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I hadn't heard of this until I came across some relatively good reviews for it on the Internet. I tried not to read too much in to the blurb so as to be surprised when I watched it, but I had a rough idea that it was a bit of a sci-fi style thriller. Unfortunately, I found this too dull, slow and confusing to be enjoyable, despite what could have been an interesting premise, so it's not one I'd really recommend.
Primer was written and directed by Shane Carruth, who seems to have done a few small things but nothing I recognise and Primer seems to be his first piece. Basically put, we're introduced to 4 guys, friends, who seem to be quite nerdy when it comes to technology. They come across as being rather amateur entrepreneurs, keen to keep building and discovering and creating something bigger and better. They start with their usual creations of error-checking devices until a new invention comes to light; the beginnings of a super machine seem to have taken root though no one is sure at first what it is or how exactly it works.
So, what have they made? In the little garage, the side-effect piece of technology is actually a mistake, something they didn't specifically intend on making. But, will the seeds already planted, they work around the clock in a trial and error style to hone it, grow it and perfect it. I won't say what the machine actually is and what it does because that realisation doesn't come until later, so you do end up spending quite some time attempting to work this out.
The rest of the film simply goes through the developments of this machine and what it does, along with more of an underlying moral dilemma. To what lengths will you go to secure the biggest and best invention? Is it worth friendship? What if you're standing in front of something you can't truly understand, something that could be far more poignant and dangerous than you could imagine?
The cast includes Casey Gooden (Robert), Shane Carruth (Aaron), David Sullivan (Abe) and Anand Upadhyaya (Phillip). I hadn't seen any of these 4 inventors before so it was a very unknown cast to me, which isn't always a bad thing. I didn't, however, think the acting was particularly strong. It was okay enough to be watchable and it didn't have the annoying Hollywood sheen and sparkly smiles, but it could have been more empathic and believable at times.
The premise was fairly interesting, albeit quite straightforward aside from the complexities of the technology itself. It had the potential to be quite intriguing, however I found it wasn't anywhere near clear enough to fully make sense of; I struggled to understand what was going on most of the time and not knowing was frustrating. It wasn't portrayed in an understandable way and so I ended up finding it more convoluted and dull than interesting.
The film had a strange feel to it overall, one of being almost old-fashioned and dry. It seemed to me like it was plucked out of the 80s or 90s, with dull colours, slow moving scenes, no action or soundtrack to pick up back up again. It just seemed dry in the sense of the scenes and script which made it quite boring at times, it didn't catch the eye and it reduced any feel of this being a high quality flick. The pace did begin to pick up and explanations did start to bring some clarity to the plot, but this took a long time so I had to wait until the film was nearing the end to start enjoying it somewhat. Even the ending, however, seemed quite lacklustre, but again, it just left me thinking 'that could have been done a lot better'.
I'll be honest, I didn't really understand this film and felt rather irritated whilst watching it because it seemed slow and convoluted. I was quite surprised considering the rating on Amazon was almost 4 stars, so I had expected something at least a little better. Granted, it seemed to pick up but it was a very gradual affair and it seemed to retain the dullness and sense of lacklustre atmosphere.
Overall, this isn't one I'd recommend, even though it had the potential to be reasonably interesting. It just seemed dull, slow and confusing, making it harder to watch and not something I felt gripped by.
DVD released 2006, rated Certificate 15.
Selling on Amazon for £5.79
[Also reviewed by me, gothic_moon, on Ciao]
PRIMER - 2004 MOVIE/SCI-FI/77MINS/12C/DVD/£5.67NEW/£2.12USED
I was lucky enough to see this at a the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham in 2004. A friend of mine is much more of a movie buff than me, and has his ears and eyes in all the right places to make sure when we wen't to the cinema together it was to see something great.
I walked into the cinema excited as you usually do - I left utterly confused but satisfied. Even thinking back to this film was confusing. I watched it only a few weeks ago after I saw it was going really cheap on Amazon and I've been meaning to ensure it was in my collection for a while. Even though I saw it recently, thinking back and trying to put the plot back together is a bit of a headache let alone try and explain what happens. Stick with it though, I've your put off don't be - its a great film. And you don't to need take just my word for it, it won at Sundance 2004.
