Project Almanac

Director Dean Israelite’s first feature length movie works well for him. Opening with High-school kid, David Raskin (Jonny Weston, Insurgent 2015) making a video presentation to MIT for acceptance on one of their college programmes with the help of his two friends Quinn (Sam Lerner, Nobody Walks, 2014) and Adam (Allen Evangelista, Belas, 2013). The film is largely shot in POV (Point of view) format, that is always through a camcorder or such like always used by one of the kids. David’s sister Christina (Virginia Gardner, The Goldbergs. 2013) is the primary recorder. The POV format largely works, even if there are one or two sequences where it is not as successful.

Routing through some old belongings in the attic he comes across a video-camera once owned by his father who was killed in a car accident about 10 years ago. While looking at footage, David notices something, just a frame or two, but he notices it. Reviewing the home-movie in question it is clear David in in the movie as his 17year old self, with his 10yo self also there. Noticing that the David in the film was heading for the basement, they decide to check down there.

Now here is a significant weakness in the film, centred around a young technically gifted student, whose father was an engineer, he (David) only now goes down to the basement and “discovers” his father’s workshop and very quickly its secrets.

Pretty quickly they find the time machine, or at least the workings of it and all of the necessary blue-prints, and as any kids do, they decide to finish building it. With much chaos and experimenting they manage to move something back through time. Of course all of this has the added benefit of entangling one of David’s school mates; Jessie Pierce (Sofia Black D’elia, Born of War 2013), David has a crush on her and as with most young lads of his age, he is totally unable to act on it. A good section of the movie deals with the youngsters building and improving the time machine, often with mixed results.

First the five youngsters experiment with sending inanimate objects back and forth through time, but David is eager to move things on and after much tinkering and adaption, they have a time travel device which they can bring with them, which can transport them to when they want to go (within a limited window of a couple of weeks, but growing as they tinker)

As the movie progresses it starts to take on a slightly darker more sinister hue. After firstly starting off with small things, they decide to “surgically” (my words) interfere with the past, but very quickly learn that one event might have a knock-on effect on another even though the two may not seem linked. After making changes to the time line. On their first trip back they see how the lawas of nature actually kick-in to prevent them from meeting themselves in the past, if they do, bith are removed from nature, no longer existing.

These trips back in time start of light enough, with Quinn using the trips back to ace a pop-quiz in chemistry and then get more intense as they try to undo changes to the timelines brought about by their travel. These changes which seem like nothing much have implications which spread far and wide, the ripple effect being nicely expounded here.

This film is a lot more watchable than I thought it would be and indeed deals with some of the more fundamental aspects of time travel, concentrating on the effects (as thought) rather than on the pure science of the physics. Indeed this is where the film lets itself down slightly, but only slightly.

Without going into the physics of time travel the movie looks to the impacts and how the people involved try to deal with and correct what they have done. One could argue that there is not a whole lot original in the first half of the movie, when even the movie itself draws parallels with some of those time-travelling presentations which came before (even down to video shots of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Stephen Herek, 1989).

The second half is where the movie really kicks in and ups the tempo. This is an interesting look at the whole area of time travel and its consequences and might be compared to About Time (Richard Curtis, 2013). Much of the tension surround the undoing of the consequences of even the supposedly smallest actions when they went back in time. One of the issues with Time travel movies is the potential for the heroes to go anywhere, any when in time. Almanac carefully circumvents these issues by building in practical limitations to their device and so keeping the movie on a relatively (sorry for the pun) tight perspective and prevents it from tackling too many physics questions.

Over all it works, with perhaps just a little bit too much time spent on the concert in the baseball stadium, but then again there are implications for the event. It also manages to convey some of the science of time-travel without breaking into applied physics. The movie does have some convenient plot holes but nothing that takes away from the picture overall.


An excellent all round piece of work.

Written and directed by Peter and Michael Spierig, the team behind Daybreakers (2010). Time travel has been conquered, at least to a limited extent based on a time zero in the early 1980’s. From this time limited travel over a period of 53 years is possible. However the time travel take its toll on those who travel, slowly degrading them physically and mentally. The number of jumps in time is regulated and overseen. The time travel itself is secret and limited to 12 agents in the Temporal Bureau, the travel is controlled and monitored, with strict rules about missions and and deviations from missions. The impact of travel is carefully monitored. Noah Taylor (Lawless, 2012) plays the part of Mr. Robinson, the shadowy figure who seems to interweave the lives of our protagonists, his role and influence becoming clearer as the story progresses.

