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Primer (Mark's Take)

02/11/2004. Contributed by Mark R. Leeper

Buy Primer in the USA - or Buy Primer in the UK

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This SF film gets the research environment and the baffling scientific techno-jargon just about right. The story is hard to follow, but that might not be so unrealistic either. Definitely this is a demanding and puzzling film that does a lot with its minuscule budget.

PRIMER
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: This SF film gets the research environment and the baffling scientific techno-jargon just about right. The story is hard to follow, but that might not be so unrealistic either. Definitely this is a demanding and puzzling film that does a lot with its miniscule budget. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

[Minor spoilers.]

PRIMER is a foxy, ultra-low-budget, amateur film and is perhaps the most believable time-travel story on film. It may also be one of the most incomprehensible. This is a real physicist's science fiction film. If time travel is going to be invented in the next decade, the research environment shown in this film is probably the sort of place it will happen. And these are the sort of people who will do it.

The viewer goes through a lot of obfuscation to get to the point, only to find that the confusion and the verbal fog are much of the point. For about the first twenty minutes of this film there is nothing really comprehensible said but business and scientific babble. We are clearly looking at a startup technical company with a very great deal of technical expertise. The talk sounds believable and is delivered with realistic overlapping dialog.

We are looking at a startup company of a handful of young physicists who have incorporated and then done something extraordinary in a garage. Leading the project are Aaron and Abe, two people who are on a higher plane of technical expertise than anyone you know.

Something amazing has been developed here in a Texas garage, but the viewer does not know what it is that the company has created. When we get enough clues finally it turns out has something to do with what uninitiated laymen would call time travel. Confusing the issue is a short discussion thrown in about fungus. What fungus has to do with time travel is never explained. (Heck, nothing is every explained in this film.)

There is a plot dealing with causality problem avoidance and multiple parties trying to counter each other's actions. One probably has to see the film several times or even many times if the plot is going to sink in.

If PRIMER has anything to offer the viewer it is intelligence. And intelligence is a commodity missing from so many films; PRIMER is worthwhile for science fiction fans and for techno-geeks and especially techno-geek science fiction fans. It is enjoyable for those who like puzzle films. Others may go running out in frustration.

This film somehow got the Best Drama award at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. That is something of a jaw-dropping surprise. Director, writer, actor, cinematographer, producer, editor, and composer Shane Carruth actually needed a few other people, notably actors, to make his film. Just how he managed to both run the camera and star in the film is anybody's guess.

But he made an intelligent, albeit frustrating, science fiction film and copped a major award with it at Sundance. It won't have a wide audience and for those who equate science fiction and special effects it will not have a lot to offer. Those looking for sci-fi instead of science fiction will not like it. And those who absolutely hate being baffled will not like it. Who does that leave?

Mark R. Leeper

Copyright 2004 Mark R. Leeper

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