or irksome, even the intentional annoying friend. One gets so caught up in watching these kids seize the world for themselves that it’s impossible not to feel like a part of their circle.
Rather than using the time machine to explore the past, they use it more a way to revisit a moment thought to be lost. Project Almanac is a second chance, and if need be, a third, fourth, fifth, etc chance. To go back and do something right this time around. And it is from that desire to revisit a moment that the movie suddenly and unceremoniously shifts from an ensemble film to a solo journey. One trip into the past, alone. In an ordinary film such an act would be followed by conflict within the group, growing tension from outside pressures, friendships/relationships strained, divides created, followed by a last-minute need to gather together, mend fences, and save the world/time/whatever. But that’s not what happens.
This is a movie that puts tremendous value into little moments. The smallest details have the largest impact. One moment that needed a second chance, that’s all it was. But then there was an unforeseen problem. Still, all it would take is the smallest adjustment. One small adjustment and the personal journey would end and the movie could return to an ensemble coming-of-age piece. But again, one small detail has gone horribly wrong, necessitating another solo trip to fix it. From that first solo expedition that was only ever meant to be one, everything becomes about reaching that ensemble coming-of-age story again. It was never supposed to be about one person, it was supposed to be about all of them. But the more our lead tries to get back to that place, the more lost he becomes in a swirling cloud of alternate realities.
It’s a beautiful tragedy, and an exquisite depiction of youth. Of seeing the entire world of endless possibilities open up to you. No limits, no restrictions, no third negative thing. And after seemingly losing that feeling in the third act, it finds its way back with a brilliant ending. It’s without doubt the most exciting and entertaining film that’s ever come out of Platinum Dunes.