The Story opens with an agent (Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight, 2013) trying to stop a bomber detonating his latest effort when the arrest goes wrong and the agent is blown-up and nearly killed, such are his injuries that his have needs to be reconstructed. The reconstruction allows him time to get ready for his last case, the travel back to hunt for the “Fizzle “ bomber, a serial bomber whose works have been escalating to the extent that in March 1975 he killed almost 10,000 people in New York.

Our agent recovers and returns to the time as a barman, he he meets a woman a single mother (Sarah Snook Sleeping Beauty, 2011), with a fascinating story, one she says cannot be beaten. The story details her unique life from the day she was dropped off in an orphanage and the various struggles she had fitting in (her younger self played by Freya Stafford) right up to her adult life and the challenges she has faced. We see how these challenges have quite literally shaped her. The agent listens and actually offers her a a chance to make do a wrong, a chance she finds unbelievable, she takes him up on the offer. He lets slip a little detail of her life, how did he know this, he explains it away, but we are warned.

Pretty soon, it becomes obvious that things are not as they seem. This is a thriller, one where suspense is not a dirty word. I am tempted to say there are a number of twists to this move with plot developments coming left, right and center, but that would be to do the film a dis-service. This plot is one of the most well thought-out I’ve come across in years, there are not twists in the plot so much as well directed curves which ultimately lead us to the climax.

I cannot say too much because to say anything risks giving away an excellent plot. This is a film where all of the aspects must come together for it to work. The script is tight, remarkably so, the cinematography is aligned perfectly to the plot developments, with the subtle stylization for the different time periods. Movies with twists are often just average movies where a writer or producer etc. decides something else is needed. Here there is nothing else needed. This is a carefully plotted story which brings you along .

If you are the type to run about in and out to the kitchen making coffee or pop corn during a movie, then this one is not for you. Once you turn on this film you need to sit down and watch it through. This is a story with no space fillers or padding. It is brilliantly executed. A lot cold be said to analyze this film and the subject of time travelling paradoxes, but that would ruin the experience of the movie. That said it would be no harm to understand the concepts of the paradoxes.


I was struggling on how to open, then I realised: this is classic Christopher Nolan (Inception, 2010). Nolan has written and directed this movie and it shows. If you want an adventure movie like Armageddon (A.J. Frost, 1998), then go see what else is available. On the other hand, if you enjoyed Inception or Memento (2000), then you will enjoy this. The movie is set somewhere in the near-future, though when we are left to guess. We are looking at a society which realised it is on the edge of the abyss and needed to act. There are too many people on the Earth and resources are running out. As the movie runs we begin to learn vital snippets of information, like both the India and US space missions went down at the same time. We quickly notice too that the house is not the usual mobile and tablet picture we have become used to. Our hero , Cooper (Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club, 2013) We learn is a farmer, he is working the family farm. Living on the edge of town , he lives with this Father-in-law, (John Lithgow, Dexter 2009) We learn that “Coop’s” wife died of cancer and he is bringing up Tom (Timothée Chalamet, Clown, 2008) who at 15 is looking to his future, and Murph, his 10 year old daughter who is trying to find her way in the world, a bit like her father.

I say this because, they are both technical, very technical. We learn that Coop is a former NASA pilot, from a time when NASA was preparing for flight into the Solar System. Early on we see he is haunted by dreams of a crash and we wonder if he has left NASA due to an accident. This is quickly put aside as we put together the pieces. Many of his neighbours have had to sell-up, their wheat has died, and we are once again seeing a dust-bowl hinterland. They grow corn and are surviving, they have “plenty of corn”. Murph believes she has a ghost in her room because books are falling off the shelf and Coop’s module of the lunar Lander mysteriously fell from the book –case and broke. At a parent teacher conference we learn that Tom has been designated a “Farmer” he is not smart enough for University and the University is limited in the places it can take. Once again we hear talk of limitations, rationing. What really upsets Coop (his reaction gets his daughter suspended for a month) is the news that his old text books are now banned because they have now been rewritten and the Lunar landings and the Apollo missions are being written as great hoaxes to bankrupt the Soviet Union. It seems the human race has turned its back on technological growth and development, only what is essential is being done. All resources are being diverted to food production. Humanity is about surviving.

