If I had a time machine, I would go back in time and destroy the script for “Inception” — not because I dislike the film, as I think Christopher Nolan is one of the best directors of modern cinema, and “Inception” was great. However, the film started the terrible trend of filmmakers using the “bwah” sound effect in almost every tense scene in modern sci-fi and fantasy movies. Continuing this awful trend is “Project Almanac,” produced by Michael Bay, a man not known for artistic restraint. So, despite some of the strengths of “Project Almanac,” my eardrums will never forgive me for seeing this film.
“Project Almanac” tells the story of a group of 17-year-olds who build a time travel device, which they use to improve their lives and engage in various shenanigans. The film features typical teen-movie style fantasy, with the main characters buying fast cars, attending huge parties and sticking it to the man. One could almost confuse it for something like “Project X” or “Animal House” if the whole time travel aspect wasn’t included in the film. After misusing their device, things go predictably wrong and the main characters must struggle to try to repair the damaged timeline.
With any movie that features time travel, there’s bound to be glaring inconsistencies and plot holes large enough to sail ocean liners through, so I was able to ignore the convoluted, paradoxical events of the film. While many films that feature time travel tend to use it as a crutch to support half-assed writing, “Project Almanac” centers the entire plot around time travel, which keeps the film focused and engaging once it gets past the mandatory hour of exposition. The film is laboriously paced, with the major conflict only kicking in around the last 20 minutes and the previous one and a half hours devoted to the main characters killing time and enacting their various time travel fantasies. Regardless, the film did feature some generally engaging and funny moments, even during the times when the plot wasn’t going anywhere. If you can turn off your brain long enough to endure the vacuous story and the various bits of science mumbo-jumbo the characters make a token effort to throw around to justify the film’s mechanics, it’s generally worth seeing.
Now, no movie is without flaws, and despite its strengths “Project Almanac” worked pretty hard for its negative review. The most apparent issue is cinematography, as the film is presented “found footage” style, and the constant shaking of the camera is extremely nauseating. Other Michael Bay-isms are included as well, such as endless product placement and a fetishistic relationship with explosions. Car batteries explode, cars explode, wires explode, walls explode and airplanes explode. I have a feeling that most of this is included for the teenage crowd, so the dazzling effect of CGI sparks and shrapnel is lost on me.
The other disturbing fault in the film is characters — namely in the portrayal of female ones. The male characters are all depicted as characteristic “nerds,” socially awkward but scientifically gifted. The girls exist on the other end of the stereotype spectrum, and are portrayed as shallow and brainless. Their only purpose in the film is for the male cast to ogle at and to say things like, “Can you guys speak English, OMG” when the male characters throw around science jargon. Furthermore, the female characters are all extremely and shamelessly sexualized in the film. There’s shots of them in revealing outfits and oddly long pans of the camera over their bodies.
What makes this especially problematic is that the film establishes that all the characters are under 18 several times. While this uncomfortableness may not be as overt a problem for the teenage demographic, it still sends the unhealthy message that girls are sexual objects meant to be pursued and conquered, and not actual people. I hate to sound alarmist, but the rape culture and misogynistic society we live in persists because of films like this. Even the main character we’re supposed to identify with uses his time machine to manipulate the lead actress into having sex with him, which technically makes him a rapist. Sure, it’s established in the film that they really love one another and are meant to be and blah blah blah, but having a main character use deceit to get a girl to sleep with him tainted the rest of the film.
While some may say that I’m overreacting regarding the portrayal of female characters in the film, movies like this subconsciously lead to the gender divide that plagues modern society. Somewhere inside the rotten apple that was the final product there was a halfway-decent film, but it’s so buried in lousy camera work, crass marketing and terrible characterization that I wasn’t able to fully embrace the film. I would suggest watching “Doctor Who,” instead; it has Steadicam and strong female characters.
Rating: 1.5 stars