Movies and Novels: Project Almanac, The Name of the Wind and other fantasy

This post was supposed to be a post on the science of Project Almanac. There is no science in the movie. None at all. There isn’t even any bogus math. However, there are some really impressive looking gadgets and some interesting ways of looking at alternative world timelines. But most of the technology and science just doesn’t make any sense, when it’s there, that is.

I did not want to finish this review. If it weren’t for all the requests for me to finish it I would have given this movie a pass. As a time travel movie, it’s OK. As a launching point to discuss science or rubber science, it stinks. As a teenybopper movie, as an adolescent fantasy, well then, it’s pretty good. Sofia Black-D’Elia and Ginny Gardner are certainly up to the task of fueling adolescent fantasies. So is Jonny Weston for that matter.

The main characters: David Raskin (Jonny Weston), Adam Le (Allen Evangelista) and Quinn Goldberg (Sam Lerner), David’s sister Christina (Ginny Gardner), and the love interest Jessie Pierce (Sofia Black-D’Elia).

David Raskin is a genius. His father is also a genius. He notices in one of his home movies a reflection of himself at his current age, senior in high school, in a mirror at his seventh birthday party. He watches as the reflection moves toward the basement. So he explores the basement until he finds a hidden panel. Under that panel is a gadget that his father built while working on some special, super secret government project. Let’s just call the gadget a flux capacitor because it isn’t named in the movie. (Even if it is named in the movie, flux capacitor is as good as any other bogus name. It’s at that same level of specificity anyway, so why not?) With the flux capacitor are plans to finish building a time machine.

David builds the time machine and then uses it to enrich himself and his friends as well as maneuver events to get Jessie, the popular girl in school, to fall in love with him. He does all this via the time machine because David is a wimp and can’t bring himself to ask Jessie out for a date even though Jessie secretly admires him and even though David is played by Jonny Weston. Go figure.

David seems intelligent, cool and decent looking but doesn’t have any backbone. He is a nerd. He dreams of going to MIT but his single mother, his father died in a car crash the same day as David’s 7th birthday party, doesn’t have the money to send him to MIT without a full scholarship.

Thus, this story is also a coming of age adventure as well as a time travel movie.

The friends, see main characters above, use the time machine to go to rock concerts, party and get good grades. Add to that getting laid and you have the ultimate adolescent fantasy cum power trip. They also use this awesome power to win the lottery and fix their pathetic love lives. In the end, however, they mess up the timeline so badly that David has to go back and destroy the flux capacitor to reset the timeline. Of course, he fears he won’t get the girl. Throughout this whole movie, David fears he won’t get the girl. Even after he gets the girl, he is motivated by the fear that he won’t get the girl because he constantly flits around in time, by himself, breaking a pact he made with this friends never to travel alone in time. And of course, since he violated the pact, this spells disaster. He loses the girl. He has to flit around some more in time to fix this, piling change on change. (Though why the pact is important is anyone’s guess. The pact only prevents the gang of kids from being affected by the changes not the rest of the world and it is the rest of the world that winds up in the shitter. To see a complete synopsis, click here.)

The timeline in Project Almanac, unlike Primer, is linear. There is no branching of the timeline at all. Rather, the timeline changes, then the people who change it go back to where they started in the original timeline but with the changes. That is, if you start in timeline A, you don’t return to an unchanged timeline A or crossover to timeline B, but rather come back to where you started in timeline A but with butterfly-effect like changes. (Timeline A’ is equal to timeline A plus change.) Some of the changes surprise the hell out of the kids. And of course, because David has broken the pact, the other kids are mad at him that he changed their world. Forget about the billions of other people on the planet, they are pissed because he went behind their backs and changed their lives.

This single timeline view makes the time travel loops somewhat easier to keep track of because there are no loops. The movie is simpler to understand than most time travel movies but, then, it isn’t a very good time travel movie. However, you don’t need a scorecard or a synopsis explaining all the loops and their resolutions, or lack of resolution, as you do for Primer. That’s something.

The kids, having gotten hold of the flux capacitor, hook it up to batteries. This is one of the first bogus pieces of technology in the movie aside from the flux capacitor itself. They hook it up to the most powerful batteries they can find and eventually have to use a car battery to get enough juice. How, then, is a car battery any more powerful than household current? And why do they need batteries. Presumably they want the portability that batteries afford. However, since they aren’t traveling very far back in time, why they can’t just plug into household current in the past is anybody’s guess.

So, what is the first thing they do after traveling back in time for the first time? The first thing the kids do is go to Quinn’s house to look at him sleeping just to make sure that they are time traveling. Quinn draws on his past self’s neck to see if they get a Looper effect. We watch as he draws on his own neck and it magically appears on the future Quinn’s neck. Then, the past Quinn wakes up and see his future self and the two of them start flickering. This is interesting. Why would meeting your future self start rewriting your existence in a timeline? Quickly, the kids hightail it out of the past Quinn’s presence before disaster strikes. Eventually, though, Jesse meets her past self by accident and they both disappear.

This doesn’t seem logical. What if one of the kids does not recognize himself? Say the past kid? Would they both disappear anyway? Is it the recognition or the simply act of seeing you future or past self? No other information is exchanged other than a visual of your other self. Is a paradox created just by seeing your past or future self? What paradox would that be? I have nothing. This isn’t like the grandfather paradox where you go back and kill your grandfather, thus preventing you from being born and going back to kill your grandfather, etc. You aren’t occupying the same space at the save time.

Eventually, after much time traveling, David goes back into the past to destroy the time machine and plans and everything is reset. His body flickers in the past and then vanishes. Now, why would that happen? Is this akin to the grandfather paradox?

