At Comic-Con late Thursday night, Paramount held a surprise sneak peek of its upcoming found-footage time-travel film Project Almanac, from first-time feature director Dean Israelite and Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes. Originally scheduled for release back in February, it was postponed until January of 2015 to give Paramount and MTV Films time work out a marketing strategy. Some of that strategy will no doubt be based on the response of the select Comic-Con audience at this screening, which was generally positive despite the late hour (it started just after 11:00 pm). Hit the jump for my Project Almanac preview.
No doubt this film will be watched closely by fans of the 1983 Matthew Broderick thriller War Games, since Israelite has just signed on to direct the remake. It’s not hard to see the similarities. Both films center on an awkward but brilliant teenager whose talents get him in over his head but bring him closer to the seemingly unobtainable girl he likes. Israelite seems to bring out grounded performances in his cast, despite the extreme circumstances the characters find themselves in, which bodes well for War Games.
We have to save the full review of Project Almanac for a another time closer to the opening date, but our first impression of the film as a whole were mixed. On the one hand, it gets some credit for attempting to do something different with the well-worn time-travel story by basing it around found footage and giving it an emotional center in the sweet romance between two teens. It even acknowledges the contributions of other works to the time-travel genre with references to films like Looper to Back to the Future.
But that’s just where the problems lie. It winds up feeling like a mash-up of much better recent indie films like Chronicle, Primer and About Time. None of them did particularly well at the box office. And this isn’t original or clever enough to feel truly different than what has come before. Many of its big ideas have been done by others, and better.
Adding to the limited appeal is the relative lack of name recognition among the young cast members. Jonny Weston stars as David Raskin, a kid who discovers his deceased father left behind instructions for a time machine. He and his friends (played by Allen Evangelista and Sam Lerner) while his sister Chris (Ginny Gardner) records it all on an old video camera. Probably the most recognizable member of the cast, at least among TV viewers is Sofia Black-D’Elia (Gossip Girl, Betrayal), who plays David’s love interest Jessica. She becomes part of the group when David hooks up the time machine to her car battery. It all goes wrong when David breaks the group’s self-imposed rules of time travel for selfish reasons.
As we left the theater, some of the audience members could be heard animatedly puzzling out the intricate plot, so that’s always a good sign. The studio certainly has plenty of time time to build on that buzz before the film opens in theaters nationwide next year.