The casting and background to the movie is almost as an original a tale as one as the makers commit to film. A man called Shane Carruth is the brains behind the operation here. You would be forgiven for having never heard of him, he came out of nowhere with this film. No back ground in film making or acting as such and unfortunately mostly vanished with the hype surrounding the film. Word is, hes working on something else slated for late 2012/13 - almost ten years since this time.
I say Carruth is behind this, but in-front of it too. He wrote, produced and directed the film, as well as was cast in the lead role.
Staggering, and a real talking point surrounding the film is its budget - Carruth personally fronting the mere $7000 it took to make. Unheard of these day and in 2004. Most of the money going on the actual filming, cost were cut with the film being made at the actors homes and props were made cheaply. To save money and have full control, Carruth spent 2 years editing and working on post production - teaching himself as he went.
Carruth play Aaron and he teams up with Abe - played by David Sullivan, another name unheard. Sullivan differs from Carruth however as he does have acting credentials - popping up in US cops shows now and again in minor roles. Since his work rate has picked up and he has been in a few independent films, but nothing huge.
A couple of others pop up infront of the camera, but this film is sparse. Two others bulk out the film actor wise, with the two most secondary roles going to Casey Gooden and Anand Upadhyaya - another two males actors who are almost totally unknowns.
Another point made a lot when the film was buzzing, and still referenced a lot when reading up on the film is how Carruth was formally and engineer before truning he mind to film making. Its worth remembering this.
Now it gets tough.
Its a film, broadly speaking about time travel. Well, its exactly about time travel - but its no Back To The Future. I love films and books about time travel, I would go as far to say I love The Time Travelers Wife because how it takes an idea that has been talked about, fantasied over and been the source of hundred of hours of entertainment, but pulls and tangles up the realistic notions of the time travel. Having a fresh take on something is always welcome in my books - and it doesn't get fresher than the plot of Primer.
I will explain it as best I can - and its going have to be a little simplistic as to not lose myself, or you. But trust me it is complex. Four engineers, headed up by Carruth as Arron, are all working on projects in a garage. They are trying to put their collective engineering chops together to build something thats going to make them money. They spend just as much time working in the garage as they do squabbling over what the should focus on.
Abe and Arron agree on what to focus on - its not made clear what they are working on. Unless it is, as comes the big trick of this film. On the commentary that accompanied this DVD, Carrurth states he didn't want to compromise when writing the script. He wrote it as an engineer and therefore used lots of langue alien to many people. Its dizzyingly complex, even when they appear to be casually talking over a trivial point. Just enough is let slip through to hold the casual watcher - you can roughly follow what is going on and just about stay on top of it. I know nothing about engineering and didn't find this a turn off.
You see them in the garage and in the house, building and talking and as the film progresses the seem to be pretty excited by something. You can roughly work out they have stumbled across time travel - be it in a very small way, sending particle back in time by split seconds. They do a great job of making it look like people actually figuring out time travel.
All while this is happening and among the deep dialogue, the plot is flicking from point to point in an way its hard to stay on track - the harshness of all this is well broken with a lovely piano sountracking the film and some nice single camera work. Lots of close shots and sharp cuts put together the film which has an atual glow. When its bright the scenery is a bright golden and outside locations are lit naturally but you get the impression the blue and greens have been turned up in post production.
Very little of the script is used to explain what is going on. In fact hardly any. You can only tell if things are going well or bad depending on how joyed or stressed they are.
Carruth has stated how he made it complex on purpose to make sure the story telling was as complex as the content - and this works well. It doesn't put you off, its adds to the feel of this film.
A point comes when its declared they are out of their depth. And then the time travel gets complex as the plot is gently tugged at - where Abe and Aaron figure out how to use the machine, discover its restriction and start using it. All around this are clue to what will unfold - keep a close eye on the background and generally whats going on. Attention to detail is key with film.
