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Primer
Reviewed by Matt Cowger, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Shane Carruth (writer and director)
Genre:   Science Fiction
Released:   April 19, 2005
Review Date:   May 20, 2005
Audience Rating:   Rated PG-13
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

Man oh man, is Primer cool. But don't listen to me, listen to the eggheads and movie intelligentsia at Sundance (where it was a darling). Primer might just be the best movie on time travel ever. Being a huge nerd, you will fall in love. This movie had me at Schroedinger's Cat.

It is almost impossible to describe the film in any detail without giving far too much away, but here it is in a nutshell: Two engineers (lent street cred by the fact that writer/director Shane Carruth is himself an engineer), trying to make something else entirely, come across a machine that lets them go back in time. This leads to issues. Issues like time travel (obviously), what they want in life, and most importantly what risks they are willing to take.

Primer is a multiple-viewing sort of flick. Hence the buy-the-DVDness of it. You have to watch it multiple times just to figure out who is who (or more importantly, who is who, when). There are multiple loops of timelines, multiple loops of character arcs and multiple loops of character interest.

The biggest thing you'll get out of this movie is discussion value. With people that have seen it, with people that haven't seen it, with people you thought might have read a sci-fi novel at some point. This is a movie with a discussion value that borders on (dare I say it?) gravitas.

There are big things going on in this movie, big like Saving Private Ryan or Mystic River, but without the giant kick-your-ass emotional and visual tags, name stars, and childhoods destroyed. Primer leaves all of the ethical discourse in the mind of the viewer, where it really belongs.

And by the way, this was made for seven grand. I'm not lying; one of the most dense and thoughtful sci-fi films in 10 years was made for seven large and looks like it was shot on high def vid.

The movie has a community of viewers discussing it at www.primermovie.com, with serious analysis of the loops and whorls of the time stream. It's an indie movie, with passionate indie fans in full discussion mode. A warning, though: The forums are full of spoilers.

The DVD is crisp and clean, although the sound is a bit low, which is rough because this is a dialog'a'poppin' film. The capture point of Primer, though, is ideas. This is a movie you will be talking about with others in bars, or coffee shops, or Russian bath houses. . . .

There is a huge who-is-motivated-for-what-reason factor and, even better (and more importantly), a look at personal responsibility and the responsibility of time travel. These ideas will haunt you when the end credits spiral into the main menu.

The other features are attractive and navigable, but it is the film itself you buy into. After ten minutes you realize you've bought a ticket to elsewhere and God only knows where it ends. That is what good sci-fi is all about.

Primer is something you wouldn't want to go back in time and miss.

Matt Cowger went back in time and loaned his grandpa five bucks. With interest his grandpa owes him millions!

 
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