I am going to open this review by being blatantly honest on two fronts.
I loved Primer and, save for the basics of the story, I understand very little about this movie. Yet, like the conundrum that is Primer, I think that it is my lack of understanding that makes me like this movie all the more. I saw Primer last summer in a 10 movie multiplex. I had been following it’s story ever since I heard about it’s prize winning debut at the Sundance Film Festival. Sure, I was skeptical of it’s $7,000 budget, but I was so intrigued by it’s subject matter(time travel) that it was a film I had to see. After falling asleep for about 2 minutes during the movie(I had just gotten back from the East Coast the day before and my body was adjusting), I watched with nothing but rapt attention. Once the movie was over, on the way to me car, I declared that it was the best movie of 2004 and my friends laughed at me because they wondered how I could think that when I had fallen asleep?
Here’s what I can tell you about this movie, Aaron and Abe are two inventors who somehow figure out who to move through time. They use this ability to their advantage by betting on sports games and making stock trades to which they know the outcome. Yet, there are side effects to their time travel escapades and it is here that Primer’s moral compass resides. I could say more, I could try and extrapolate meanings but I think that the best antidote for people like myself(the confused) is to just watch the movie again and again. I don’t know that this will elucidate any more meaning but at the very least it will give me that many more chances to see this daringly bold, innovative film.
Commentary Track by writer/director Shane Carruth
I was sort of hoping to have the entire movie illuminated by Mr. Carruth but I quickly realized that this wasn’t going to be the case. However, in no way was I let down by what was or wasn’t said. This track is more for the filmmaker’s watching, it seems, and like the movie itself, I was confused in spots but I was actually more astounded with how wickedly smart Carruth really is. What made listening to this commentary even more intriguing was the fact that someone with such brains seems to be complimented equally by his own creativity. Shane Carruth is one of those rare people who takes that whole left brain/right argument and turns it on it’s ear. This is certainly a commentary track you can listen to over and over again.
Cast and Crew Commentary Track
Listened to a little bit of this and I was really touched that the director’s father was on it. This keeps in line with the Director’s commentary in that we get a nuts and bolts “how to” of how this truly independent movie was made, but again, like Primer itself, this track doesn’t seek to answer all of the questions it may pose. How can it, right? At the end of the day, I found that both of these commentary tracks are excellent supplemental materials for what I think is going to be one of the biggest sleeper DVD releases of the year.
Widescreen Version: presented in a format preserving the 1.78:1 aspect ratio of it’s original theatrical exhibition. Enhanced for widescreen TVs. Shot in Super 16mm and blown up to 35mm, I love the look of this movie. It truly captures the tone and feel of what I imagine a “techie” life is like. As someone who loves computers, programming and all things Silicon Valley(I am currently reading Andy Hertzfeld’s “Revolution in the Valley”), I was immediately taken with this film’s look and setting. When you realize that Carruth and Co. got the entire film in the can for $7,000 and that the version of the movie you are watching(not counting post production bump up costs) is the exact film that was on his computer, you will truly realize what an amazing achievement this movie is. To be able to get the look and tell the story that he told would be amazing in any budget in my opinion.
English: Stereo Surround Sound. I love the music for this movie and if there is a soundtrack available, I wish somebody would let me know. Yes, Shane Carruth did the score for his movie as well. He talks about his use of sound a bit in the commentary, and again, I am very impressed with the results he has managed to get. The sound adds what I can only describe as an ethereal quality to this film. In fact, in my mind, I imagine the setting to be someplace like San Jose or Cupertino, CA.. The use of dialogue sound(which I remember reading somewhere that Carruth had some post production problems, so he cut the film using techniques from Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey), really makes this movie feel bigger and longer then it actually is. In fact, after you have screened the film, I think you’ll be surprised that it’s only 78 minutes. I feel the way the sound is designed contributes a lot to that and as a result this movie feels that much bigger.
I almost didn’t buy this movie on DVD at first, mainly because it seems so ripe for a rerelease with tons of bells and whistles. This is the kind of movie that gets(and deserves) the Criterion treatment. I however couldn’t not buy it as I was dying to see it again. The packaging is good, it shows the Abe and Aaron characters standing next to the initial box in which their experiments begin. The back features some shots from the movie as well as a brief description of what Primer is about. Nothing too special here, but I think that this minimalist packaging actually adds to the whole idea and spirit of this movie. Sure, I would have loved a double disk DVD with a 25 page booklet, but in the end I am just so glad to have this movie that I am willing to do without. I think for a movie like Primer this is where DVD really shows it’s stripes, because I honestly think that now this movie will have a real chance to find it’s audience.
In a day and age where movies are so expensive. Everything is so overpriced and bloated out proportion. Movies have to appeal to everyone and hit high in all 4 quadrants, Primer comes along, and for basically pennies shows that the most important quality a movie can have is to be interesting. Do I always my movies to be like Primer ? No. Do I think that this movie is for everyone? No. I just think that this movie should be given a chance. People should have the opportunity to see it, mainly because it is that rare independent movie that exceeds not only it’s hype but it’s ambition.
My next question is ... why does Shane Carruth not have projects setup all over Hollywood? I am sure he has to have at least gotten great representation out of all this, and I am sure that the actors in this movie will undoubtedly pop up in other movies, but why when I look at IMDB does he have no other things “in the hopper”? Somebody, please do something with this guy. Give him an office, a $1 million dollar budget, a Mac(come on Shane, how could you have even thought about editing this movie on Adobe Premiere?) and just leave him alone. Also, I honestly think somebody should contact Paul Davies, author of “How To Build A Time Machine”, because he now needs to amend the “Brief History of Time Travel” section that opens his book. The last thing he lists is the book “Timeline” by Michael Crichton which was published in 1999. If Primer doesn’t deserve it’s place on that list then I don’t know what does.
Now, if only somebody could explain to me in VERY easy terms how the inside of “the box” works, I would be forever grateful.
Primer was released October 8, 2004.