I won't spoil the ending, because I can't. Telling you what actually happens is hard, but its safe to say its a bittersweet discovery. The second half of the film is drenched in a somber vibe, when they discover what this find means realistically.
The film is shot very well, beautifully even. Its hard to think this was made by amateurs - its just too good. So good, watching this does feel like its giving Holywood the middle finger.
------WHAT ELSE ------
The DVD has two commentorys that are both great. Essential even. They help scrape away some of the fuzz this film leaves you with, and gives some brilliant insight - hearing Curruth talk about how he built this film in post production and it was a real labor of love. He's poured a lot into this film. The DVD has a couple of trailers and the usual like scene selection and what not. Its has another nice little bonus - physical notes from film critic Kim Newman that serve has a nice little bit of extra insight and opinion of the film.
This is a great, clever film and I would recommend it to anyone that likes clever cinema that takes a fair bit of focus. Morally, it doesn't try to choke you with telling you right and wrong - and this is more than welcome. It leaves you think, but it doesn't present you with real question of insight. Its got a lot in common story wise with Donnie Darko and Memento but much more grown up than both. Style wise its got a lot of the spirit, be it a little slimmer, than The Social Network - infact both look, sound and feel similar. Its got that paced cool Fincher left his hit from 2010 dripping with.
note: also appears in part on Flixster and The Student Room
If there's any genre that probably couldn't alienate its audience anymore, it would be the small "art house sci-fi" genre, of which Primer is one of the very few entrants. The film revolves around two young men attempting to build a very complex time travel device - writer, director and star Shane Carruth scripted the film with very scientific speak that doesn't particularly care to keep its audience informed of procedings. It's very complex, both structurally and thematically, and is perhaps a test of the patience of its audience more than anything.
The first time I tried to watch Primer, I fell asleep after 45 minutes, and didn't go back to it for about 6 months. I tried again, and with a more refined film palette, actually did enjoy the experimental approach. It's going to alienate a LOT of people - even the most ardent cinemagoers - and has a very niche audience, but if you're a fan of experimental filmmaking in general, this may well excite you.
For a low budget film, it does indeed look very good, and the performances, though amateur, aren't full of holes or overt staginess. The script, you can argue, does the film no favour in almost glossing over the fact that it even has an audience, but if you're prepared to listen carefully and pay attention, then you will be rewarded with an atmospheric and mysterious science fiction that's unlike any other I've ever seen.
Primer is a highly complex and challenging science-fiction film; thus it is not as much entertaining as it is simply mind-bending. A commendable effort considering the budget of $7000, although it requires the utmost attention and patience from the viewer which will alienate many audiences.
Whether you'll enjoy Primer is probably a question of whether you mind understanding next to nothing of what you've just seen. An ultra low-budget film in which Shane Carruth takes on the role of (deep breath ...) writer, producer, director, star and composer, to say it makes you think is something of an understatement. It's not even really true - you try and think, but it's all a bit too impenetrable. If you couldn't comprehend Donnie Darko, give this a miss.
Abe and Aaron are small-time scientists who make a major-league discovery. Trying to invent something, anything that'll attract the kind of investment that'll let them work somewhere more glamorous than Aaron's garage, they stumble upon the kind of thing thousands of books and films have tried to exploit, but never conceived exactly like this. The aforementioned Donnie Darko concerned itself with the consequences of time-travel, and in the broadest sense, so too does Primer. Carruth, though, makes little effort to make his theories accessible to viewers - you either get it, or you don't.
In all likelihood you won't. Esquire's Mike D'Angelo wrote that "anybody who claims he fully understands what's going on in Primer after seeing it just once is either a savant or a liar". But this isn't all there is to the film; as dense and complex as the science that lies inside the little metal box the men have created is, this is also a movie about human hubris.
"What if it actually works?" runs Primer's tagline (and I love the tantalising marketing of this film). In answering this question, Carruth looks at greed, overambition and people's need to always want more - the need to have something unobtainable. Amongst all the opaque machinations of the plot and the paradoxes-upon-paradoxes (for a film about the manipulation of time has to have paradoxes ...), there's also a simpler story about a friendship put under the pressure of great success.
