sci fi movie low budget on time travel

I had forgotten the name of this small sci-fi film that made me believe that time travel was actually possible by gearing up a contraption in my garage with the help of an IIT genius. This morning I decided to type in the very words that mark the title of this blog on Google. Hand it to Google, the first link that appeared was for the film ‘Primer‘ developed and directed by Shane Carruth.

Primer Film
Primer Film

Armed with a degree in Mathematics and engineering experience, Carruth made Primer on a $7000 budget. Now forget about a sci-fi flick, this would not be enough to arm even a c-grade romantic comedy meant to go straight-to-video. But with Primer, Carruth has given us one of the most engrossing sci-fi, time travel movie ever without the use of any cheap special effects. It’s the thrills and the twists and turns that make the film so engrossing.

Besides writing and directing, Shane Carruth stars with David Sullivan as the duo who accidentally come up with a time travel device in their garage and the movie traces their experiences while trying to manage this device in the best way that they can for their mutual benefit. The movie is believable from the point of view that it is the ‘Blair Witch…’ of the Sci-Fi genre. There are no sound effects, no dark alleys and renegade machines trying to entrap you. It’s just the characters who go through a complex lifecycle process while trying to go back in time and benefit from what they know happened. I won’t say I understood everything in the movie the first time I watched it, but there was a palpable thrill when the developers of the machine nearly came face to face with their body doubles from the past. Instances like this, create the tension in the film adn there is a climactic sense everytime the main characters use the machine. You wait for something bad to happen till the very end and this is what keeps the viewer on tenterhooks.

This movie deservedly received a Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance film festival. Other mainstream sci-fi awards like the Saturn Sci-Fi Film Awards completely missed this cracker of a film. Checking up on Shane Carruth on Wikipedia, I noticed that he hasn’t made any movie since.  I guess the studio execs found this guys number crunching skills too complicated especially when it came to realigning the share of the box office profits and otehr profit sharing ratios, which are now decided before a movie is made. From fractals to geometrical and algebraic patterns, Carruth is one guy who can turn numbers and element symbols into a 3 hour long masterpiece on celluloid. I hope someone is listening.

Watch the trailer here.

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3 thoughts on “sci fi movie low budget on time travel”

  1. I’ve seen the movie twice. The first time, soon after I graduated with my degree (a year after it was released), and once again just yesterday.

    First viewing, I was amused, and a little surprised at how authentic the dialog was among the engineers (degree in physics, so I understand the disagreements, questions, discussions, what have you…all too well). But I also distinctly remember how annoyed I felt at the difficulty of making out the images on the screen. I could hardly see a thing! It was simply too dark. And at the time, before HD was even affordable, not being able to see the confusion of a moment in the movie was more than aggravating.

    Now the film did make sense…I would say the first 35 min of it (making an approximation..give or take 10-15 min), but then it just went down a strange and very perplexing rabbit hole of impossibly hard to see footage, and actions characters would take that, frankly, didn’t quite make sense to me.

    I understand the causality, and while I didn’t have a mathematics and/or film degree at the time, I still understood the necessity of explaining certain principles, while showcasing it with images to further reinforce the stated theory.

    Needless to say, I had mixed reactions about my first viewing, so I just let it rest, and went about my life.

    Flash forward 3 years later, and I’ve suddenly taken an interest in film. So much, that I’m actually starting to pursue it…writing, directing, producing, and the like. I hear from other filmmaking enthusiasts about the cult following Primer has, and the accolades it recieved for its cinematrography. I suprressed the urge to scoff, and decided to watch it again. I have an HD screen…yes, the images were more manageable to see (on a 23inch screen…it better be!).

    I watched quite intently. Took notes. Filtering it through the newly acquired knowledge, I understood finally why the movie received so much praise. But, only for the first 35 min of it (give or take…once again). For the amount of time they had, and given that he nearly had no budget, and hardly any crew, and the editing software he used was the amateurish premiere pro, I’d say he did phenomenally well. I didn’t even realize he was the lead actor until just recently! So all in all…an amazing feat!

    But, yet again…the story started to deconstruct once the dilemma occurred. The pacing was perfect in the first half, and then things were just sloppily edited together, without enough time to allow the audience to take it in and process it. Everyone was justifiably confused!

    There’s a strange phenomena that occurs when people encounter something that’s too confounding for them to comprehend. A lot of people are almost fearful of admitting to not understanding something, when they’ve already stigmatized that “thing” as something intelligent, or smart. Because Caruth had a background in math and engineering, people immediately attached validity to whatever he was going to show in the movie. Whether the movie had any real and valid scientific basis and coherency, was totally irrelevant! “It has to be a work of brilliance…since I don’t understand it!” I don’t think many people gives themselves enough credit.

    I’ll be the first to admit that I was very confused about the actions that occurred towards the end of the film. I only had two viewings of it, and while they were a few years in between, I still feel a movie should have a semblance of intelligibility in it…from beginning to end.

    Whatever the case, it was still a delight to see authenticity in a film about accidental discoveries (which is essentially what science is founded on), and all the behavioral/temporal permutations that result from it…no matter how confounding 🙂

    1. Hi Marian,
      You sure seem passionate about pursuing this film. It sure was an amazing feat by the director of Primer in developing this movie. Maybe being difficult to comprehend makes this film even more fascinating. I got the complete gist of the film after reading the wikipedia excerpt. Time loops and diagrams give a clearer impression of what happened on screen. However not everything that you cant comprehend needs to be a work of brilliance. There are some directors out there who think that making an incomprehensible film makes it a classic. I would say junk that. What made Primer fascinating perhaps was it’s shoestring budget which made the movie more authentic and you could feel the ‘realness’ of the characters.

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