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Primer

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 09/13/04 15:05:28

"Art-house sci-fi."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SEEN AT THE 2004 BOSTON FILM FESTIVAL: Usually, I'm annoyed by comments that you need to watch a movie more than once to really get it. There are other movies to see, and if it's only playing one night of a film festival, well... Still, there's irony to using that claim to describe Primer as it moves from geek infighting to the science-fictional.

It's low-budget science fiction, without anything in the way of special effects, but compensates by paying a little more attention to science and story. As the movie opens, Aaron and Abe are sharing a garage lab with two other techies, trying to supplant their income by making tools for hackers and trying to build the revolutionary, patentable technology that will free them from their boring, unrewarding jobs. Writer/director/star Shane Carruth has a math and science background, and the tech-speak is authentic. Rest assured, though, that when the breakthrough finally comes, it is explained in meticulous detail.

This lends a certain reality to the procedings. Most movies that screw with spacetime use a certain amount of handwaving; the detail Carruth supplies puts clear limits on what the magic tech can do. Also, the characters' less than ambitious use of their new invention fits the characterization; they're too paranoid to use their newfound power to try and rule the world!

You've got to like your sci-fi a lot to get into this, though. No flashy visual effects, lots of jargon, spoken by first-time actors. The film itself is shot an Super-16 and blown up to 35mm, and mostly looks OK, although some scenes (especially night scenes) are extremely grainy. In a couple places it's probably deliberate, but it's often distracting. In his after-film Q&A, Carruth gave the usual responses about how it's the conflict of the characters that's really important, and he does pretty well there. The characters don't change all that much, but they've got a good, creepy paranoia to work with.

This is very much a niche film, and art-house sci-fi is a pretty small niche. If it's one you're into, then Primer has something to offer.

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