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Project Almanac: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Project Almanac (2015) movie poster Project Almanac

Theatrical Release: January 30, 2015 / Running Time: 106 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Dean Israelite / Writers: Jason Harry Pagan, Andrew Deutschman

Cast: Jonny Weston (David Raskin), Sofia Black-D'Elia (Jessie Pierce), Sam Lerner (Quinn Goldberg), Allen Evangelista (Adam Le), Virginia Gardner (Christina Raskin), Amy Landecker (Kathy Raskin), Gary Weeks (Ben Raskin), Macsen Lintz (David - Age 7), Gary Grubbs (Dr. Lou), Michelle Defraites (Sarah Nathan), Jamila Thompson (Marina), Katie Garfield (Liv)

Buy Project Almanac from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

Time travel is awesome. Even if it never really exists to humans, think of what it has done for cinema: Back to the Future and Part II, 12 Monkeys, The Terminator, X-Men: Days of Future Past,
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Meet the Robinsons, Looper, Men in Black 3. Heck, even Interstellar kind of qualifies. All of those movies are a great deal of fun as they explore the possibilities and paradoxes of going forward and back in time. A time travel-based plot doesn't guarantee a movie will be good, but it usually injects some creativity and thought into the proceedings. Usually.

Project Almanac is a 100% bona fide time travel movie but one that is short on creativity and thought. This Michael Bay-produced film opens with 17-year-old high school senior David Raskin (Jonny Weston) applying for MIT's Physics Fellowship. David is supposedly a science nerd, but the same good looks that make us doubt his unpopularity ensure he is our young leading man. He, his less handsome friends Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista), and his sister Christina (Virginia Gardner), also too attractive to buy as a bully victim, find blueprints in the Raskin basement for "temporal relocation." They're apparently the work of David and Christina's father, who died in a car crash ten years ago.

In "Project Almanac", three high school science nerds (Allen Evangelista, Jonny Weston, and Sam Lerner) discover time travel while tinkering in a basement.

Sparked by the discovery of David's teenaged self in a video of his 7th birthday party, the group puts its heads together and eventually figures out how to send items through time, starting with a toy car, moving on to a dog, and then graduating to themselves. Christina runs the camera at all times, making this a first-person found footage film, though one that doesn't pay too much mind to honoring that illusion. The film still uses nimble editing, steadier camerawork than any ordinary teenager could provide, the wide 2.40:1 aspect ratio that is nobody but Hollywood's standard, and non-diegetic music.

It'd be easier to overlook those cheats if what was going on in the movie was more interesting and exciting, but it's not. Project Almanac poses that that not so age-old question: what if time travel was discovered by a group of teenagers, who kept it their little secret? The group, which grows to include David's hot girl love interest Jessie Pierce (Sofia Black-D'Elia), uses the invention purely for kicks and giggles. Quinn's got to redo a spontaneous oral quiz on the Periodic Table again and again Groundhog Day-style. Christina uses time travel to stand up to her tormentors. The gang's one really big mission? To attend Lollapalooza in Chicago's Grant Park with VIP passes bought off eBay.

Never before has a time travel movie shown less urgency than this. There is virtually no plot whatsoever, until David starts ignoring the ground rules they all laid down. On his own, he tries to sort out the inexplicable negative consequences of the fun excursions that have boosted the entire group's social status. I'm fine with a movie lacking a clearly defined plot so long as it keeps us engaged with something: characters, ideas, humor, locations. Project has none of that, making it nearly as meaningless as its generic title.

David (Jonny Weston) and Jessie (Sofia Black-D'Elia) use time travel to attend Lollapalooza, where their mutual feelings nearly take flight.

That title changed a bunch of times as this relatively low-budget movie kept getting bumped and retooled by Insurge Pictures, a Paramount niche label last used in 2012. Project was previously called Welcome to Yesterday and supposed to open in February 2014, closely patterning itself on 2012's Chronicle, a profitable and similarly fashioned movie that gave teens super powers via found footage. That movie was not as good as its reviews and IMDb rating suggest. This one, inevitably dogged by comparisons when it finally was released January 2015, is perhaps slightly better than the largely negative critical marks it drew.
Project is certainly not a great film, nor, despite the subject matter, is it even consistently entertaining. I don't even feel like the teenagers this is primarily aimed at would enjoy this very much, not when cinema already panders to their tastes with genuinely exciting and much more expensive tentpoles.