Produced on a budget of only $7,000, it's no surprise that this is effects-light and simply shot. It's also only 77 minutes long - probably a good thing given just how much is packed in here. Carruth did manage to get an awful lot out of his money, though, and although everything from the props to the performances are functional, not a great deal more, one would still assume a much greater amount of money had been spent on Primer. Perhaps part of the complexity comes from the majority of scenes being one-take affairs - there wasn't sufficient budget to redo the scenes again and again.
In all honestly, I'm in two minds as to whether I enjoyed this film. I love what they've tried to do, and I love the fact that nothing is dumbed down - even if it's probably a misjudgement to assume the majority of your audience is au-fait with the finer points of high-end time-travel theory. However, it's hard to get past the essential fact that Primer is incredibly complicated, and incredibly confusing. Go and find one of the flow-charts that exists on the Interweb that tries to make sense of the multiple timelines involved. You'll be twice as bamboozled.
If you like your films to be a departure from the norm, and if you like to be cerebrally challenged as a viewer, Primer might just be for you. It's easy to pine for a neater ending that might have tied up the enormous amount of loose ends a bit, and at least given the audience some kind of sense of comprehension to take home; but perhaps this wouldn't have been entirely in keeping with director Carruth's vision. After all, having been everything from director to tea-boy on the film, it's his ball to play with.
Just make sure your brain's ready for it if you decide to take on Primer. Solve a Rubik's Cube with your teeth, or something. Blindfolded. Twice.
Primer is the extremely low budget science fiction debut from American actor and director Shane Carruth. Produced for the small sum of $7,000, the film has since gone on to gain an underground cult following and collected the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.
The film follows the story of friends Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan), who whilst building error-checking devices for computer motherboards accidently invent the time machine and use it to manipulate and cheat the stock market. Although when summed up as briefly as that the plot seems fairly straight forward and simple to follow, it is anything but this. In terms of style and visuals you could easily draw parallels with director Darren Aronofskys film Pi (1998), although there are many differences, namely the films actual plot, the fact that both are so low budget and gritty will always draw comparisons.
With a running time of 77 minutes the film is concise and punchy, sucking you in effectively and taking you through the story. Carruths scientific background is evident throughout the film, even though I didn't understand the complex mathematics which are shown and discussed on screen, it didn't take too much imagination on my part to be convinced of their accuracy. Primer is not a film for everyone, it would be a massive understatement to describe it as confusing, in fact probably only the works of David Lynch have left be more baffled at times. Carruth doesn't present time travel as a simple easy journey, it is industrial, physically dangerous and littered with complex paradoxes.
You would have done very well if you understood every aspect of this film on first viewing, I know I didn't, due to its intellectual dialogue and non linear screenplay it is fairly easy to lose your way. This is a film you can watch more that once though and you could say requires you to so you fully understand it, drawing a parallel with the films time travelling you need to keep going back to the start before totally appreciating its complexities.
Ultimately this is a film about two friends' journeys into the unknown, pushing their friendship to the limit with a dangerous game of betrayal and one-upmanship. Primer comes with the highest recommendation from me, if you've any interest at all in paranoid dramas with a hint of science fiction, and like your cinema to make you sit up and think, then this could be the film for you.
A few years ago I caught this bizarre movie on BBC2 called PI and found myself really enjoying it even though I never really "got" or understood what it was actually about. It seemed to be about a mathematical genius, suffering from OCD, who had come up with some kind of revolutionary formulae which some very sinister people apopeared to be after. Or maybe that was all in his head.....
Anyway, PRIMER feels like a very similar movie....in that, for most of the film, you're not really quite sure what the frak is going on. A group of "science geeks" get together once or twice a week to tinker about with 8th grade physics in their garage and try and come up with concepts, ideas or products that they can then sell on for a bit of extra cash. Two of the guys want to try and create something they can make serious money out of and propose a new idea they have had; the other two have a difference of opinion and decide to go their seperate ways. Abe and Aaron (played by director and producer Shane Carruth and real-life friend, David Sullivan) continue on alone with their experiments to create some kind of low-temperature super-conducter thingamydoobery. Or at least, thats what I think happens...
