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DVD Review: Shane Carruth’s Primer on New Line Home Entertainment

A nerdy Burger King commercial with zero laughs and even less social resonance.



Winner of the grand prize at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, Primer mixes the straight, middle-American white male angst of Neil Labute’s In the Company of Men with the sci-fi trappings of Darren Aronofsky’s Pi. This is not a good thing. Triple hyphenate writer-director-actor Shane Carruth stars as Aaron who, along with fellow white-collar buddy Abe (David Sullivan), creates a homemade time machine in a U-Haul storage facility. You’ve seen Back to the Future, and so has Carruth: doubles of characters soon start appearing, continuums get knocked out of whack, much technobabble is spouted—all that’s missing is the doctor with the shock-white hair screaming about flux capacitors. In all the narrative steals are potentially profound statements about scientific responsibility and human interaction, but this is clearly a calling card project, made not from a passionate desire to create, but out of the misguided let’s-put-on-a-show mentality that afflicts many a pretender to cinema’s throne. In other words, Primer is perfect Sundance material, its bland, anonymous actors and competent, Sprint-commercial mise-en-scène masked in the guise of independence, all the while secretly and shamelessly chomping at Hollywood’s dangling dollar signs.


As Shane Carruth points out on the first of two commentary tracks included on this Primer DVD, his film was blown up to 35mm from Super 16 after it was acquired by THINKFilm for theatrical distribution. The use of Super 16 ensured the best possible image quality during the blow-up process, but Primer remains a relatively grainy experience. This isn’t a bad thing per se, if you dig the original look of the film, which is flawlessly preserved by New Line Home Entertainment. Some edge enhancement is noticeable in spots, but the print is clean and the vibrant reds and greens that intermittingly bust through Carruth’s gangrene aesthetic never bleed. The stereo track is nothing special: Though dialogue is more or less clear throughout, dynamic range is very limited and there’s little separation between the front speakers.


Carruth’s solo commentary track is surprisingly engaging considering the suffocating technobabble of the film. Fans will be happy to learn about the roots of the project while future filmmakers will appreciate Carruth’s anecdotes relating to the film’s production. A second, considerably less intense track brings together Carruth, cameraman Anand Upadhyaya, Reggie Evans, David Sullivan, Chip Karruth, and Danny Bueche, all of whom together represent a good portion of the film’s production crew. Also included here is a Primer trailer and previews for The Assassination of Richard Nixon and Vera Drake.


A nerdy Burger King commercial with zero laughs and even less social resonance.

Cast: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan, Casey Gooden, Anand Upadhyaya, Carrie Crawford, Jay Butler Director: Shane Carruth Screenwriter: Shane Carruth Distributor: New Line Home Entertainment Running Time: 77 min Rating: PG-13 Year: 2004 Release Date: April 19, 2005 Buy: Video

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