Still, this is a pretty harmless endeavor, a low-stakes undertaking for director Dean Israelite and writers Jason Harry Pagan and Andrew Deutschman, all of them first-timers. None of the three can decide what the movie should be, so it winds up being a little of this, a little of that. The first-person camerawork makes it feel more frenetic than it is. Though I was a big fan of found footage as implemented in The Blair Witch Project and then the late-Noughties revival of Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity and the like, the design has worn out its welcome. There is no longer anything novel or inventive about it and even society's compulsion and capability to self-document doesn't render these movies impervious to giant holes in logic that don't exist on standard (third-person?) filmmaking.

Even with its low budget and up against the lax competition of late January, Project Almanac didn't hit it big at the box office. It grossed $22 million and change domestically plus just $9.9 M from foreign markets, none of which lifts it into profitability at this time. The film has another chance to discover an audience with this week's DVD and Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD releases.

Project Almanac Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese, English DVS)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Descriptive Service, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; BD-only: Portuguese, English SDH
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: June 9, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

I've already addressed Project Almanac's look above (found footage that looks a lot better than found footage should). The Blu-ray's 2.40:1 presentation is top-notch, its only problems being the deliberate technical ones it introduces late in the film. Better still than the picture quality is the sound. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix is full of aggressive and impactful effects above and beyond what teenagers relying on the sound from consumer cameras should secure. Most viewers would probably prefer this sensory assault over a more realistically lackluster mix.

David's friends and sister prank him with a blow-up doll in this alternate opening. Jessie busts the others going through her backpack in this alternate ending.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Project Almanac is accompanied by three short video extras that could all fall under the heading of deleted/alternate scenes.

First up is an alternate opening (3:29),

a different version of the MIT application video used which involves a blow-up doll gag.

Next come eight deleted scenes (9:11), which mostly show or extend uneventful bits of the kids' lives in and out of school. There are some changes of scenery and Adam gets a subplot as a self-improving baseball player, plus Quinn gets to fight with David about his use of the time machine. The movie would have been no better or worse with these left in, only longer. Which I guess might be worse in a way.

Finally, there are two alternate endings (4:46), which are neither terribly different from what's in place nor worth detailing.

The menu is a static, silent screen. The Blu-ray supports bookmarking the film, but does not resume playback.

While the Blu-ray opens streaming some fresh trailers from the internet, the DVD will forever load with previews for Terminator: Genisys and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water. Its Previews listing plays an Interstellar trailer before repeating the other two.

The two bland discs share a slipcovered eco-friendly keepcase, whose one insert supplying your Digital HD code and directions features on its back a card worth up to $10 off a movie ticket at participating theaters. If you're someone who was already planning to see a movie this summer through August 31st and would pay up to that amount, this inclusion greatly increases the value of this combo pack.

In the end, David Raskin (Jonny Weston) travels back to his 7th birthday party in a stained T-shirt just like he saw in a perplexing home movie.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

If you judge Project Almanac against not the classic time travel films of my opening paragraph but comparable modern films like Chronicle, Jumper, and Project X, you won't be so disappointed. This low-budget effort from first-time filmmakers is surprisingly chill. The great promise of its old birthday home movie find ends up not being the start of a great adventure but one of just a few creative flickers that keep this watchable and close to enjoyable.

Paramount's combo pack provides a strong feature presentation and a suitable handful of extras. I'd say there's just enough here to warrant a rental for interested parties. Then again, the $10 it offers towards a ticket to see any movie in theaters this summer could be enough to push you towards a reasonably-priced purchase.

Buy Project Almanac from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New: Focus Hot Tub Time Machine 2 Jupiter Ascending McFarland, USA Chappie
Found Footage: Chronicle Into the Storm Cloverfield The Last Exorcism The Remaining
Time Travel: Edge of Tomorrow Jumper Knowing Looper Men in Black 3 Meet the Robinsons Predestination
Jonny Weston: Under the Bed | Amy Landecker: All Is Bright A Serious Man Clear History

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Reviewed June 11, 2015.



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