As a side-effect of what they are doing, the pair soon realise that what they have created instead is some kind of time travel device though it is never actually described in such science-fictional terms. Now able to travel backwards in time by a matter of hours, the pair begin to dabble leading to all manner of complications; which also leaves the viewer very confused as to what is actually happening.....
To the average layman, it appears as though the friendship between these two people begins to break down both through professional jealousy and scientific rivalry. As each guy tries to outdo the other by manipulating their recent past, for me the film digresses into a very odd and confusing mess. It was hard enough for me to understand the intellectually stimulating PI, so this movie is a real no-brainer for me despite how much I really wanted to enjoy it from the moment I first heard about this film. It has developed something of a cult status, is filmed on as low a budget as you can probably get and won an award for its apparent brilliance at the SUNDANCE awards in 2004. But 3/4 of the way through this confusing movie, I found myself starting to lose MY way.
For me, the film gets off to a bad start with it's excessive use of scientific psycho-babble; when the geeks are meeting around a dining table to discuss principles, they could be talking japanese for all I understand and though no doubt this movie will be loved by real-life science geeks who seek to emulate what they see here on-screen, for anyone else this makes for a very hard film to watch.
Some films are a tad confusing but the payoff at the climax makes them worth watching; MOMENTO being a prime and very clever example of this. Other films are just not worth putting in the effort and unfortunately, PRIMER falls into this latter category for me. Thankfully the film is mercifully short at only 77 mins running time so if you fancy watching this while you do something else or have that amount of time to kill then feel free to knock yourself out. But unless you want a headache trying to work out what is going on, and lets be honest, time travel is a real headache to get your head around at the best of times, then this is one you are probably best to avoid.
The tag-line asks..."what if it works...?"
A more poignant question would be... "What if I don't care...?"
Most people will have at least heard of the term 'garage band', the phenomenon of the early nineties where friends who practised and made music in their garages started making it big; I think Metallica were possibly the biggest band to start under that definition.
'Primer' introduces us to 'garage scientists', four friends who have full time jobs but who get together regularly at Aaron's (Shane Carruth) house in Dallas, Texas to work on inventions, ideas and technology in his garage. They have set up lab equipment and seem to have had reasonable success. The meeting we join them at involves mailing off orders they have received for their creations. While doing this they discuss ways they could actually make something they could live off. Aaron and Abe (David Sullivan) have an idea but the other two, Robert and Phillip, want to go in a different direction, expanding their current production and making more money from what they already have (I think this is the case but am not 100% certain)
An argument ensues and as the money they make is shared a consensus is needed to progress. Eventually one is reached, Aaron and Abe backing down. Once the other two have left Aaron and Abe decide that they are going to implement their idea and work on it. Their idea either consists of something to do with gravity or a way of making things colder (again I'm not sure but this is how I understood it. I'll explain more later!)
What they come up with though is something completely different, nothing like what they expected and the implications of this invention are what drives the majority of the film. The moral implications and complications that the use of their invention could cause are so deep that it is following them as the try to decide what to do that makes this film. It also where not only the film but also trying to review the film without giving anything away becomes really complex and confusing! Let's just say that the true nature of Aaron and Abe slowly begin to rise to the fore the longer the film goes on.
This is a stunningly complex independent film, which Shane Carruth not only starred in, but also wrote, directed, edited, cast, did the sound design and more. If you know Darren Arononfsky's 'PI' then it will give you an idea of what 'Primer' is like. While 'PI' dealt with mathematics in the world 'Primer' deals with heavy scientific theories. Both have a strong basis in their respective sciences; have the same aesthetic to them and are very much the vision of one man.
However while the scientific basis is a novelty it is also the biggest problem 'Primer' has. It's script is very science based, probably too much so at the beginning. Hence my earlier statements about not being completely clear as to what was going on at some stages. There are a number of occasions where you (or I didn't anyway) don't really catch how Abe and Aaron got from one stage to the next. While this may be intentional it just seems to make this convoluted for the sake of it. One particular subplot seems to make very little sense other than to make a later revelation.