Against all of this Murph’s hauntings are continuing, after on episode, Coop thinks he has a clue, coordinates. Together with Murph, he head to there. Arriving at the location at night, they are…well they end up deep in a famous mountain. When this happens, they movie was still taking shape, and I have to say Close Encounters of third Kind (Spielberg, 1977) flashed by me at one stage. We quickly learn after some great lines that they are in what is left of NASA. NASA is now a secret government organisation which many people think has been shut down. Resources are needed else where. We learn also that there is no need for armies, they have been done away with (later we learn that it is likely that one of the last functions of the world’s armies was to kill the starving. It is said in passing how starving populations were wiped out. There are too many humans.

Now, this is where the movie is a step above the rest, the one-liners and MCconaughey’s ability to deliver them – as well as others. The script is very sharp. NASA is being led by Professor Brand (Michael Caine, The Dark Night, 2008) who working with his daughter, Dr. Brand, (Anne Hathaway, The Devil Wears Prada, 2006) and a small team of others; is working to seed possible new worlds made available through the appearance of a wormhole near Saturn. It is believed “They” put it there but nobody knows who “They” are. There are about a dozen worlds in systems past the wormhole that may support life. About 10 years ago a group of missions went through the wormhole , each carrying one person , each tasked to send back data and report if life is possible. Most of the signals were negative or have been lost, there are three alternatives; t. Professor Brand, shows Cope around the labs, the Corn is starting to die now also , just like the potato blight in Ireland and then the wheat.

I should point that at this stage my blood-pressure rose slightly, was Nolan/Brand referring to the Famines of 1847 or has there been a new Irish Potato Famine caused by blight, actually there might have been – but okay, all our spuds could die in the morning, we would survive here as A) biodiversity, B) imports. But here’s the rub, this is a Nolan movie, we are expected to think. Already the UN and others is nervous of our overdependence on rice in parts of the world (it is also an environmental nasty) and are trying to replace it with potatoes, which are healthier, and more environmentally friendly. The danger is removing one risk and replacing it with another, we still have not solved blight. I mention this because it seems the blight has been extensive enough globally to have an environmental impact on CO2 levels.

We learn now that the Earth only has a generation or two left before “we all suffocate”. Those that don’t starve will suffocate.

The Coop agrees to go on the missions, along with Dr. Brand and two other. Also along is TARS a cubide robot with various intelligence and human interaction settings. We quickly realise that because of Relativity; Special and General the team may not come back and if they do, because of the wormhole, it will be many years into the future. Murph is heart-broken and does not say good-bye to her dad. Quickly the mission is set and we have take-off. No time is wasted showing us any training. The team are launched and begin their journey to the wormhole, where we learn again resources are scarce, and one of the planets is nearer the wormhole and so time-dilation.

What now follows is an desperate search for a usable planet, back home decades have past, Murph (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty, 2012) is as old as her father was now when he left, she is working on the NASA team trying to crack the effects of time on a gravitational formula that could enable the launch of a ship big enough to host a population sufficient to sustain life on another planet until Earth is back in balance. The breakthrough may not be possible, Murph makes a discovery. Murph’s discovery is all the more important, because of the declining situation on Earth. Through her return home and the dust filled desolation we see that the situation is growing dire. The family is holding on but barely. The adult, married Tom (Casey Afflek, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, 2013) is struggling. The family is feeling the impact on their health of all the dust. The Slow decline to anarchy is reminiscent of Children of Men (2006)

Looking for the lost missions, they search to see if any of them have survived, one has. It is the original leader of the effort, Dr. Mann (Matt Damon, The Zero Theorem, 2013). Is it possible to launch “Plan A” and provide a home, or “Plan B” – use the frozen embryos to populate a new colony?. At just about no stage do things go as planned. Time is running out, as are all other resources, all options are risks. Eventually they have one last plan. McConaughey, when all was lost, finds TARS again, together they solve a puzzle, the one of Murph’s ghost, there may be a chance after all.

This is a smart movie, a little knowledge of Relativity might be possible – check my earlier blog on the subject from last month – go to Part III if you are in a hurry, and the conclusion is really rushed . This is also a long movie and to be honest it felt it once or twice. Is this an excellent, Top Ten movie, maybe not, is it a very good movie, yes. It reward you along the way. The direction is sharp, the viewer is drawn into the movie, by being drip fed the backstory while at the same time being shown the challenge ahead. This is one of those rare science-fiction movies where the fiction is secondary to the science and to the human impact of what is on-going. The ensemble nature of the cast, ensure they are the focus. Okay, yes, there are parallels to be drawn to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick, 1968) even down to how TARS (Bill Irwin) reminds us of HAL from 2001. That said, I’d rather travel with TARS.

Great cast, great performances, from all. I’ve tried not to give too many of the plot developments. Enjoy.

4 Stars, possibly slightly more.