Primer

January 28, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

“Primer” might be one of the reasons the Independent Film movement has taken off in recent years. If you’d have told me that the story of two guys who accidentally make a time machine in their garage would be one of the most thought-provoking films I’d ever seen; I’d have told you that you were crazy. As it turns out, “Primer” is just that. As any movie fans know, when the words “Science Fiction” are uttered – one can’t help but think of movies like “Star Wars” and “2001: A Space Odyssey”. “Primer” has, from what I can tell, absolutely zero special effects yet it says more about Science Fiction than a lot of movies that promote it. In much of the same way that “Contact” dealt with time-travel (on a smaller scale, naturally) so does “Primer”. First time writer/director/actor Shane Carruth is certainly onto something here and it’s refreshing to find such a talented person who can write, direct and act. Among the film’s accolades is the prestigious Grand Jury Prize from the Sundance Film Festival (some of the previous winners of this award include: “American Splendor”, “The Brothers McMullen” and “Blood Simple”).

The plot is both amazingly simple and yet deceivingly complex. We meet Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) along with two of their business partners, Robert (Casey Gooden) and Phillip (Anand Upadhyaya) who are running a small business out of a garage. Aaron and Abe are the motivating factors behind it and want it to succeed. Ironically enough, they all have day jobs and are trying to become the next billionaires by doing this in their free time. What they’re actually working on in secret is something that I still don’t understand, but Abe figures out that it’s related to time when he finds a build up of fungus on a test subject (a toy). Abe takes the initiative and builds a larger version of what he believes is a time machine and decides to test it himself. It works. As a man of science, he doesn’t have too much fun while repeating his day (he only travels back one day) and his “present” self is asleep in a storage facility. He convinces Aaron to go back with him where they’ll “have a good day on the stock market” and their financial woes will be cured. Additionally, on subsequent visits a more morbid plot comes into play…but can traveling back through time have disastrous effects on the future?

I had fun with “Primer”. It’s decidedly low-key and at times it’s refreshing to see a movie that looks like it was shot with a camera anyone can own. I was a bit lost during some of the explanations, but it’s clear the characters were engineers and it all made sense to them. Take, for example the use of the word “causality” – of which I had to look up. Time travel may or may not exist, but this offers a somewhat feasible explanation of how it might work. I identified with these characters because they were a) From the South (Dallas in particular, though I didn’t find it out until I saw some of the shooting locations in the credits) and b) my age. Admittedly, I’d recommend watching this movie a few times. After a second viewing, I was able to concentrate on some of the stuff I missed before and it did make a bit more sense. But if paradoxes and causality aren’t up your alley – you might not get out of it what I did. Highly recommended.

Video: How does it look?

“Primer” might not look like a glossy Hollywood production and it’s certainly not meant to. Shot on a budget of only $7,000 the video quality is not up to the DVD’s we usually review. So what. For the most part, the 1.78:1 anamorphic image looks fairly clean and clear. I suppose the biggest difference is the lighting used here which all appears to be natural (this is what gives those big “studio” movies that near flawless look). There is some grain and in a number of scenes, the camera is handheld giving us a “shaking” effect. New Line has done all they can to make the image look good – and for the most part it does.

Audio: How does it sound?

The audio is just like the video, it appears that some higher end sound equipment was used, but it still has that feel to it that seems to say “this sounds like home video”. At any rate, it’s not a bad thing and all of the dialogue is fairly easy to understand. There aren’t a whole lot of surround effects to speak of, either. Let’s face it – the main draw of this movie won’t be the soundtrack. This presents the audio elements in the best way possible which is about all we can ask for.

Supplements: What are the extras?

There aren’t a lot of supplements to the disc, but we do get two pretty good audio commentaries. The first is with director/writer/editor/actor Shane Carruth who tells us how he came up with the idea, getting the project made and financed, etc. He expands on that in the second track when he’s joined by some other members of the cast and crew. Admittedly, listening to these commentary tracks WILL help you understand the movie a bit more. It (the movie) tends to rely on some rather unique circumstances in the last 15 minutes and unless you’re a quantum physicist – it won’t make sense. It’s good to see low budget films like this get the treatment they deserve and I, for one, thought “Primer” was a great film.

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