Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Flash Forward versus Primer

Flash Forward (2009 Dir: David S. Goyer) versus Primer (2006 Dir: Shane Carruth)

When you see ‘Lost’ on the TV schedules and think, ‘who the fuck is still watching that?’ the answer is me. I sometimes suspect that the producers are rabid Hefner fans that are providing me with a personal service. I haven’t met anyone else who is still watching it.

I know they make it up as they go along, I know it will never truly make sense but for me it has an almost Becket-like sense of ennui. Meaningless idiot narratives looping endlessly, pseudo science and mythology, time travel theory for toddlers. It’s like catnip for geeks.

What I didn’t need was another ‘Lost’. ‘Flash Forward’ may be one of the few TV programs to jump the shark half an hour into its first episode. Both ‘Lost’ and ‘Flash Forward’ use endless expositional dialogue to explain the simplest ideas behind time travel as if the world had never seen ‘Back to the Future Part 2’.

Your stupidest friend is three times smarter than the writers of ‘Flash Forward’ however and you just end up shouting at the TV, “You can’t do that! It doesn’t work like that!”

The premise of Flashforward (everyone glimpses 2 minutes of their own future in six months times) is a scaffold made of balsa wood. Things don’t have to be believable for me to like them but they do at least have to adhere to their own internal logic. Four episodes in and the main characters still haven’t thought of things you thought of in the first two minutes.

May I suggest a time travel film that is twice as clever as you? ‘Primer’ is a 2004 film by Shane Carruth that was made for 7000 dollars. It is intelligent, slightly terrifying and mind numbingly difficult to follow. Two friends are making a machine that lowers the mass of objects but accidentally achieve time travel as a side effect.

The characters immediately think and do all the things you would think and do if you had a time machine but haven’t been mentioned once in 45 years of Doctor Who. At first they cheat on stocks and shares to make money but soon they become obsessed with creating time paradoxes and tampering with timelines and the subsequent causality. The plot becomes unfeasibly complex with bearded faces from the future, time machines within time machines, and ruminations on the endless possibilities and ramifications of what they are doing.

It’s like ‘The Tomorrow People’ remade by David Simon. In fact it is the ‘Wire’ like impenetrable dialogue and naturalistic acting which mesmerises you. ‘This can’t happen’, you think, ‘but if it did, it would happen like this.’

The film is made for almost nothing, shot guerrilla style in parent’s garages, apartments and storage warehouses. The look is stark, bare and refreshingly un-CGI. Likewise the soundtrack is minimal, acoustic and beautiful.

It’s a film made for DVD, as only with repeated viewing, pauses, rewinds and migraines does it start to reveal its magnificence. Predictably, as with ‘Flash Forward’ you find yourself going ‘Hang on a minute!’ when it doesn’t conform to your own notions of time travel cause and effect. The film has thought of everything however and you are wrong.

After about the fourth viewing you’ve started to get what’s going on.

This isn’t just a film, it’s a comittment.

Here is a bit of it.


  1. Primer does sound excellent but i think you are being a bit hard on Flash Forward. It's not strictly about time travel and the visions are only possible outcomes of possible timelines. As far as being another Lost, yes it is a bit soapy but it has a clear direction as it was held up by the writers strike giving the producers time to plot the whole thing out from beginning to end. It is flawed but it is a TV show, for entertainment. Lost is so far up its own arse it isn't worth viewing after about episode 5!

  2. Hmm, maybe it's different in the UK, but know lots of people still into Lost, and personaly it's probably my favorite show ever. I also have owned everything you've ever released, I'm not sure if there's any connection.

    As for Flashforward, it's ok. It has sone potential, but also a lot of annoying plot holes. It's based on a novel, so hopefully they have a plan and these holes will make sense later. It got picked up for 25 episodes this season, so they have some time.

  3. Yeah, LOST is big in America still. We're all waiting for the final season!

  4. Have only seen a trailer for Flash, but absolutley agree with you about Primer - fab film.

    I'm also watching lost. Was told by fellow geeks it is fully plotted out. I suspect that only happened after the end of the first series, as nothing much happened in it.

    And I don't own any Hefner knobbage!

  5. Primer is awesome, but don't bother with Defying Gravity, the spaceship telly show that's just started on the BBC, as America cancelled it after 13 episodes. Probably because nothing ever happened.

  6. I'm still watching Lost but I did stop for a while after it moved from Channel 4 to Sky and my connection was too rubbish to download them.

    I couldn't make it past one episode of Flash Forward because all I kept thinking was 'doesn't Joseph Fiennes have long eyelashes!' I figured if I could be distracted by something like that then I obviously wasn't that into the storyline.

  7. I was just thinking, if you like sci-fi and the idea of time travel you might enjoy reading this one amazing screenplay by Kurt Vonnegut. It's called 'Between Time and Timbuktu or Prometheus-5'. It was filmed in the early 70s I believe but it's rare to find the visual representation of it. It reads wonderfully as a play though.