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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 14.14%
Average: 17.17%
Pretty Bad: 20.2%
Total Crap: 7.07%

6 reviews, 63 user ratings

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by Brian McKay

"Like that first coat of paint - flat, dull, and not much fun to watch"
2 stars

PRIMER is another example of "interesting concept, shoddy execution." While the idea of two guys inadvertently creating a time machine in their garage out of stuff that you can buy at Wal-Mart is intriguing, the characters are so under-developed and the script so rife with obviously improvisational technobabble, that it's hard to really give a damn where PRIMER star and director Shane Carruth takes it - which is fitting, since he takes it nowhere.

Aaron (Shane Carruth) and best friend Abe (David Sullivan) are a couple of white collar guys with good jobs, but with aspirations towards scientific discovery, publication, and the subsequent wealth that is to be derived from inventing "the Next Big Thing". Although they work with a couple of other friends out of Aaron's garage laboratory in a cottage industry that makes some kind of computer hardware, they keep their partners in the dark about the project they've been working on after-after hours. Nevertheless, we get to see the four of them prattle on randomly about argon gas and copper tubing and nickel plating and blah blah blah.

It seems apparent from the way their lines are delivered that they are not sticking hard and fast to any kind of script, but rather performing improvosationally. While this may work great in comedy, it's annoying as hell in what is supposed to be a serious dramatic/science-fiction piece. Characters frequently talk over each other, every scene segue drops us into the middle of a conversation, leaving us to try and pick up the pieces of what's being said, and the tech-speak is dense and muddled enough to thoroughly confuse everyone. This confusion apparently extends to the characters themselves, since it never seems clear even to them what they manufacture in their little side business, or what exactly it is that Aaron and Abe are spending so much time on in the wee hours. Hey, I spout all kinds of made up technobabble at work too (usually to explain to some clueless end-user how I fixed their issue, because they won't understand it anyway and the real explanation would take even longer). But when you're trying to tell a story and create some kind of dramatic impetus, a bit of explanation about what's going on would be desirable. One could argue that the technical details aren't important to the story, but giving the scenario a credible setup is a crucial factor in providing a credible follow-through. Unfortunately, PRIMER fails in both of these areas.

After a whole lot of other tech-speak that will only make sense to either quantum physics professors or Carruth himself (assuming he's not just completely winging it), Aaron and Abe discover that they have inadvertently created some kind of time machine, albeit one that is limited in it's functionality. Basically, the way it works is that you can only go back in short increments - but in order to do so, you have to climb into the time machine box and stay in it for as many hours as you would like to return to the past. Or something like that. To be honest, the whole explanation of how it works is the most convoluted aspect of the story. Somehow, they start going back in time for short increments, only to create doppelgangers of themselves as past and present begin overlapping. At first they use it unethically (but really, who wouldn't do this?) to find out how the DOW closed, or who won the big game, and then go back to invest or gamble accordingly. But then things get even more muddled when Aaron uses it to go back and prevent a potentially violent incident involving a shotgun-toting ex-boyfriend at a friend's birthday party, and when another character somehow stumbles on their time machine and not only figures out how to use it, but creates his own doppelganger as well. Both of these subplots are so utterly murky and seemingly non-sequitir that it's hard to fathom why they're even in the film.

Now, it's possible that Carruth has created such a work of genius that I've just missed the boat on this one. But I think it's more likely a case of "If you can't baffle them with brightness, baffle them with bullshit". I'm calling bullshit. Even at a short 77 minutes, Primer is bloated, draggy, cumbersome, confusing, and almost entirely unengaging. Even the non-technical bits of dialogue are confusing and often seem to be after-thoughts just dropped randomly into the script. The acting, while not incompetent, is uneven and fairly rough around the edges, but even the brilliance of an Olivier or early De Niro couldn't have saved a script as willfully obscure and, at times, obtuse as this one.

While I usually enjoy a film that keeps me guessing and requires repeat viewings to fully grasp its meaning, this type of film has to give you something to work with in order to be worthy of those repeat visits. PRIMER is like watching paint dry the first time, and I don't expect that it will somehow become more enjoyable with age.

