October Extras 2: Primer (2004)

OCTOBER 29, 2008


As I pointed out in my Twelve Monkeys review, I am very nitpicky when it comes to time travel movies, particularly when things don’t line up properly after a guy goes back in time to change things. The movie A Sound Of Thunder was a huge source of frustration for me because of this (also because it was fucking terrible). So part of why I love Primer so much is that after 5 or 6 viewings, I am not only still figuring shit out, but I have also yet to see any real holes in the time travel logic.

The most original thing about Shane Carruth’s script is that, for the first time in time travel movie history, our POV is with people who are already in the “past”, as it were, of the time traveling versions of themselves. Before the main character is even aware that his device can be used to send people through time, his buddy takes him to a storage location, where he sees a version of himself from a day or two later. That’s awesome! Sure, it may make the movie even more impenetrable than it already is, but still, A+ for bringing something new to the table.

The most head-scratching element of the film, oddly, has nothing to do with time travel. It’s just the first 15 min of the movie, which are loaded with a bunch of technical jargon and a plan to build something that I’m still not quite sure I understand (something about making objects weigh less, I think?). None of it is really crucial to the plot, so it’s a shame that some folks tune out before they even get to the good stuff because they assume the movie is too over their head. Not that the time travel element is exactly dumbed down for Joe sixpack (who probably wouldn’t have rented the movie anyway), but it can be followed without needing a “Technical Manuals for Dummies” book. It’s like the first 15 min are a crossword, and the rest is a sudoku – you can’t be an idiot, but you don’t need prior knowledge either. I had the same issue with Crimson Tide; they spend like 20 minutes rambling about all this dry military/war/treaty stuff and then the rest of the movie is pretty simplistic and awesome.

I also love how low-key it is. Granted, the budget made that a requirement (this movie cost less than even Blair Witch), but the sort of “do it yourself” nature of the machine itself is pretty sweet; the thing is made out of refrigerator parts and a Catalytic Converter. I tried making one myself, but it didn’t work. And then I couldn’t drive to Best Buy for a new fridge because my car wouldn’t run.

The movie is a lot funnier than one might think too. It’s all dry humor, but that’s the best kind, IMO. The only thing in the first 15 min that I actually understand is when Aaron tells the story about how NASA spent millions developing a pen that would write in space, but the Russians solved the same problem by using a pencil. Also, the best line in any time travel movie ever: “I haven’t eaten since later this afternoon.”

But the funniest thing about the movie is that there are websites that are designed to help you understand the timelines and specify which character we are watching (i..e. “Present Abe” or “Future Abe”), and they are even harder to follow than the movie itself. I actually understood LESS about the movie after reading one.

The DVD has a pair of commentaries, which I listened to back in the day and recall enjoying. There are no deleted scenes or making of type things, which is fine by me. I kind of like having to figure it out for myself. And someday I will, dammit! I think I’m pretty close. They’re all jerks and the “rat in the attic” is actually just him from a few days later. Or earlier. Right? No, it was-


What say you?


  1. oh my god primer is one of my favorite movies! i've seen it about 7 times and i still don't think i've caught it all!

  2. Prime = great movie.

    The real reason I'm commenting: Please stop the "review coming soon" thing. Just wait and post the review. The item shows up in my RSS feed and unless it's a movie I really want to read about I'm not going to keep checking in.


  3. I do that because i don't always have time to post a review on the day I watch it, and then people ask if I am missing a day. Plus, I always have to edit the post title to include the year or "October Extras 2" or whatever (otherwise all that stuff will be in the url for the movie), so everything always needs to be posted and then re-edited anyway.

  4. This movie has one of the scariest possible situations in my mind. I feel the same about The Prestige. If I go back/forward in time or am "cloned", my other self may kill me. The new self would be about the same but that exact version(which in your mind is absolute) would be gone. I find that very disturbing.

  5. I did listen to the commentary on this, or maybe I read it in a interview, but the reason there is not deleted scenes is because there were none. IIRC, most of the movie is comprised entirely with first takes. This movie is so tightly plotted and meticulously planned, partially because of it's budget and partially by design, that there was no extraneous footage. There are like one or two pickup shots, but the rest was, shoot scene, move on to the next. Which, for me, makes their accomplishment all the more impressive.

  6. I think they initially set out to build a homemade superconductor in that first 15 mins. Anyhoo the only part I have the hardest time wrapping my head around is what happens to the father (in-law?).

  7. Only seen it once and it made sense,but more watchings would bring way more info.The best time travel film ever though.

  8. I really loved this movie.. and I like how the "difficulty level" ramped up.

    It started out relatively simple... this box ping pongs from the moment you turn it on, to the moment you turn it off (this concept sounds like the most feasible time machine ever). Then it starts to get insane from there.. "we put a box in another box" crap, my mind just broke.

  9. I have yet to see this [nor had I heard of it 'till now] but I love me some good sci-fi/time travel [the harry potter with werewolves and time travel is the best book IMO] I'm psyched that so many people liked this movie. and will have to check it out.

    You should all read "The Man Who Folded Himself" absolutley mind-fucking time travel book.

  10. So this came in the mail via good ole' netflix last week. It was cool... different. I need to see it again. That's all.

  11. I must admit, I was quite surprised to find a review for this movie on HMAD, but I'm glad I did because I'm obsessed with reading everything I can about it after watching it every night for the past week. I'm about to read the review now, and am anxious to hear your thoughts on Primer.

  12. "I tried making one myself, but it didn’t work. And then I couldn’t drive to Best Buy for a new fridge because my car wouldn’t run."

    It's comments like these why I love HMAD!


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