"Shadows present, foreshadowing deeper shadows to come." -- Herman Melville

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November 10, 2004

US 2004, Written and Directed by Shane Carruth
(****) of four

A dazzling puzzle-box of "pure" science fiction, meaning it deals with Big Ideas instead of CG aliens and futuristic cityscapes, Primer twists and turns with startling confidence. Carruth and David Sullivan star as Aaron and Abe, two scientists working out of a garage who inadvertently create a machine with the ability to manipulate and move small objects through time. As they struggle to learn exactly what it is they have created and what its ramifications are, it's a foregone conclusion that the next step is to create a machine that could fit a human. But as any good science fiction fan knows, once you start playing with time, things quickly get out of control. An assured debut from Shane Carruth, who acted as Director, Writer, Co-Star, Cinematographer, Producer, Editor, and Composer (phew), Primer cost an astonishing $7,000 and puts to shame many science fiction films that cost thousands of times more. Carruth noted in an interview that there are no deleted scenes because his budget restrictions meant that he needed every single shot to count--he simply couldn't afford to have any unused footage. This is especially impressive considering the labyrinthine plot; scenes are repeated from multiple perspectives, traditional linear chronology is thrown out the window, and Carruth wisely keeps the momentum propelling forward rather than slowing to hold our hands throughout. As a result, Primer is very difficult to grasp entirely after just one viewing. It joins Memento and Mulholland Drive in the "What the hell just happened?" club where you want to start comparing notes with people immediately. Primer seems destined for cult status as most people won't have the patience to delve into its grandiose scientific themes and twisting plot. Sit down, eliminate all distractions, and absorb yourself into Primer and you'll be witness to one of the most innovative science fiction films in years.

NOTE: For a fascinating interview with Shane Carruth, check out this page from the Village Voice.

The Forgotten
US 2004, Directed by Joseph Ruben
Written by Gerald Di Pego
(**) of four

And, on the opposite side from Primer on the science fiction spectrum, we have The Forgotten which should be, well, forgotten (yeah, that was too easy). Julianne Moore plays Telly, a mother grieving the loss of her 9-year-old son Sam. She is confronted and told that her memories of her child are all just a figment of her imagination--a creation of her fractured psyche. With the NSA mysteriously in pursuit, she flees in an attempt to learn the truth. Honestly, if you've seen the trailer, you've seen 3/4 of the movie. There are enough jump scares (the car crash is especially thrilling) and cool special effects (easily the best part of the movie is when people suddenly get sucked up into the sky at breathtaking speed--again, you've seen it already in the trailer) to keep everything moving at a decent pace, but it's all riding on the ending. A shame, then, that it's so disappointing and anti-climactic. The "experiment" that's supposed to explain everything is laughable and the safe Hollywood happy ending eliminates any chance for a dark twist that could have helped redeem the film (if only slightly). Best suited for when you're bored and it pops up on TV...but even then, you'd probably have more fun taking Primer for another spin instead.