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New Line Home Cinema presents
Primer (2004)

"I haven't eaten since later this afternoon."
- Aaron (Shane Carruth)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga  
Published: April 18, 2005

Stars: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan
Director: Shane Carruth

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for (brief language)
Run Time: 01h:17m:07s
Release Date: April 19, 2005
UPC: 794043784927
Genre: sci-fi


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ A+A-B+ B

DVD Review

To put it mildly, Primer is a tough film to completely take in and understand the first time thorugh, but with a little post-viewing reflection and maybe even an immediate repeat viewing, you will feel as if you just witnessed something very special. Watching Primer gave me the revelatory feeling I had after first seeing 2001 and Donnie Darko, which is a feeling I'd wish upon every avid movie lover.

The picture was written and directed by newcomer Shane Carruth, who made the film for a mere $7,000. Carruth had a math degree, and was working as an engineer when he realized that he didn't like where his career was going. After trying his hand at writing, he chose to focus on a film career, with Primer as his first project.

Primer began gaining buzz when it made its world premiere at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. Instantly captivating audiences and studio representatives alike, the film went on to take the Grand Jury Prize for Best Dramatic Film there. From there it appeared in a few theaters around the world, garnering excellent reviews from critics everywhere, but never going wide theatrically. Now, the film has a chance at a much bigger audience that can hopefully make it the instant cult classic that Donnie Darko has most recently become.

Primer opens with a group of engineers working out of Aaron's (Carruth) garage. We soon discover that Aaron and Abe (David Sullivan) have been secretly working on a side project that is basically a box with a bunch of wires connected to it. Of course, there is much more to the box than this, as the pair soon discovers.

It seems that Aaron and Abe's box can be used to travel through time. They wastes no time using it as such a device, and begin by trying to make some money on the stock market by finding out what stocks rose the most during a given day, then going back in time to buy it. That's just the beginning, though, as Abe and Aaron make decisions about using the box that could alter the whole concept of time and reality forever.

Even though, on the surface, the project is about time travel devices, at its core it's about trust, and how important a concept that is, regardless of what it involves. In this case, abusing the trust between two friends and colleagues not only can hurt this relationship, but could also be catastrophic for all of life as we know it.

The performances here are exceptionally natural, and very professional. Primer is the first acting gig for both Shane Carruth and David Sullivan, but you would never think that after watching the film. I even had the feeling that I'd seen both actors before, which, ironically enough, goes along perfectly with what transpires in the movie.

As a director, Carruth also comes off as a seasoned professional, reveling in an abundance of close-ups that add to the claustrophobic feel of the script. Shane Carruth has a very bright future as both a writer and a director, with Primer serving as a heck of a launching pad.

For most moviegoers, this film will simply not make sense after a single viewing. It sure didn't make complete sense to me, but I was still left with such a sense of wonderment and the feeling that I really loved the movie, despite it's confusing elements. Fortunately, writer/director Shane Carruth isn't a director who wants to keep his audience completely in the dark about what Primer is all about, as he's taken part in numerous online discussions and been on scientific discussion panels to talk about what is happening in his film. Seeking out such material is something you'll definitely want to do after an initial viewing of the movie.

Still, part of the fun is trying to figure it out for yourself, but Carruth at least offers up enough talk about the self-cloning and multiple time lines in the film in both online content and the audio commentaries on this disc to make them worth checking out. As far as I'm concerned, when all I want to do is read more about a movie after seeing it for the first time, it's definitely a movie that pushed the right buttons with me, and one that I will treasure for years to come, as I will with Primer.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Primer has a very unique look, which is part of its charm. Shot on DV, certain scenes are filled with grain, resulting in blurry images, but this actually adds to the authentic feeling and the suspense of these sequences. However, Carruth and his crew have such a knack for lighting, that nearly every shot in the film is breathtakingly gorgeous, whether it's outside on a beautiful day or inside a small storage facility. Images are never difficult to make out, even during the grainy scenes, but there are some times that Carruth wants images to appear distorted, which also works very well. There aren't any problems with shadows and blacks are solid and deep, while the overall color scheme is vast and well rendered.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: A Dolby Digital 2.0 track is on board, and it is one of the more active non-5.1 mixes to come along in a while, working splendidly for the material in the film. Various science-experiment-oriented machines whirr and hum throughout the soundfield, while the complex dialogue is easy to understand at all times. It would have been nice to have a 5.1 mix on board, but the excellent 2.0 mix is a nice consolation.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Assassination of Richard Nixon, Vera Drake
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by 1. Writer/Director Shane Carruth2. Actors Shane Carruth, David Sullivan, Anand Upadhyaya, Chip Carruth, camera operator Daniel Bueche, location soundman Reggie Evans
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: There are a total of three trailers here, including a great one for Primer, but the real gems of the extras collection are the two audio commentary tracks.

The first one, with writer/director Shane Carruth is easily the best because he delves deeply into what actually transpires in Primer, and clears things up quite a bit for those (myself included) who were confused the first time through the movie. Carruth also talks about his life and what drove him to a filmmaking career and Primer.

Track two also features Carruth, but has some of the cast and crew of the film along for the ride as well. This track is less serious but still quite informative as the participants spend most of the time telling stories about making the film and working with each other.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Movies like Primer only come along once in a while, but this decade alone has now borne three of the best mind-bending films of all time, with the other two being Mulholland Drive and Donnie Darko. New Line Home Video has given Primer a solid DVD debut, mainly due to the two excellent audio commentaries, as well as the solid audio and video presentations.

 


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