We cut to David, back in the present, looking in the attic with Christina. They find their dad’s camera with footage of what they were saying and doing just a few minutes ago. Then later, at school with the gang, David realizes he has Jesse’s backpack. (Remember, they shouldn’t remember any of what just happened in the movie because it didn’t.) He returns the backpack and says to Jesse something she told him the first time they spoke. Jesse asks him how he knew what she was going to say. He leans in and says, “This is gonna sound crazy, but I think we’re about to change the world.”

This last line had me clutching my head, screaming, “Oh no. Not again. Why does he want to go through all that mess again?”

The only parts of this movie that ring true are the adolescent angst about sex and popularity, when they are using the time machine to go to rock concerts, win lotteries and arrange their sex lives for the better. The rest of it is just smoke, hogwash and beef and cheesecake.

My next post will be about The Name of the Wind and Station Eleven. Just as soon as I am done reading them.

4 Comments

  • Mike LaPolla says:

    Great review! It’s a fun ride for the most part. The jittery camera work of them memorializing the events took a little getting use to. I would imagine if time travel was attainable and you went to the past, you couldn’t alter it because as you travel back on the same time line, the future reality has been already embedded or established. The grandfather paradox could not occur. If you tried to prevent the Kennedy assassination, your efforts would be negated, since the event has already occurred before you traveled back. But at what point would your efforts fail so that history is not changed? Would it be at the point of mission-intention or a millisecond before your monkey wrench could be delivered?

    • Mark LaPolla says:

      That’s a great point, Mike. The way around an immutable past would be to use the Multiple Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics on macro-events in macro-timelines, rather than just for quantum events. This would mean branching at all changes in the past. Each one of their trips into the past would have created a new timeline for every quantum event change. But let’s say that it only applies to pivotal changes, macro-events. Let’s say that time is flexible enough to absorb a certain amount of change without creating a new timeline. They were like rhinos in heat in a china shop. So, there still would have been a lot of branching. If we adopt the Primer model, that only the loops created by the time travelers would create changes. This would cut down on the number of timeline changes and since, in Primer, you can meet your past self, the changes would probably only be local changes and the effect you would get would be that the changes would pile up on the last looping time traveler’s timeline. They circumvented this sort of closed casual loop paradox, where a future event is the cause of the past event, by not letting people meet. Or at least, that’s the way I read that. Also by not letting people meet, they get rid of most of the grandfather paradox. You can’t kill yourself. Instead, all copies of yourself at all times just disappear. This would mean that there would be no paradox because your whole timeline is erased, beginning to end.

      “But at what point would your efforts fail so that history is not changed? Would it be at the point of mission-intention or a millisecond before your monkey wrench could be delivered?” That’s a great question. It could fail before it begun. In other words, you could go back and prevent the Kennedy assassination, but as the timeline repaired itself, it could just wipe you out completely, thus repairing the major event by unmaking you, a minor event. This means that History would be distinct from Time, which I think it is. There are temporal forces, micro-events, quantum events, and historical forces, macro-events. The other solution would be that you would be allowed to o prevent the Kennedy assassination but that action would be spun off into a side branch of time that dead-ended and nothing would change in your timeline. You would remember saving Kennedy but no body else would. That event would be walled off from your reality.

      What did you think of the movie as a story in general? There was very little with respect to physics or math to talk about in this movie. It was more like Loopers in that regard.

  • Mike LaPolla says:

    “What did you think of the movie as a story in general?”

    It was a fun ride for me. Discarding physics accuracy is a must in most time travel themes as it was here. Its young audience was specifically targeted. Side bar: I remember in a (Christopher Reeves) Superman movie, Superman reversed time by reversing the rotation of the earth by hyper-speed flying around it. Rewinding time by rewinding rotation. Talk about a stretch.

    • Mark LaPolla says:

      He did that not only in the movies but in the comic books. He achieved superluminal speeds by using the atoms of his body as a propellent. How he was able to super-control each atom in his body is anyone’s guess. How he was able to go back in time by flying widdershins around the earth, is no one’s guess. How Superman is able to fly at all is unknown. It’s a wonder he didn’t fly himself to oblivion.

      In Star Trek, they used the sun as a slingshot. So, they were able to gain super-speeds using the sun and this was supposed to allow them to travel back in time. The question is, why don’t they travel back in time every time they use the warp engines? (You might want to also read Installment Two of Physics in the 24th Century. The only answer is that they accelerated to superluminal speeds in normal space, thus traveling backwards in time. Is this possible? Let’s find out.

      Perhaps hyperspace, where you presumably go when you create a warp bubble does not allow for backward time travels. However, if tachyons exist, they travel faster than the speed of light and travel backwards in time. They have space-like four momentum as opposed to bradyons, normal particles, which have time-like four-momentum. Special Relativity implies that the tachyon can only go faster than light. It can never slow down to light speed. So, for both bradyons and tachyons, the speed of light is still a barrier.

      This means that normal matter cannot accelerate to faster than light speeds because the mass of that matter would increase until it engulfed the known universe. So, both superman and the Enterprise could not travel backwards in time no matter how fast they flew in normal space. Forwards in time is a piece of cake, especially with time dilation, but not backwards in time.

      I am not sure how one could move space-like four-momentum in the normal universe. Even information cannot travel backwards in time other than under very unusual condition which seem theoretically possible in general relativity. However, once quantum mechanical effects are integrated into general relativity, these loopholes may be closed. We will have to wait and see once we have a unified theory of physics. (For further reading on time travel and superluminal space travel, see Installment One of Physics in the 24th Century.

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