"Are you hungry?"
"I haven't eaten since later this afternoon."
A hit at Sundance, "Primer" got a lot of its buzz by the fact that the film cost only $7,000 to make - despite not being unheard of (see "El Mariachi", which was done for a similar price), the film looks quite a bit better than its budget would suggest. First-time filmmaker Shane Carruth has also taken on many roles, as his name can be found up and down the credits list.
Carruth stars as nerd genius Aaron, an engineer who pairs up with similarly smart Abe (David Sullivan) and a couple friends in order to make a machine that could be a massive success. They keep working and working and chatting and chatting (and the film's dialogue is full of more "technobabble" than a "Star Trek" movie) before finally realizing that they have found a way to build a rough time travel machine.
The characters seemingly speak to each other in their own language, and with a tense, quiet delivery that manages to make otherwise dry moments engaging, as we're trying to figure things out as the characters are. Additionally, the film's cold, sparse and rather isolated feel also goes well with the way that the characters interact.
The two use the machine and experiment: they go back in time and buy a stock that they know will go up. However, a problem begins to arise - or, more specifically, two: the duo occasionally run into the versions of themselves that are existing in that particular time-frame. And, as anyone knows who watched "Back to the Future", messing with time often leads to some massive problems. I'll stop there with the discussion of plot, as saying anymore would ruin the surprises.
I don't know how much work has been done to spruce up "Primer" since the film was at Sundance, but the picture looks surprisingly decent for its $7,000 budget. Cinematography (the film was shot on 16mm), sets, locations and other elements certainly don't make this look like a megabudget picture, but if I didn't know, I'd have never guessed this only cost $7,000. The performances aren't outstanding, but they are fairly natural and it works well for the picture. At just under 80 minutes, the picture is nicely paced and builds in the second half. Overall, I felt "Primer" was intelligent, very involving sci-fi, done surprisingly well, given the micro-budget nature of the flick.
VIDEO: "Primer" is presented by New Line in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is good, considering the 16mm filming. Sharpness and detail are mostly satisfactory, although there are a few moments that look soft and darker scenes can sometimes lack sufficent detail.
As for issues with the presentation, some minor edge enhancement appeared, but aside from that, there's really nothing much in the way of concerns. No pixelation appeared, and the grain present is understandable, given the nature of the production. Colors are generally muted, but appeared accurately presented here.
SOUND: The soundtrack is presented in Dolby 2.0. While the look of the film is more impressive than the budget would suggest, the audio does run into some problems. There aren't any instances of real distortion or other serious flaws, but the recording isn't always great and there are times when dialogue is difficult to hear, so subtitles may be helpful.
EXTRAS: There are two commentaries included on the DVD - one with director Shane Carruth and one with the director and members of the cast and crew. The director's commentary is excellent, as Carruth provides an enjoyable and very insightful discussion to creating the story of the film and trying to shoot a sci-fi picture with a extremely small budget. Also included on the DVD are the film's trailer and promos for other New Line titles.
Final Thoughts: "Primer" is thought-provoking sci-fi done on a micro budget. It starts off interesting, and I was more and more involved with the film as it built up in the second half. It's maybe not for all tastes, but for those seeking something different that's entertaining and thoughtful, yet subtle, "Primer" is highly recommended.
The Film *** 1/2