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originally posted: 05/23/05 14:56:24
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 CineVegas Film Festival. For more in the 2004 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Starz Denver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Boston Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Boston Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival. For more in the 2005 Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/25/14 Leo Brim There are answers, you just need to dig deep 5 stars
12/28/13 Marty Never felt dumber in a movie but respect its originality 3 stars
8/09/13 Langano Wow, this movie really sucks. 1 stars
6/17/13 Mark M Good premise but let down by boring execution with unlikable characters. 2 stars
1/23/13 Mike Best (real) time travel movie ever. You'll watch it twice just to figure it out. 5 stars
5/20/11 Mr. Laag Very good, except that It demands at least a second view to fully understand it 4 stars
4/03/11 Vashek Vylet Good idea, but result is sloppy and dull 1 stars
1/19/11 sammyg mind blowing what an amazing film plus when did not understanding afilm mean its bad ? 5 stars
8/22/10 Peepers Sparing, austere, compelling tragedy. Worth repeated viewings. Stellar achievement. 5 stars
8/02/10 mendota "Parts from Wal-Mart," seriously? Mr. McKay was clearly in over his head with Primer. 5 stars
12/07/09 matt completely impenetrable, like wading through a labyrith of molasses in the dark 2 stars
4/07/09 Baloney Better than Timecrimes 5 stars
1/04/08 The Dude What was that all about. I don't really know, but I liked it!! 5 stars
6/05/07 consultation diet pills prescription without diets pill 3 stars
1/24/07 K. Sear The best time travel movie ever. It makes absolutely no concessions to the viewer. 5 stars
11/15/06 William Goss Ow. But a good ow. 4 stars
10/14/06 Oscar Sharp Fascinating movie, especially from a post-heideggerian perspective 4 stars
9/19/06 Mark Keogh Brilliant. A thinking persons film at long last. A movie that bears dozens of viewings 5 stars
9/13/06 Bitchflaps A masterpiece of shoestring budget film-making. Mesmerising! 5 stars
6/05/06 Dean Started off well, but I'd lost the plot by the end 3 stars
5/14/06 jeromebosch garbage 1 stars
12/19/05 patt Just Great 5 stars
11/17/05 Steven Haunschild Brilliant achievement. If you don't have praise for Primer, you don't understand it. 5 stars
10/08/05 justin pynchon+PKD on film; forces you to pay attention; mulholland dr was simple compared to this 5 stars
9/19/05 SY Very good for the director's first feature. Don't be put off if you don't understand. 4 stars
8/26/05 D Buckley This movie is not very good. 3 stars
8/19/05 Terri Sullivan reminded me of Nightingale in a Music Box 5 stars
8/19/05 ALDO hey, it's brilliant, because you don't get it, right? Wrong, but better than Garden State 3 stars
8/13/05 Lily What the hell happened? Attractive lead though. 2 stars
6/26/05 Indrid Cold Brilliant, fascinating, baffling. I didn't know they still made scifi like that. 5 stars
6/16/05 K. E. all over the place 2 stars
5/23/05 y2mckay Pretentious wankfest full of laughable technobabble and sloppy storytelling 2 stars
5/22/05 Cham Looked interesting, but it's utterly pointless, boring, and without any social value. 1 stars
10/31/04 jean-carotte Primer might be the most pretentious and stupid movie ever made. 1 stars
10/06/04 RW I need to see the last 5 minutes again (is this a marketing device to sell more tickets?) 4 stars
9/25/04 durden i got most of it... errr... some of it....i think i need to see 3 or 4 more times 5 stars
9/20/04 denny very enjoyable; needed subtitles to catch all the dialogue; must be seen again 4 stars
6/14/04 Stob this movie was the best independant movie I have ever seen 5 stars
6/06/04 van bullock wow! This was on the genius level 5 stars
6/02/04 Mellifluy It made think, what the *#@!? and then I walked out. 2 stars
4/13/04 Christian Abbott Is the absolute best time travel film I've ever seen. VERY original & thought-provoking 5 stars
3/29/04 bmo brilliant and whole heartedly original 5 stars
3/29/04 Megan Made NO sense to me, but I understand why it won the award (b/c it was made for so little) 2 stars
2/09/04 PIKE David Sullivan is the next Brad Pitt !! 5 stars
2/06/04 Kris M. I was confused from the start and the characters were not engaging. YUCK. 2 stars
2/06/04 ann I can't believe this won the jury award for Sundance. 1 stars
2/01/04 bill sullivan great. 5 stars
1/30/04 Angela Hehner Wow! Can't wait till it's theatre arrival 5 stars
1/29/04 Josef Wells Great Movie. If you have the brains to follow it, you will love it. 5 stars
1/28/04 Rod Barnes An excellent movie... it makes you pay attention the entire time. 5 stars
1/28/04 Matt Smith Great Movie!!! 5 stars
1/27/04 Nancy Dredcoe A $7000 film competes with multi-million dollar films. Says it all. 5 stars
1/27/04 Jon Casey I have much respect for Mr. Carruth. this is the first fim he's EVER made, with little $$ 5 stars
1/27/04 Bob Maplethorpe Absolutely brilliant! 5 stars
1/27/04 Billy Chowder I can't wait to see this Directors' next movie. Amazing 5 stars
1/27/04 Trevor Can't believe this won best film at Sundance 1 stars
1/26/04 John Beakley I thought the movie was very well done and the story line hid the ending well 5 stars
1/26/04 Joe Horn It won Sundance BITCH! 5 stars
1/24/04 David Joyner An excellent story ... don't be misled by the reviewer's narrow minded idea of a good story 5 stars
1/23/04 Neal Dutton Loved it -- from a non geeks perspective -- acting and actors very natural 5 stars
1/22/04 brent kinder I thought it worked, considering what Shane was working with. 4 stars
1/22/04 John Peters Truly unique... refreshing and thought provoking. 5 stars
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  08-Oct-2004 (PG-13)
  DVD: 19-Apr-2005



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