While the taglines "If you always want what you can't have what do you want when you can have everything?" and "What if it works?" are likely to intrigue some people I'm not sure how many of them will come out and tell others to see 'Primer'; and this kind of film needs word of mouth to get an audience.
'Primer' is very like David Lynch's 'Mulholland Drive'; you need to see it more than once to fully grasp all the intricacies and complexities in the plot. In both cases though I don't think you will ever be quite sure exactly what happened even after repeated viewings, though you will have more chance with 'Primer' than 'Mulholland Drive' (as wonderful as that film is it still confuses me!)
Possibly a better comparison, complexity wise, would be Christopher Nolan's 'Memento'. It is hard to follow at first but things make more and more sense as the story progresses. You also understand things more the second time you watch it, when you know what is going on. You see certain things in a different light once you know the whole story.
Artistically though I go back to the comparison with "PI". It is the closest cinematic experience to "Primer", it feels the same and they have the same low key dynamic. If you were challenged by "PI" then "Primer" is a must see, it will keep your brain working throughout its short running time (78 minutes) and will have you replaying scenes afterwards, trying to fit all the pieces together.
Shane Carruth - Aaron
David Sullivan - Abe
Anand Upadhyaya - Phillip
Casey Gooden - Robert
Carrie Crawford - Kara
Every year a lot of films get put out there which are generally devoid of soul, character and a decent story. The majority of these films cost anything between $50 million and north of a $100 million. But every once in a while a film comes along that has been made for less than the catering budget on a major Hollywood production.
One such film is Primer.
Actor/Writer/Producer/Director/Editor/Cinematographer/Composer Shane Carruth was a former engineer who spent three years teaching himself the principles of filmmaking. He then used his new found skills to make this movie pretty much by himself with a small cast and crew backed by an original idea.
Primer is a complete mindscrew of a film that will have you baffled or at least trying to unravel what has transpired.
Four men run a small business based in a garage shipping out error-checking devices. But they know there is more they can achieve in the world of science and technology. Two of them develop a device that becomes something they cant comprehend. Its capabilities are revolutionary but its also dangerous with the power to alter time dimensions. The two men make themselves the ginue pigs in testing and simple bit off more than they can chew.
I found the movie very interesting purely because its a fine example of what can be achieved with a good idea and a little time and effort. The story is pretty confusing to the point where you have to watch it again to try and decipher it. Carruth somehow manages to keep you intrigued without really feeding you any significant plotpoints.
I really cant go much into plot details, as it will completely spoil your enjoyment of the film.
The film has an interesting look and style that certainly looks far more expensive than the reported $7000 budget. Carruth and his fellow cast member manage to pull off convincing performances and at no point did I think the production was amateurish. In fact Id say this looks better and has a lot more ambition than a lot of large budget sci-fi flicks.
Primer is a great indie film, if youve seen the likes of Pi and El Mariachi then add this to the list of inspiring efforts.
- The DVD -
1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby 2.0
The film was shot low budget on Super 16mm with little artificial light. As a result the transfer looks grainy buts youd expect it. In fact it adds to the abstract nature of the material.
The soundtrack is fairly minimal in its design. There was no professional sound recording on the production, as a result some of the dialogue isnt as clear as you may be used to. But considering the budget, there is no major problems which detract from the viewing pleasure.
The disc is pretty slim pickings when it comes to extras. But when youre trying to shoot a film for $7000 I doubt theres time to compile a making of.
Two audio commentary tracks accompany the film. The first is with Carruth who goes over how he made the film for next to nothing. The track is very interesting if youre into the process. Some of the techniques he explains are pretty basic but incredibly effective. He even shares some of the secrets behind the story that may give the viewer a better understanding.
The second track has Carruth and cast/crew who worked on the film. Its another good track as they go over the limitations they faced and how they pulled the film together.
Finally there is a trailer that doesnt give anything away but leaves you intrigued.
I really liked Primer, I wish there were more films like it. If you get bored of the norm then definitely seek this out. Its not for everyone but if you like low budget sci-fi then theres not much better.