“It’s not about money. It’s a second-chance machine.” That’s how high schooler David (Jonny Weston) describes the nifty contraption made by him and his mates in teen sci-fi flick Project Almanac.
Given these young blokes have created a way to travel through time, David’s dismissal of financial gain is quite impressive. What they go on to do with their “second-chance machine” involves the usual elements found in time-travel movies. But these usual elements – messy chronology; the “butterfly effect”; leaps in logic – are juiced up by some modest insights into the responsibilities of growing up.
With its portrait of what time-travel could look like in the hands of almost-adults, Project Almanac aims to draw crowds of late teens. Whether they will flock remains unclear, because it’s hard for any movie to not seem daggy or dated as soon as it includes any contemporary material. Also, Project is not really about action scenes, near-future dystopian revolutions or terminal romances. Don’t expect Hunger Games meets Back To The Future.
But there is enough spark and feisty ambition here, to keep viewers hooked in. This lower-budget fantasy is persistently likeable, even with its many plot issues (rules of time travel can be abandoned during key moments) and technical niggles (although made to resemble a handheld home movie, Project Almanac includes fancy FX and a score. Go figure).
One of Project Almanac‘s best features is how “teen” are the things David and his posse choose to do. Serious things are mentioned, but quickly ditched for stuff like doing over a failed test, or attending a music festival in New York City’s Central Park. Stuff that matters to them, not necessarily the fate of humanity.
Rather than drown viewers in sex, drugs or excessive excess, we witness credible and largely tasteful displays of being younger, restless and unfathomably powerful. Plus, David and Co. establish rules for using the newfound capability. Limits are imposed upon how far this group can “jump” back in time. Their “second-chance machine” is also to be kept a secret, and they must always go together. No solo trips.
Of course, the rules are going to be broken – and the present will be threatened by the past. But rather than roll your eyes at how our heroes don’t heed the warnings of all the other time-travel movies they reference, notice how believable it is that think they will be able to maintain control. That they will be the ones to master time travel. No-one else has… but they can. Right?
Part of the unstoppable appeal of time-travel movies is they highlight the real appeal of second chances. How so many of us would love to be able to go back, to exactly the same situation. To do it over and, this time, do it right. Yet Project Almanac and its time-travel kind tend to reveal an uncomfortable insight into that wish being granted. As David and his mates discover, being able to go back in time isn’t the same thing as being able to guarantee you will do the right thing, second time around. Honestly, who can guarantee that?
As Project Almanac shows with reasonable zest, the problem with people isn’t that we don’t have time machines. The problem is we shouldn’t daydream about second chances. Instead, we should focus on what we say, do and think – first time around. Because that’s the one chance we get, to do the right thing. Such is life (without a time machine).
Release Date: February 26